An editorial to the November edition of Just Talk
In the past few weeks, I had a privilege to participate in, or guide, several spiritual conversations. I participated in a module of the Discerning Leadership course with Church and civil leaders in Rome. I organised a weekend retreat with the Fellows of our European Leadership Programme. I greatly enjoyed the meeting of the steering committee for social apostolate in Europe and the Near East. We used the technique of spiritual conversation in all of these meetings extensively. What these meetings had in common was a sense of increased hope, group ownership and commitment to the mission – all of which came as a result of spiritual conversation.
Looking at the realities of our contemporary uncertainties, the discernment technique of spiritual conversation proved again to be one of the best and most well-kept secrets to success of any group process. I tried to understand why this happened. In my opinion, the crucial conditions that led to such abundant fruit were at least two. The first condition was a combination of interior freedom and mutual trust that emerged from sharing of our own vulnerability. The second condition was being compelled by reality as it is and not by our often-biased projections of what this reality should be.
The opportunities for vulnerability and reality-based sharing are plentiful. The most notable is our fear of CoViD-19 and the immense uncertainty related to the pandemic. (Some of the people in these online meetings have just recovered from the nefarious virus.) Other realities that we have taken as opportunities to act upon were political upheavals. We can mention the US Presidential election, the Vatican’s financial scandals, the most recent natural disasters in Central America or the ongoing and unjust imprisonment of Fr. Stan Swamy. In short, we have tried to see our world as a broken world of ours, hear its calls and take our reactions as an opportunity to respond.
Spiritual conversation is an element and a technique of the discernment in common (cf. here a short description of spiritual conversation process by Michael Hansen, SJ). While spiritual conversation is above all a spiritual exercise conducive to our personal and community growth, it is a welcome intervention for any group, identity or mission formation. Since spiritual conversation is based on both interior freedom and reality–checks, its ensuing rounds of active listening and intentional speaking transform the participants. How so? First, we are given the opportunity to talk to charitable and open ears. Second, we learn from one another, particularly through the sharing of our inner movements, sentiments, motions and spirits. Thirdly, this type of controlled sharing enables a possibility of an ensuing consensus on almost any matter of discussion and discernment. These matters can range from decisions on a group’s mission identification to the sensitive questions of human resources, to the solidarity actions we need to take in our political or Church-life realms. In other words, such sharing can lead to personal transformation, communal conversion, policy action and even dreams.
When Pope Francis conveyed his dreams of Europe to its bishops and the faithful last week, one could perceive in his speech a discerning movement that looks closely at the reality and shares what is most profound and vulnerable in us. I marvelled at the Pope’s call: “I dream of a Europe that is a family and a community, a Europe that is a friend to each and all, a Europe that is inclusive and generous. Europe, find yourself! Be yourself!” (Pope Francis to COMECE).
These days, many in Europe and around the world look to our future with uncertainty. The challenge is enormous. Yet, we also look at our realities with hope, knowing that we are equipped to navigate the challenge through listening to one another and the reality around us. Spiritual conversation can help us greatly in healing the broken world and move on.
More in this Just Talk.
Peter Rožič SJ,