Faith: Drowning in a flood of conversation
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Faith: Drowning in a flood of conversation

My friend comes towards me across the plaza. In a quick embrace we tell each other how chuffed we are to have pulled off this city meet up in a single email exchange.

As we sit down to lunch she asks me about my weekend sojourn – ‘You’ve just been away somewhere? Was it a work thing?’ I’m jiggling my seat into position opposite hers and suddenly I’m talking way too fast, racing across my recent activities, back-story-ing, forward speculating, announcing, commentating. I’m thrashing about like an idiot on a jetski.

Rambling on: Don't spoil the simple joy of a friendly conversation.

Rambling on: Don't spoil the simple joy of a friendly conversation.Credit:Stockbyte

Nothing, it seems, will stop me.

There’s a little crease near my friend’s eyebrows, she looks like she’s trying to concentrate. The Report-on-Everything I’ve blurted out is dragging us away like a tidal rip. I pause, take a breath, ask her a question. She answers briefly, but she’s a bit limp, out of air.

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A flood of unfinished stories is rising around us, no one can stand steady.

I’ve caught myself flooding conversations before – dinner parties, water-fountain chats, staff meetings – just a tad too much enthusiasm can do it, or a little anxiety. Best not to come in like a great tidal wave if you want to dwell in the joy of telling and listening.

Sometimes I think that sitting opposite one another sets up a turn-taking which can be reciprocal but doesn’t leave the kinds of silent spaces that looking side-by-side out of a window or windscreen allow.

I think of Jesus in 1st-century Palestine, the formal meals taken in reclining position, I wonder if this posture allowed a flow of conversation and moments for silence.

If you want to dwell in the joy of telling and listening create a few eddies, little quiet places where new riffs and ripples can make their way into the big ebb and flow.

During my evangelical youth I was attracted to the zeal of telling ‘the good news’ in ways which I now think had more to do with my own need to feel significant than with actually listening to the Holy One speaking through the lives of others. ‘Witnessing’ was about spruiking.

Now I think that being neighbours to one another is about bearing witness – the privilege of being alongside, seeing and respecting another’s experience, and being open to what it reveals. Often the Spirit is present in this openness.

As for my lunch companion, the following day I sent an email acknowledging what I’d done and asking her forgiveness. I observed, ‘I need to take a breath at the beginning of a conversation’ –perhaps there’s an invitation to a tiny ritual, a note-to-self pause and give the silence a chance to speak.

Julie Perrin is a Melbourne writer.

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