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The Art of Conversation

The Art of Conversation

It’s been said that talk is cheap. However, I’m not really thinking about talk so much as conversation. Today it dawned on me that conversation is an entirely different thing from talking. We can talk to others and have discussions, and we generally do this everyday, but it isn’t the same thing as conversation. I didn’t realize this until suffering years of malnutrition, starved of true conversation and it’s blessed essence and nourishment to my human soul.

Conversation is an art, and it is lost and dying. As I sift through the past 10 or so years of change, I wonder what exactly has contributed to placing conversation, that pure and true discourse between souls, in danger of extinction. Was conversation something that only took place in certain contexts, such as college or seminary, where learning, growth, and the exchange of ideas were as vital as a heartbeat to daily life? Is it that I am now on the downside of my thirties, thrust as a single, childless adult into the context of busier individuals’ lives who are occupied now with maintaining marriages and children while juggling careers? Are we as a individuals and a society too busy in this stage of life to quiet our souls long enough to realize that there is a difference between talking to others and having actual conversation?

My soul is sore. I shudder to think how long it has been since I have had the pleasure of conversation – the deep, freeing, flowing, intimacy-creating, relational-building kind of conversation; the kind that defies time, space, boundary and constriction. The artful pursuit of what lies within another person, and the reciprocal relinquishment of what lies within the self. Conversation is a delightful dance where partners grasp each others minds. It is a passionate interlocking of hearts, a joyful, intriguing dive into who another person truly is, and a richer discovery of who the self is. Just as conversation is lost, so also are people without it. I am lost, and I feel the loss.

The question is, am I alone in my loss and state of being lost? Do others feel the vacancy of the masterpiece of conversation? Are the majority of people content with the manufactured prints hanging in their relational halls, happy to call their daily exchange of speech and interactions sufficient? And those who truly engage in conversation, who do not feel bereft in this regard, why do they keep the circle so small?  Are we afraid of expanding our intimacy to the inclusion of pining souls adrift, thirsty for fresh water in an ocean of salty despair? Surely these people did not exist strictly in educational environments. Surely they did not love and hold to their breast the beauty of conversation for a mere few years of life, only to be discarded when jobs and spouses and children and activities began to fill the palettes of their lives.

Or maybe they did.

In the garden of Eden, Adam had a vast display of beauty and life at his fingertips in the form of a startling diversity of landscape, vegetation, and animal life. He had perfect communion and relationship with God, and yet his soul was lacking.  He needed another creation like himself with whom he could not just communicate,  but have conversation. And so God took from within the man a part of himself and created a unique but similar being to fulfill this desire. And conversation as it was meant to be was born into the world.

If only people could awaken and find themselves like Adam, sitting in the midst of the world around them, in touch with that lonely, missing masterpiece.  If only the business and busyness of life could fade for a few clarifying moments to allow that undertow of loss and desire to swell to the top and rise like a wave cresting, rushing to crash ashore. If only even one, such as myself, could again find conversation, or perhaps that God would fashion and merge our paths, then life would indeed be sweeter.

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Designer Planet

Designer Planet

If I were to ask you to fill in the blank for the phrase “no two (blank) are the same”, most of you would likely answer “people” or “snowflakes”.  However, there are a lot of things that aren’t the same, in nature at least.  No two dog or cat nose prints are the same, much like human fingerprints.  So I set out to do an internet search to see what other things in life or nature were unique.  I was disappointed to find nothing more.  However, I did find an interesting piece from a logical standpoint which states that “the only thing that is the same thing is the same thing.”  Well, true! In the fundamental sense, some thing by virtue of being a thing is it’s very own, separate from another thing.

This presented a little quandary about where I want to go with this post, so set aside this point of logic with me.

There are a surprising number of fashion blogs that choose to follow this one.  As I think about fashion, I think about production and design on all levels, not merely clothing and accessories.  The word “fashion” means to make or form something out of something else, to create something from imagination and ingenuity. It is very similar to the meaning of “design”, which means to plan and make something, to create or execute according to plan. A look around my room right now reveals objects that were planned and created for a specific use.  I realize there are mass replicas of most of the items around me.  Everything I see has others which are exactly alike.  Many man-made things are exactly the same (aside from the logic above), for such is the case with mass production.  The need for the same function results in the creation of the same object for that function.

However, man-made things from a more artistic side can vary, and such is the case with fashion.  Mass produced fashion may have two things exactly alike, but uniqueness occurs when the designer intentionally wants to create something that is like no other.  I realize several things from this.  One is that this planet is entirely unique and like no other.  It is highly sophisticated in design and purpose.  A literal myriad of complex lifeforms exist on Earth, which is, according to scientific knowledge, not the case with any other planet.  Secondly I realize that no two God-created things are exactly alike.  I don’t need to research it to realize it.  God created earth and all of it’s components and inhabitants entirely different from anything else. That which is alive is entirely its own entity because it has some degree of difference regarding its composition.

In thinking on these things I also realize that as people made in the image of a Creator, we are creators.  We have the ability to fashion and design and to make things that are unique and unlike anything else.  We not only live on a designer planet, we are designer people. We have limitations of course, for we can only create things.  We cannot, aside from procreation, create a living thing.  Even when creating functional things, God applied the law of singularity. I did read from one source that all electrons are “exactly the same”, and I wonder about this.  With man’s limitations, does he fail to see that perhaps even the elemental things have some degree of variance that the naked eye or the naked mind cannot see?

I don’t know, but I marvel at life a little more when I think of how all things on earth are privileged and patented and that no two things are truly alike.  While I can’t comprehend the diversity of earth’s diversity, I can appreciate it.  I can observe and admire with astonishment and renewed wonder at the beautiful mystery of the utter distinctive quality of life and creation.

The Measure of a Moment

The Measure of a Moment

I remember the first time I noticed, I mean really noticed, the interaction between light and water.  I was sitting in the grass in a wide open area having a scheduled quiet time at a church retreat.  For the life of me I couldn’t concentrate on the bible or the things they’d given us to reflect upon. Instead I looked around or stared at the ground in contemplation and free thought mode.

Suddenly a burst of color caught my eye and I honed in on a blade of grass upon which a drop of water rested.  The rich green and the perfectly straight edge amazed me.  I thought of a man made level that is used in construction to make sure they are building perfectly straight, level boards and surfaces.  God was the first to create such a perfect thing, yet it is something we hardly notice in the midst of that which we walk upon without a thought.

As I continued to observe the dew on the grass I moved ever so slightly from side to side, marveling at the miracle of subtly changing colors of the spectrum within that tiny liquid circle. I’ll never forget the sense of wonder encapsulated in that simple moment, the stunning realization of beauty so common and yet so rare, the significance of something so small and seemingly insignificant.  It reminded me that whole worlds can exist in a moment even as countless moments comprise the whole world.  It brings to mind now a wonderful quote I often think of in times of quiet observation:

God dwells in the details.  – Mies van der Rohe

Today is a day where the small and grandiose bounce around together in my soul, polar opposites dancing within, waltzing out of reach and eluding my grasp.  I cannot completely define what it is, but it has to do with significance and insignificance, time and eternity, the measure of a moment, the fleeting nature of time.  Time is but a dew drop in the continuum of eternity, yet within it is a marvelous array of colors blending one into another. The earth exists within eternity as a small drop of water, and even smaller, our individual world and the length and breadth of our own lives.  How small, how fast, these lives of ours.  Before we know it we are grown with children and careers, and in the blink of an eye or a shifting of our body we see that life has changed from color to color, season to season, and our children are the ones with children and careers.

What is the meaning of all this smallness and profoundness heaped together in something so fleeting yet ever continuing as time?  Do we get it? Do we truly see the significance within the seemingly insignificant? We hardly have appropriate levels or scales upon which to weigh the measure of a moment, a life, or a lifetime.   Our thoughts and actions, goals and achievements, dreams and ambitions and efforts … all seemingly small, yet at times enormous, deep, and far-reaching.

Maybe there really is nothing which is insignificant.  Maybe “insignificant” should not even be a word.  Everything matters.  The matter within the simple blade of grass and the matter comprising a drop of water and the matter of light pouring from the sun in a beam of glory (as if to say “This matters! Yes, this small thing is simply and profoundly beautiful and alive and significant!”) all come together to enlighten us on our complex journeys.

Perhaps this realization that everything matters, that all things are significant and have purpose and value, is both a precursor to love and a component of love.  Love does not see anything as insignificant, for love sees the “whole” as well as the “part”.  Love sees nothing, save evil, as ugly.  Love in fact creates beauty out of the unbeautiful.  It transforms evil into good, reversing the letters to make the opposite of “evil”, which is “live”.

I guess what I wish is for each of us to really see as much as we are able.  To walk with God and to sit with him, to listen to his observations of the world around.  How marvelous all of life would seem if we would take time to sit with Jesus and ponder the glory and significance of the “insignificant” things laid out before us in our daily lives.  To cherish, as he does, all things that are made and to gaze at everything and everyone is such a way as to see the wonder and the beauty and the incredible meaning and value of life.

Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it.  – Florence Nightingale

Three Types of Love

Of the six types of love according to the Greeks, agape was the only one that came to mind in thinking on love tonight.  Now that I’ve looked them up, I remember some of the others. However, it isn’t Greek types of love floating through the inner chambers of my mind at this late hour, but rather relational types of love.  There are three types that come to mind: self love, God love, and others love.  I realized for the first time tonight that these three forms of love can be arranged in several different ways, and that we as human beings may fluctuate the order of these three types of love throughout our lifespan.  The combination of the three types may be viewed in order of priority, being first, second, and third in importance and practice to us.

1) God, self, others:  Someone who loves God first, self second, and others last

2) Self, God, others: Someone who loves the self first, God second, and others last

3) Others, God, self: Someone who loves others first, God second, and self last

4) Self, others, God: Someone who loves the self first, others second, and God last

5) Others, self, God: Someone who loves others first, self second, and God last

6) God, others, self: Someone who loves God first, others second, and self last

Growing up I learned that #6 was the way that Christians are suppose to love.  We are to put God first, others second and ourselves last.  We are to love God first, others second, and ourselves last.  This was drilled into me through the cute little praise song which made an acronym of the word JOY.  J is for Jesus, O is for others, Y is for you.  But is this proper order of the three types of relational love? Perhaps you’re thinking how a self-professed Christian could even question such a thing? But what does it mean when Jesus said to love God first and your neighbor as yourself? Is Jesus saying we should love God, others, and self or is He saying we should love God, self, and others?

I always interpreted this to mean that Jesus assumed our fallible nature to love ourselves before others, and that He was saying the proper order would be God, others, and self. It makes sense doesn’t it? Putting God first, others second, self last.  It seems the loving and selfless thing to do.

But it just doesn’t settle well with me.  I think Jesus was advocating self love in a verse we interpret as implying selfish love.  I think He was hinting at a God kind of love for the self, and that the true order of love should indeed be God, self, and others and here is why:

Naturally we are to love God first, because we are His creation and when born again, we are His children.  We are to love self second, because we are beings made in God’s image, and that is how He loved before anything was created.  Before creation God existed in perfect Triune love: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit loved self in the sense that they are One.  Perfect love existed in the oneness and three-in-oneness of God.  Then God took the perfect, self love (very distinct from selfish love) and applied it to others by creating a world that He loved.  The natural order for God is to love self and then to love others.  As created beings, we must follow that perfect order.

The challenge is, how do we rightly love self in a holy, pure, God’s-heart kind of way?

My answer is this: spending time in the presence of God, soaking in His love, meditating on verses which reveal God’s love towards us, and asking God to root His love for us within us.  We cannot love ourselves and extend it to others unless we experience love first hand from God – knowledge and experience are very different.  I used to know that God loved me, but until I invited Christ into my heart, I didn’t fully experience it.  The idea made me happy and secure, but the inward reality was an entirely new awakening, quickening, enlivening of my inner senses and awareness.

I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard that seems to support this view that the proper order is God, self, and others:

“The commandment said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, but if the commandment is properly understood it also says the opposite: You shall love yourself in the right way.”

I’d like to conclude by saying that the last 5 arrangements of the  three types of love listed above are all imperfect.  Since “God is love” according to the bible, those which do not start with God cannot be true love towards God, self, or others.  Number #6 (God, others, self – the typical Christian view) cannot be correct, though it starts with God and puts Him first, because the nature of love is to come from within (God loved self first) and then to flow outward.  “Self” must be the proper second love in the order, because “self” must experience love first (from God), understand it within and rightly apply it (to self) before it is able to pass that pure, holy, proper God-like love to others.

In this proper order that I believe Jesus was implicating (God, self, others), all love comes from God, honors Him, and is given back to Him. Again I refer to Kierkegaard:

 “But to love oneself in the divine sense is to love God, and truly to love another person is to help that person to love God or in loving God.”

I picture a triangle upside down to illustrate this, with God and others listed at the top and self listed at the bottom:  God’s love comes down to self, which then goes up to God, up to (reaches out to) others, which then enables others to connect to and love God, and connect to and love others.

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