Contemplative Conversations Online
Many of us are struggling to know how to have meaningful contemplative conversations. We feel like we have lost significant connections during the pandemic and do not know where to go find new connections. Some of us are uncomfortable or skeptical about having contemplative conversations online.
What are the significant questions or insights we would like to reflect on with other people?
Most of us would like some help sorting out and understanding life’s larger questions.
We work out what we believe and how it shapes us on our own and together. Each of us needs to find our own balance between reading and reflecting within ourselves and how we ponder together in conversation with other people.
Some of us believe only certain people are qualified to help us. It can be a challenge for us to see ourselves as potential helpers.
EfM(Education for Ministry) is a conversation group organization which has been online since 2001. EfM can be a practical help sorting out our own core beliefs and how they fit into the world around us.
We do not need to be part of a church to benefit from this opportunity to take time for reading and reflection each week. It is part of the Beecken Center at the University of the South’s School of Theology.
I facilitated group conversations in person for six years and began an online group a few of years ago. I now facilitate two online EfM groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 to 6:45 PM Pacific time which will start again in September.
Each group includes 6 –10 people. There is a registration fee and process. We will meet from September through June.
Would you like to explore this opportunity for contemplative conversations online?
Taking Our Contemplative Conversations Online
Some of us seem to assume contemplative conversations online are like being at church all the time. This is not a prospect they find particularly attractive.
Their experience of being at church is often about other people telling them what to believe or how to live. Churches have not been places where their questions are welcome.
They experience churches as being like foreign countries where people speak a different language. They are not countries known for their hospitality to strangers. Many people find churches to be like countries which restrict how often people can visit with special rules and expectations.
Some of them even have rules about what people can wear.
These are not aspects of spiritual life which we find attractive.
There are two things which draw me to spiritual life. One is the significance of stillness. I appreciate sitting in an empty space praying and listening to how people have prayed there throughout its history.
Another is how spiritual life encourages contemplative conversations. While I could live without making small talk for the rest of my life, contemplative conversations spark a fire in my heart.
The churches and monasteries which have shaped me are places which invite contemplative conversations. Their focus is not on making sure everyone finds the same answers. They do not believe they have a monopoly on the truth.
Many of these contemplative conversations get started and keep growing as people ask questions and ponder together. They do not exist to defend the truths they hold dear, but to explore together and discover deeper truths.
We need places which help us discover what we believe for ourselves, not whether we have learned what someone else wants to teach us.
Building Contemplative Conversations Online
Each of us learns to discern for ourselves and we find ways to have contemplative conversations. We need people and places in our lives which encourage contemplation. Some of us have regular conversations about spiritual life with people we trust.
The idea of contemplative conversations online might make us feel a little uncomfortable. Extroverts are nervous about the concept of contemplation while introverts feel anxious about doing it with other people.
We need a way to learn how to understand what contemplation is and how we can ponder together.
Our search for the contemplative conversations we seek is not limited by physical geography.
We can build places for contemplative conversations together which do not require buildings or transportation.
Many of us have learned to appreciate how the Internet lets us connect with people with whom we share values even though we have never met in person.
Our lives online can help us build communities to tap into resources which enhance our everyday lives.
How can we live our lives both in person and online to become more open to spiritual life? Can a contemplative conversation online help us experience the reflection for which we thirst?
Finding Contemplative Conversations Online
I invite you to join the place for contemplative conversations I am building online.
Education for Ministry(EfM) is overseen by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. It consists of four sessions, each of which lasts for a nine-month academic year.
Together in a small group of other people online, we will discover and explore our story and how we practice it in our everyday lives. Through reading, prayer, and contemplative conversations we help each other move together toward new understanding.
Our conversations build honest and trustworthy friendships.
Each week builds on the last just as each annual session leads into the next one. Our conversation draws meaning from each week’s events and reading. Part of our process is to notice questions and insights which guide our application of what we recognize.
The program provides a framework to include reading, reflection, and conversation in our schedules. It helps me bring together contemplative conversations and analytical inquiry in my own life.
Contemplative conversations online have become central to my understanding of spiritual life.
Please join me in building a place for contemplative conversations online.
Where can we go to find contemplative conversations online?
What step can we take today to begin building contemplative conversations online?
Will we be ready to join contemplative conversations online by the end of this summer?
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.