Continuing a trail from last week, I’ve been pondering the creative power of words. Words are not merely tools, functional symbols. Rather, words are like seeds. They can burrow deep; and given the right conditions and good timing, all kinds of life and beauty can sprout.
John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher and former-priest, recorded an interview with Krista Tippet a few months before his untimely death at age 52. Tucked amid the dialogue, O’Donohue asked, “When is the last time you had a great conversation? Not just two intersecting monologues, but a great conversation?”
What an important question, what a disturbing question. O’Donohue went on to describe what, for him, are signals of fertile conversation:
you overhear yourself saying things you never knew you knew
you overhear yourself receiving from somebody words that find a place within you that you thought you’d lost
you experience an inventive conversation that brought the two of you onto a different plane
the conversation continues to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards
This might not be our list, but it gets at something that happens in enlivening interchanges. Something given, something received. The heart awakens. A discovery. Friendship blossoms. We know it when we encounter it precisely because it’s so rare, a gift.
Often our words are merely a means of passing information or making a transaction rather than a conduit for sharing and receiving life. When Miska asks me about my day, she’s typically not hunting for a ramshackle list of hourly events. She’s wondering what I loved, what I hated, where I was bored – and if I caught any glimpses of God or was caught in any moments of wonder. She curious about me, and words are the raw material for the story she’s asking and the story I’ll answer.
I’ve found that you can’t make such conversation happen, but you can till the soil to be ever ready for the seeds. You can create the space. You can hope for the moments where you truly see and hear another – and are truly seen and heard by another.