Conversation—The Sacred Art
Conversation—The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction
by Diane M. Millis
Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2013
Reviewed by Kristen Hobby
This is a timely and important book. In an age of connectivity available twenty-four hours a day, how do we maintain constant and widespread connections without compromising the depth of our individual relationships with one another, ourselves, and all that we hold sacred? In Conversation—The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction, educator and spiritual director Diane Millis offers inspirational stories along with insights and spiritual practices from many faith traditions to increase our awareness of the deep natural holiness waiting to be unlocked in our everyday conversations. Throughout the book she uses helpful language for the Sacred that can cross many boundaries. Rather than hold up some conversations as sacred and others as not, Millis invites us to imagine together how we might bring a greater intentionality and willingness to practice this sacred art in more of our conversations.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is called “What Is the Sacred Art of Conversation? (Encountering the Sacred within Ourselves, in Each Other, and between Us)”; Part 2 is “Gateways for Conversation (Listening to Your Life through Storytelling; Noticing and Naming What Gives You Life; Discerning a Heart-Centered Path)”; and Part 3 is “Practicing the Sacred Art of Conversation (Attentive Presence: Listening Within before Speaking Out; Receptive Presence: Welcoming All That We Encounter; Compassionate Presence: Going Within before Venturing Out).” In addition, a comprehensive appendix offers more paths to sacred conversations through small groups, personal reflections, and our interactions in the world. Millis outlines the “journey conversation” format she developed that introduces contemplative practices for dialogue. The process can be used in small groups to create safe places for people to explore their own stories and find meaning. This process offers a way to bring people together across faith and cultural boundaries at the heart level. She treats such collective deep listening as an act of love, inviting participants to listen for sacred currents beneath the surface stream of life.
Each chapter features reflective exercises that explore ways to hone and practice conversation skills. I was particularly drawn to the “three deep breaths” practice (75), as a way to center myself in any situation. I also found the book quite personal as Millis shared parts of her own journey, including struggles and joys. Her stories created a level of intimacy I felt with the author.
Millis shows a deep love and regard for all those beginning the spiritual journey, especially younger people. This book would be a wonderful resource for seekers looking for ways to reflect on and honor their own life stories in a way that invites healing and wholeness.
Conversation—The Sacred Art, is written for everyone who is interested in spiritual growth, spiritual companioning, intra- and interfaith dialogue, community development, peace building, and reconciliation. In particular, it is written with sensitivity to the increasing number of people who find themselves with no religious affiliation and who are seeking communities of belonging where they can explore questions of meaning, purpose, and identity.
Kristen Hobby is a spiritual director and retreat leader in Melbourne, Australia. She serves on the Spiritual Directors International Coordinating Council and is currently undertaking doctoral studies in the area of children’s spirituality and the connection with the natural world.