I’m in a class from the Inspire Movement called “The Skills of Spiritual Conversation”, and it has proven wonderful and helpful. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about something taught called “double listening”, where you are listening as deeply as you can to the person speaking, but also open to what God may be telling you at the same time. Sometimes it may be an affirmation, sometimes it might be a word of wisdom for the speaker…or for you! Yesterday we had class and there is a breakout room from the larger group, and I am with two other men — one in Ireland, one in England and me here in Central Texas. (Zoom can be a real pain, but it can be a real blessing, too.) One of the men said he had been reading the letter of James in the New Testament, and had been planning to barrel on through the rest of the short book, but felt himself continually brought up short.
“Read that again! Read that again” as he passed over a passage. If I’m right, it was in the third chapter, where the writer calls us all out who want to be well regarded.
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom — it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the other’s throats. (James 3: 13-17 The Message
My friend kept going back to that passage and what comes next, kept going over and over it. As he kept reading the passage sunk into his heart, burrowing a place of healing. It is such a trap to want to be thought of as wise, to be thought of as smart, to be thought of as more than you are…especially when any good gifts we may have do not come from us. Here’s the next passage:
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. James 3: 17-18
As I heard my friend tell of going over and over this passage I thought of me barreling through readings to hit some kind of quota that no one knows but me, creating some kind of task to show how spiritual I am, some sort of phony bragging rights. Had he not shared, I wouldn’t have realized…
We learn discipleship in community. It’s easy to get along with others if you don’t see anyone, but in community it becomes the challenge. And we learn the commonalities as we share deeply of real issues.
Folks who have attended AA meetings for the first time often have a strong, emotional reaction. “This is what the church should be!” Well, the early church probably was closer to a small community sharing their lives, sharing their victories and losses and coming alongside each other to offer help.
What if we asked some questions to get into real spiritual discussions? For instance:
In questions of discipleship: what’s it like to live out your baptismal vows to accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? What’s happened lately along those lines?
In recovery communities: Have you ever done a fifth step? Have you ever admitted to God, to yourself and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs? How was that? (Unless you say “terrifying”, you’re probably not paying attention. I could be wrong there, but I don’t think so…)
We can learn to live well by learning to to have deep spiritual conversations with trusted people.
How do you want to live well? Do you want wisdom? Share your thoughts, if you’re interested….