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It’s hard to get through the news these days without hearing a call for “conversation” about a pressing public issue. It is a word constantly on our lips. The question I have been trying to address for the past twenty years is whether it is a practice embedded in the habits of our souls.

This work of forming our deepest being in the art of conversation occurs in the Roundtable Worship that I have been involved with for many years.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries “conversation” meant “general deportment or behavior.” By extension it meant the deep intimacy of sexual intercourse as well as the public life of social interaction. Only gradually did it come to mean the verbal interaction at the heart of both intimacy and publicity. The breadth and depth of its historic meanings point to a profound reality constituting our humanity.

We are lives in relationship, relationships knit together by language and consummated in love. This is the divine reality of human life.

The Roundtable Worship in my own church community has been engaged in this work of forming our souls to conversation for over 15 years. Out of this intense circle of conversation have come public conversations about immigration, sexuality, and, most recently, gun violence.

In these more public circles of conversation we seek to draw people into common work to claim a greater peace, justice, and well-being for our world.

The circle of conversation, we believe, is at the heart of a great work of reconciliation that flows from the spirit undergirding creation itself. In this circle each person claims an equality of presence, both in speaking and listening.

As a symbol of this relationship of speaking from the heart and listening with all the senses we use a talking piece. It gives authority to people who might otherwise remain silent. It instructs the voluble to listen with respect and learn about the other.

Such a talking piece was used recently by members of the US Senate to create a conversation that helped unravel an impasse in that legislature. I am always amazed at the power it brings to our gatherings.

This power of the circle conversation occurs in a sacred setting in which we create a world apart from the jangle of media and the anxieties of everyday obligations. Perhaps you could measure the welfare of a society by the degree it enables people to experience this sacred circle of conversation.

What supports for body, mind, and assembly are necessary for this event? Maybe this would replace the measurements of GDP and stock market indicators. Think about it.

This conversation cannot exist simply as a power of the participants. It depends on our trusting that there is a Spirit of reconciliation at work in this process. It is the manifestation of a faith in how reality is structured and guided toward its ultimate realization.

The conversation is always about more than our souls. It is about the world’s struggle toward its proper flourishing. It is about our roles in the greater drama of God’s work of reconciliation.

This is what Conversation means to us as a form of behavior, disposition, intimacy, public expression, and spirituality. As you hear the word around you, I hope you will find ways to lead yourself and your fellow citizens to the deeper levels of its meaning. Of course, if you want to reflect more on this, you can read the Introduction to Roundtable Worship that we wrote a few years back.

I share with you our most recently liturgy from our own Roundtable and invite you to use it any way you wish. Let me know what happens!

Roundtable Gathering

May 20, 2018


Call to the Table                                             (adapt. from Praying with the Earth)*

Clear our heart, O God,

that we may see you.

Clear our heart, O God,

that we may truly see ourselves.

Clear our heart, O God,

that we may know the sacredness of this moment. 

In every moment may we see you, serve you,

see you as the Living Presence underlying every presence.

Clear our heart, O God,

that we may see.

ALL: Amen. Amin. Ameyn.

Song of Gathering:

“Walls Mark Our Bound’ries”            Ruth Duck and Jim Strathdee

Remembrance (Unison)

               As your breath formed order out of the chaos of the waters,

So the dry bones of a people stirred to life in the desert of despair.

As the breath of Jesus’s lips brought life to dying children,

So the giving up of his breath filled the world with his life.

As the breath of God brought new life to the lovers of the crucified,

So their breath has brought us to their circle of your reconciling peace.

Thanksgiving (Unison)

O God, the Breath of Life throughout Creation,

In your breath we have each minute of our life. In the bounty of your earth we find the energy to walk your land. In each listening ear we find your own, in each word of thanks and praise we find the hope that leads us on. For this table and this company, we give you hearty thanks and sing our gratitude:

We give our thanks to you (4x).

We give our hearts to you (3x), because you first loved us.

Sharing at Table

            “Bread for our Bodies”                        ”Drink for our Spirits”

A Reading:

John 20:19-23

“The Power of the Circle,” by Black Elk

The Conversation:             “Life in the Circle of Reconciliation”

Gathered Prayers

The Hope Prayer

O Source of Life, You alone are holy.

Come, govern us in perfect peace.

Give us today the food that we need.

Release us from our sin as we release our enemies.

Sustain us in our times of trial.

Liberate us all from evil powers.

Guide us in your justice, wisdom, and peace. Amen, Amin, Ameyn

Reflective Moment

Words of Commitment

In God’s love, we will seek the path of reconciliation.

In God’s power, we will walk the ways of peace.

In God’s wisdom, we will struggle for God’s justice in this world.

In God’s mercy, we will seek to care for Earth, our home.

Prayer for Peace:                                                (adapt. from Praying with the Earth)*

O Breath of God, we pray for:

Peace where there is war, healing where there is hurt,

Memory where we have forgotten the other,

Vision where there is violence, light where there is madness,

Sight where we have blinded each other,

Comfort where there is sorrow, tears where there is hardness,

Laughter where we have missed life’s joy, and

Laughter when we remember the joy.

Amen, Ameyn, Amin.

Blessing Song:

Go now in peace, blessing and blessed,

Grounded in God, healing and whole.

Go now in peace, blessing and blessed,

Grounded in God, filled with God’s love.

*(Prayers adapted from John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace [Eerdmans, 2011].)

2 thoughts on “Conversation”

  1. Interesting and constructive writing on Conversation–those forms of interaction.

  2. Dear Bill, thank you very much for your reflections on the spirit and power of conversation. Of course, Jesus is the supreme example of that since he spends most of his time conversing with people in various settings and styles: admonishing, struggling, confronting, convincing, rejecting, teaching, inviting, consoling, rejoicing, praying,etc.
    My own experience with conversation as part of the church service gathering happened in the Berlin congregation of Heilig Kreuz Passion. After the service we always gathered around a large table and had about 45-60 minutes of conversation about the service, the sermon, the issues inspired by the service. Often these conversations preached more intensely and profoundly than the sermon which was an address and often not a conversation. The atmosphere was often very dense and deep because people were ready to confide in each other in the small group of 7-12 people.
    Sometimes controversies developed which were enlightening when overcome or when people realized they agreed to disagree in mutual respect. With the numbers of churchgoers dwindling in Germany steadily this form of conversational worship might be a possibility whenever the setting allows to enter into spontaneously.

    In the small Moravian congregation close to us we have a monthly meeting called family circle where parents and children are invited to come on Saturday morning at 11, have prayerful beginning with lighting of candles while thinking of people and issues in prayer followed by a praise of God who invites and loves us and followed by a biblical story that is reenacted spontaneously with just a few props and some prepared dialog which can be read while acted. We are singing some songs of thanks and intercession and share a blessing where two bless one another with gestures and sung words: I envelop you quite softly (hands go around the head and body of the other), you shall be blessed by God (hands on the head of the other), I rejoice from my heart (putting hands on one’s heart), I rejoice because of you (shaking the other’s hand or embracing).
    After that we prepare spaghetti with tomato sauce plus fruit and cookies with coffee and juice and water and continue to converse at the lunch table. The children can play when they are ready, and the adults continue in conversation. This has been a very rewarding format. However, in the last two years we have been normally just two families: me and my two girls, now 12 and 6, and another mother with her son (10) and daughter (5). sometimes my wife and her husband are also present. The pastor of the Moravians prepares the contents and sometimes has a co-worker come along. At the beginning, 7 years ago, we had been four to five families, which created a more diffuse situation because of too much commotion with the children.

    Thanks for making me reflect on these experiences! May the spirit blow reformation into our routines!
    Bless you,

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