Monday over Coffee: Conversar

Need a Word of Encouragement?

Conversar 

When I was in law school, there was always a deep anxiety about the possibility of being called upon in class. Some professors went alphabetically down the roll so you had a sense of when in the semester it would be your turn, but others just selected students at random. Whatever the method, the professor might first ask the student to recite the facts of the case at hand, then ask about its holding—what the case stood for and how it was decided. Then, perhaps, the student would be grilled about whether the case was ruled upon correctly and what insights might be gleaned from any concurring or dissenting opinions in the case. It was invariably an ordeal.

Though grueling, the Socratic method—this form of teaching based on dialogue designed to stimulate critical thinking—is very effective and actually prepares you well for practicing law. Something similar often takes place in court. A judge typically listens to an attorney presenting an argument for a few minutes, then pretty quickly begins to ask questions about the case. The judge will often hone in on a lawyer’s weakest spots or explore prudential questions about the effect of the possible ruling on the presented motion. 

Professionally, this could be just about as nerve-wracking as law school, if not more so, but after gaining some litigation experience, most attorneys come to welcome the judge’s first question. I definitely felt this way myself. I might be giving a fairly well-reasoned argument, but as soon as the judge asked a question, I’d feel myself shift into a different mode, less stiff, more conversational in tone. Assuming my preparation was sound, instead of sounding like I was making a speech, I’d start communicating more authentically, more persuasively, more precisely, and with more personality, passion, and energy.

There’s something magical about human dialogue—the back and forth; the dynamic exchange of ideas and opinions in conversation--that’s hard to duplicate in a monologue. That dialogue is what makes podcasting so popular these days--the hearing of different voices; the combination of two minds trading thoughts. Because it feels less scripted, it seems to trigger more curiosity and engage the listener at a higher level. Maybe it’s just how we evolved as human beings, but perhaps the agile circuitry of the brain is wired to learn and integrate the meaning of experiences best through listening to and participating in conversation.

We just returned from Washington, DC, where my son Charlie visited Georgetown University. Charlie is currently a junior at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, which, like Georgetown, is run by the Jesuits. Through three-plus years of programs offered to parents, including a father-son retreat, I’ve been introduced to a wide array of Jesuit thought and spiritual practice. I’ve learned that Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, in a series of ancient writings, explained the core of his faith and ministry to be based upon the Spanish word conversar which means “to converse” or “to talk with.” 

In the Jesuit context, conversar simply means to earnestly talk with a person in a way that leads to the kind of comfortable, satisfying conversation whereby you truly get to know one another. But the Jesuits don’t just stop there with this notion of seeking out conversation with others. One of the imaginative forms of prayer they teach most fervently is something called ‘the colloquy’ or ‘conversational prayer’ which instructs us to picture Jesus sitting across a table from us, or perhaps walking beside us, then urges us simply to talk to Him as we would a close friend.

I’ve tried this. Admittedly, it’s a little awkward at first--like being called upon in class, or presenting a speech or a motion in front of a judge--but with a few tries, with just a little experience, I began to imagine not so much how Christ might respond to my opening prayer pitch, but rather what questions He might ask of me. By taking in the question, considering it for a moment and then responding, I found something tended to unlock. My tone changed, and I’d start talking: praying more authentically, more precisely, and with more personality, passion, and energy.

Perhaps this week, Holy Week, give it a try. Imagine Jesus is sitting across the table from you. Don’t begin by giving a speech; imagine simply being asked a question. What would Jesus ask you? As a friend. Now...just answer.

God— 
 
What do You want to ask me?

—Greg Funderburk

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