It is sometimes said that I talk too much and I talk too fast. Usually, this is said by my wife. It is especially true when I’m nervous, or particularly enthusiastic about something. It’s something which isn’t a problem online in the world of typed communication but can sometimes be a pain to those around me.
A Slow Conversation
I had a slow conversation today, though, which got me thinking about the pace of thought and speech, especially in the light of Andy Byers’ recent post on impatience in online communications. Today’s conversation was slow of necessity since I had met up with a friend called David who had a stroke a few days ago and consequently could not speak, apart from saying the words ‘no’ and ‘dog’. I hadn’t even brought my dog along, so there was little scope for David to use his very limited spoken vocabulary, other than to decline sugar for his coffee. David wrote his side of the conversation in a notebook, or typed them on his iPhone. There was lots of silence from both of us as we chatted which wasn’t uncomfortable, but had space for thought in it and slowed the pace of our ideas, giving us focus. We chatted about the nature of conversation, something which, as a psychotherapist, David knows a lot about. I found the pace of my thoughts slowed to match the pace which the practicality of having this conversation required. It was a good way to converse, despite David’s obvious frustration at times and his frankly appalling handwriting!
[David, having read this post, writes of dealing with his post-stroke condition: it's got me thinking about living in the moment, and Bonhoffer's comments about community]
Slow Conversations in the Bible
Eavesdropping on conversations
Many epistles read, to my mind, like the middle of conversations. They imply an existing relationship: that a question has been asked, a situation encountered and that information has been received and is being responded to. There is a relationship being expressed through these conversations. In St Pauls’ 2nd letter to the Corinthians, it is clear that there has been a conversation between the church in Corinth and Paul with Titus acting as an intermediary. Paul writes in chapter 7 that Titus brought word to him from Corinth while he was in Macedonia and let Paul know that Titus had been comforted by his time in Corinth but that a previous letter of Paul’s had caused them sorrow and repentance. A lot of the content of 2 Corinthians can be seen as part of this ongoing conversation and relationship between the community there and St Paul. In the same way that my conversation with David was slowed by our means of communication, the conversation between Paul and the church in Corinth is very measured and considered – at least, the side we read from Paul seems so – at least in part because the medium is that of a letter to be read out to a group of people.
The big conversation
In a sense, all of scripture tells us of a conversation between God and mankind. It is spoken over time and we can see snippets of conversation spread out across various books of the Bible. Psalms which cry out in repentance are answered with God’s mercy. Prophecies uttered by Micah are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as Messiah.
One criticism of this approach is that one can join up any number of isolated scriptures into a conversation which actually never existed. It is a common criticism from humanists that faith is merely a matter of deft editing of scripture to form a coherent story or conversation to fit with one’s belief system. If you wait long enough, the criticism goes, any prophecy will be fulfilled if you join the dots in a way which suits your beliefs. My answer to this is that the Christian faith doesn’t require any sleight of hand or cunning editing: the answer is seen in the fact that we continue the same conversations today. Our lived experience as those born again in the Spirit is part of the same relationship between the Creator and those created in the Divine image which we read of throughout the Bible. This is not a matter of believing the right things. It is of engaging in God’s wonderful conversation with us. We can read this conversation in the Bible, see it reflected in the community of saints among whom we live, engage with it in our prayers and in living lives which express God’s Kingdom and spread the conversation into the world around us.
The conversation makes most sense when we continue it.
It’s the ultimate slow conversation.