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Conversation

 

"My spirit is hungry for things I have not yet known. Sometimes I get around certain people whose gifts and personality are so different, yet so complementary to mine, that I get revelation so fast in conversation I wish I had a tape recorder with me...I get knowledge that connects fifteen other things I've been thinking about and ties them all together. Those are wonderful times." -- Bill Johnson

Mark Twain said he could live for a month on a good compliment, but I think a good conversation surpasses it. In conversation, the other person has given me the compliment of their undivided attention and their time, and then, the rich material of whatever the subject was.

Conversation is like food. Some people seem to get theirs from the hors d'oeuvres menu. They stay light and, to my way of thinking, superficial. My way of thinking is not the only way to think, so I'll leave this observation alone except to say that I get bored by chat that focuses on the weather, the traffic, and the price of peaches at Kroger. Gossip is another conversational menu item I try to avoid. It's like a junk-food dessert--it makes the listener's soul fat with bad things. It unites two people, but in an acid bath of wrongheadedness. Continuing the simile, some conversation is like a heavy German entree: step-by-step technical descriptions of stain removal, or mechanical processes. It's great, but I don't have the kind of brain that can digest it.

The funny thing about some great talks is that I frequently can't remember the particulars. When asked about the previous day's two-hour catch-up with a cherished friend, I can list the topics, but can't tell the questioner what quickened my soul, what fired off twenty synapses, what made me feel a genuine connection. The jokes, when repeated, aren't funny, and only the anecdotes survive the recap. I think that's because the value isn't in the words we can remember and repeat, but in the exchange that took place on a heart level. Any good human interaction affects me, as aspirin affects a headache. Great conversation is an interaction that's more like interventional, restorative surgery. Much more can happen, and results go deep.

On the other hand, chance remarks are easy to remember. We all remember the comment that resulted in 90 or 180 degree changes in life direction. The nice man who said, "Ft. Wayne housing is very cheap." And I moved there. My friend whose professor remarked that a bio-tech program had one new opening, which caused her to enroll, and changed her life. The friend who is married because, thirty years ago, someone remarked that "Melissa doesn't have a date for Homecoming." These are easy to recall. Conversation does its work on a deeper level. It shapes us, molds us. It may change our direction, but it also does the work of lining up our ducks so that, when we move in the new direction, our emotional baggage is somewhat packed and all of our heart goes along. (Mixed metaphor, but I'm leaving it in.)

And, good conversation is more than a sum of its parts. It's like a barbershop harmony where four synchronized voices produce a fifth tone. Jesus said "for where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in their midst." (Matthew 18:20) I think that's what I really seek in a conversation, and it's the essence of the Bill Johnson quote that opened this post.

I came out of a religious background that put a high premium on representational art, the more realistic, the better. So I always felt a little guilty about the big abstract designs I've done since college. But, in the last few years, I've come to think that these pieces represent the flow of life in a conversation. There's a grace, and a rhythm, and there's a lot between the lines that makes good things happen.

Hope your holidays are rich with good conversation!

 

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