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Guide Divine Conversations: The Art of Meaningful Dialogue With God

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I said yes, that it was made of red brick. I had no idea what he was getting at, but it did not take long to find out. In retrospect, I learned a valuable survival skill during those years of moving around, which was to pay close attention to how people talked, whom they demeaned, how they met up on the playground, and who had the power.

Even after I gained control of my own address and stayed put for long periods of time, I liked watching things from the edges better than competing for a place in the middle. I could see more from there. In college, while other kids were running for office, I wrote about them for the school newspaper. While other girls were joining sororities, I hung out at the Jewish fraternity house. Maybe it was pure contrariness, or maybe it was a way to minimize the risks of failure.

Either way, gravitating to the edges has benefited me as a preacher and writer because the edge is a creative place to be—a place from which to see the whole field—and to empathize with those who are not sure where they belong. Image: If your childhood experience of adjusting to one new town after another taught you certain things, how have later experiences of rootedness or stability shaped you in turn?

BBT: I would like to tell you that geographical stability was a choice, but it may simply have been a reaction to the instability of my childhood.


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I have lived in exactly two houses over the past thirty-six years. The first was in Atlanta, where I lived with my husband Ed for the first ten years of our marriage.

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It took us two years to find the land we live on now, and another year to build the farmhouse, the two barns, and the split-rail fence. That was twenty-five years ago. The fence is covered with green lichen and most of the peach trees we planted outside the kitchen window have died of old age, but the place feels as fresh to me as the day we moved here.

To answer your question more directly, this experience of rootedness has taught me a great deal about faithfulness. Through every season, in all kinds of weather, from the minute the chicks hatch to the minute a hawk swoops down to carry one of them and then another one away, I have learned about staying true to the cycles of life and death that are impossible to ignore when you stay in one place for so long.

When people from the city ask if it gets lonely here, I have to stop and remember that they think human beings are the only kind of company a person can have. I never get lonely here. Even when I am alone, there is so much life on this place that I never run out of company: chicks, hawks, skunks, snakes, songbirds, spiders, a million breathing leaves. My only problem is that I have a hard time giving them all the kind of attention they deserve.

Image: You published your first book in your early forties. Did you always have an ambition to write, or did that part of your vocation unfold gradually? BBT: Because my family moved so much, I was an avid reader. The minute I discovered what the written word could do—transport readers to other worlds, allow them to live more than one life, enlarge their sense of purpose, introduce them to friends who lived only inside books—I started writing stories.

Unfortunately, it was stapled to my original cover letter with a note from his reader at the bottom. More to the point, I think my themes were too melancholy and my characters too opaque. The people in my stories did interesting things and interesting things happened to them, but only I knew why. I let too much of my own introversion rub off on them. Like me, they deflected attention. They looked out but were reluctant to let anyone look in.

Enough to make a reader want to commit suicide. During that same time, I was serving eight or ten hours a week at a big Episcopal church in downtown Atlanta.

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I had a seminary degree but I was not ordained, so the rector was always thinking up new things for me to do. My first year he asked me to deliver a homily at one of the small evening services during Holy Week, which would be held in the front pews of the nearly dark church. I also got a terrible cold, so when the night finally came I took a double dose of Robitussin DM to ward off coughing fits while I preached. When I stood up to face the little clutch of people, I was so tipsy that I had to hold on to the pew in front of me to avoid swaying.

But I said what I had to say, and when it was over someone asked me for a copy of my sermon. Walking out of church that night, I realized I had just sold my first short story. So my writing life turned into a preaching life, with my love of language as the bridge. Image : How would you describe the difference between preparing a piece of oratory and crafting an essay or book chapter, between writing for the ear and for the eye?

BBT: The most significant difference for me is the level of intimacy. Words set down on a page feel much more personal to me than words said aloud.

When I write to be read, I am writing for one person who may be awake under a reading lamp in the middle of a sleepless night. I allow myself the luxury of longer sentences and more complex punctuation, knowing my reader can stop and read a passage over again whenever he or she wants.

I raise all the questions I want for the same reason. When I write to be heard, I am writing for a group of people sitting upright in a well-lit public space.

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I work with shorter sentences and choose words with fewer syllables. I say one thing in as many different ways as I can, resisting the temptation to raise a lot of interesting questions that will cause my listeners to go off on their own tangents. Since I want them to stay with me, I pay as much attention to the rhythm of a sentence as I do to its content. Since they can see me, I know that what they hear will be hugely affected by how they respond to my appearance and the sound of my voice. The size of the crowd can affect how the words sound.

So can the weather outside. This means I cannot judge the effectiveness of oral and written communication in the same way. Though the private reading and the public event can hardly be compared, I think that my effectiveness on the page depends on how much of my meaning gets through.

When people come up to me at book signings with books that have been heavily underlined, I know my meaning has gotten through. At a public event, I am much more interested in whether the words moved people or not. But if they were moved—if, while sitting quietly with a lot of other people, they felt something they are likely to remember—then I count that a great success, even though I cannot really take credit for it.

The Spirit was at work, and I got to be a part of it. With all of that said, I think my writing has been shaped by orality more than the other way around. People who hear me speak often say that I sound like I write. Image: What are the joys or challenges of exploring faith for readers who belong to religious traditions not your own or who identify as nonreligious? Either way, I proceed on the assumption that what we have most in common is not our religion or our spirituality but our humanity.

We will accept help from anyone who offers. One of my favorite things to do when I get home from a long flight is to stand around international arrivals watching people from all over the world come through the doors to where their loved ones are waiting to greet them. Watching their faces reminds me why I love being alive. It also reminds me that the truest thing about being human—the thing deepest down in us—is not sin but the divine image.

Happily, this truth coincides with a central Christian teaching, which is the importance of incarnation. The nicest thing anyone has said to me lately is that he liked the way I spoke of the sacred without the usual vocabulary. At the same time, I know I have lost readers because I do not use that vocabulary often enough for them.

I have also lost friends—mostly clergy friends, who are still working so hard to preserve traditional Christian language in their conversations, sermons, blogs, and books.

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That project once interested me very much. The problem is that once I left parish ministry I met a whole lot of people who were doing neither, and who heard the language of faith as insider language meant chiefly to exclude them. At that point, preserving the words became less important to me than being in relationship with people who were put off by the words, but who were still drawn to the reality behind them. Image: It seems that leaving parish ministry freed you to write differently in this respect.


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BBT: That was so long ago now that I barely remember, but yes, it must have. The hardest change for me to get used to was moving from what you might call public truth in which I spoke on behalf of a local religious community to private truth in which I spoke only for myself. When I first started speaking only for myself, it was like driving on a winding mountain road with no guardrails. They had been there so recently—the texts, the liturgies, the congregational mores that had kept me on track—and then they were gone.

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I was scared of driving that road for a while, afraid of what I might say and where it might take me. Oh, also subtract two stars because Walsch wrote two more books on the same subject that I can't muster the will to read. Add one because zero stars implies no opinion and I certainly have an opinion on his fiction. View 2 comments. Mar 16, Natasha rated it it was amazing. I found myself distracted by the reviews here that claim this book presents falsehoods and the message is poorly constructed.

Then, I immediately felt bad and had a desire to defend this material because it has provided me with something I never thought I could have - a better understanding of who I want to be. I quickly realized I don't need to feel bad that other people here don't seem to get what this book has to offer because of what I've learned in reading the book, which is that the constr I found myself distracted by the reviews here that claim this book presents falsehoods and the message is poorly constructed.

I quickly realized I don't need to feel bad that other people here don't seem to get what this book has to offer because of what I've learned in reading the book, which is that the construct of bad is something I create. I can choose to feel bad about the way I receive other's conditional opinions here where the need to formulate black and white statements is mandatory and argue my point.

Or, I can choose to accept that I have no place to judge what is good or what is bad for other people - only that I need to accept and understand who I am at this moment. Who I am at this moment is someone who adores this book because it gives me insight into the type of person I want to be right now. I do not need to pass judgment on others for not being able to see what beauty is being offered here. But most important, I do not need to pass judgment on my self for adoring it in spite of the negative comments here.