Diane is an educator, spiritual director, and the author of Conversation−The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction.
How has this experience of interviewing Christians about their callings brought to life the “sacred art of conversation” that you write about in your book?
One of my role models for practicing the sacred art of conversation is the Quaker teacher Douglas Steere. Steere believed that “to ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”
Through these interviews, I try to create conditions that invite participants to disclose and discover more about how God is at work in their lives.
One of the ways I do this is by giving interviewees the primary questions I will be asking in advance of our conversation. In so doing, I’m not encouraging them to memorize their responses to the questions. That would be listening another’s soul into a condition of rehearsal and recitation, rather than disclosure and discovery. I believe that really good questions can act as a fertilizer for cultivating our awareness of God.
The more we are invited to notice and name how God is at work in our lives, the more the seeds of our awareness of God’s activity begin to take root. One of my responsibilities during our interview is to shine a little sunlight on those seeds of lived experience.
My hope for every interview is that I will hear at least once: “I’ve never given that a lot of thought until you asked“ or “this is the first time I’ve put that into words.” Offering the gift of questions invites others to overhear themselves describing their experience of the sacred.
My hope for these filmed stories is that they will provide a catalyst for conversation, encouraging viewers to reflect upon and ask others about how God is at work in their lives.
How is this work part of your own vocation?
From the time I was a little girl, I have felt called to teach. At some point in college, I learned the Latin word for education—educare—to draw out that which lies within. This new-found meaning clarified my vocational identity. I am called to be an educator, to draw out the wisdom within others regardless of the role or relationship I am in, be it teacher, writer, speaker, spiritual director, wife, parent, or friend.
Throughout my life, one of the greatest sources of joy has been facilitating conversations, listening to others’ stories, and asking evocative questions. I’ve also been riveted to watching really good interviewers such as Bill Moyers, Jeffrey Brown, and the late Tim Russert practice their craft. For some time, I’ve dreamed of hosting a program where I could interview the everyday saints and sages in our midst, in an effort to tap into their wisdom and share their inspiration with a larger audience.
A couple of years ago I read Listening is an Act of Love by Dave Isay, the founder of the StoryCorps Project. In describing the aims of his Project, Isay gave me the words I had been searching for to express what I was feeling called to do: “That our stories—the stories of everyday people—are as interesting and important as the celebrity stories we’re bombarded with by the media every minute of the day. That if we take the time to listen, we’ll find wisdom, wonder, and poetry in the lives and stories of the people all around us.”
I feel called to take the time to listen and to notice the wisdom, wonder, and poetry in the lives of people all around me. Through the Lives Explored project and through my writing about the sacred art of conversation, I hope that I can encourage more persons to do the same.
To learn more about Lives Explored, visit our website and YouTube channel. To read more from Diane, be sure to check out her reflection on silence and the art of conversation from Duke’s Faith & Leadership.