Every once in a while a word comes along that captures my imagination, and for the past week or so it has been this word, new to me: dialogic. I come from one of those families where the parental response to the question “what does (fill in the blank) mean?” was a trip to the dictionary and then an evening spent using the new word in conversation around the dinner table. I still run to the dictionary, albeit an online one, and sometimes a word just seems to continue to seek my attention. That’s what is happening with dialogic.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem a difficult word; I’ve had enough Greek to get the meaning, that it refers to a thing “in dialogue”. But what interests me more than the word itself is the ways that I have heard it used over these past days and its very implications for the ways that we live and think and grow in spirit and faith.
My first encounter with my new word came as I read the introduction to Walter Brueggemann’s Praying the Psalms, when in his preface to the second edition of that work, he says that it took him many years of study to see that the language of the Psalms is “passionately dialogical” (xiv). The God of the Psalms is one that is supple and open and listening and tolerant, and constantly in dialogue with us in our human state of lamenting and raging and crying.
A very thought-provoking analysis, but not my only encounter with my new word. As I listened to the podcast of one of my favorite radio programs, Interfaith Voices, I heard my new word again…this time in a discussion of the prayer life of Dr. Martin Luther King as described by Lewis Baldwin in his book Never to Leave Us Alone. From his reading of some 80 collected prayers of Dr. King, Dr. Baldwin (of Vanderbilt University) constructed a picture of the importance of prayer in Dr. King’s life and work, and of his efforts to reclaim the dialogical prayer style of the African-American church, or what many of of us might refer to as the call and response prayer format. But for Dr. Baldwin, Dr. King went beyond the simple call and response in the room, among the people. He notes that Dr. King expanded that dialogical style, pointing out that Dr. King held dearly the importance of prayers as the dialogue of the community with God, prayers for the community, intercessory prayers, prayer as other-directed communiciation — not a solitary, single-souled communing with the Divine.
So much of what draws my attention these days has to do with balance and relationship, and that includes this word, dialogic. If the Psalms are dialogic in nature, we are lifted from the place of supplicant, receiver, or tantrum raging child to the position of participant. As a participant, we have responsibility, we are part of the universe, we are part of the radical Gospel news, we are part of the action of Holy Spirit. And if our prayer is dialogic, again, the very nature of dialogue requires of us a level of presence, a level of mindful participation that makes change and faith possible. If we approach prayer, faith, and yes, our daily living from a dialogic perspective, we are both empowered and never ever alone. In a dialogic world, there is never any such thing as “the silence”; we are always in conversation with that which is and that which has gone before and that which is yet to come.
Clearly I have more thinking and reading to do with my new word. Just in the course of this exploration, I have discovered an online magazine called Dialogic, and a very interesting book about Dietrich Boehnhoffer called The Dialogic Confession. And this new word leads me ever deeper into my thinking about the importance of community in a life of faith.
I am grateful that my perspective has been broadened, just through a simple, single word. Let the conversation continue…