Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Power of Asking

Just a few days after the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a parking lot conversation with a friend as we were leaving a meeting.  I asked the usual, socially polite question: “How was your holiday?”  She answered with an emphatic “It was great!”   I asked: “What made it great for you?”   She proceeded to tell me how she and her family had been able to have some difficult conversations that none of them had wanted to have and that they had drawn so much closer because of it.

We ended our conversation with both of us expressing gratitude for the families we enjoy and for the friendship that allows us to have these amazing parking lot conversations.

A few days later, I received a lovely note from her saying “Thank you for asking…..”  The conversation had allowed both of us to articulate something important to us and to more deeply appreciate the spirit that connects us.  It also allowed both of us to go home appreciating life more deeply and to carry that energy back into our homes.

Sometimes asking a leading question gets me too much information - - more than I ever wanted to know.  But often, the right question at the right time has the potential for increasing the depth of a friendship, of allowing another person to be heard, and of permitting a healing process to unfold or to be more fully understood. 

In a world where I so often encounter a “shoot first –ask questions later” attitude, it is a continuing challenge for me to learn to be more ready to ask questions than to make judgments.  It has become for me a primary challenge in learning to “live nonviolence.”   I am finding that it takes a lot more courage on my part to ask the important questions than it does to make a judgment (often without enough information). 

John Wesley, the esteemed founder of the Methodist Church, used to encourage his students and friends to ask of one another “How is it with the state of your soul?”  It’s not a question I would normally think to ask of another person – often because if I ask, I need to be prepared to receive the answer - - - and that may take a good bit more time than I have to spend.   But, as I get older, I’m finding that it is, perhaps, a most important question to ask.   As I continue on this journey and appreciate more and more that my time here is finite, I find that I am more inclined to ask the question “How is it with the state of your soul?”  and then settle in for a cup of hot tea and a profoundly satisfying time of receiving and being received as soul meets soul.

Soul friendships are good for the world.   They require courage and seriously gentle cultivation.  They require unrelenting honesty and integrity and trust.  They become the practice ground for courageous living in all other relationships.  A soul friendship permits friends to “see” and honor the soul in others.  When this happens, even in the tiniest of increments, the world begins to change for the better.

                        “How is it with the state of your soul?”

Vicky Hanjian

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