First, the obvious type of conversation is the conversation between people. In one sense we converse when we are involved in any exchange of information through signs such as words, pictures or gestures. These conversations can be with people in the past, present and future. When I read a novel or manuscript written by someone long dead, I can build a picture of their world; this glimpse of their reality might lead me to new thoughts and insights. As I write, I can imagine the future reader and how they might respond and this to a degree forms what I write. Of course, not all exchanges of information are fruitful. There is an element in a fruitful conversation of hearing the other, seeing the world from their perspective. As our perspectives mesh, perhaps new insights will emerge from the interstices; the gaps between our worldviews. When we fail to listen our views may become entrenched or defensive, the possibilities close down.
The second type of conversation is through prayer. Prayer can take many forms but all true prayer must be based upon listening, watching or perceiving. Some will claim prayer is a conversation with God if that is so, it leads us to an odd conclusion. The point of conversation is change. Just as in human conversation, nothing happens unless perceptions change; so with God prayer implies change in God as well as in me. I find this an exciting idea and will explore it further in future. The thing is to resist the temptation to rush in and protect God against change. The question is how does prayer change God; in what sense can change and God go together? I leave it there for now.
The third conversation is between humanity and the universe. The work of the scientist comes first to mind. To ask questions of the universe demands answers that build up a dialogue between the scientist and the world. The artist does much the same thing: if I make this change to these materials what do I have now?
All three of these conversations demand human involvement. I will at some stage explore non-human conversations but this will wait for the future. What I want to assert is that to be human, conversation is essential. Where there is no conversation, humanity is thwarted. Repression destroys freedom to converse. People under repressive regimes quickly lose the ability to converse. Only controlled exchanges are permitted and often this is policed by the people themselves. Similar regimes can be found in workplaces where people fear for their jobs and of course in churches where freedom of thought is frowned upon.
What of ecumenism? Oikoumene is a form of the word ecumenism sometimes used when we mean the reconciliation of the whole cosmos to God, rather than the narrower meaning of relationships between churches. This is the dimension of ecumenism I want explore further. The understanding that is too often lost when conversations take place between traditions. This type of ecumenism is a three cornered conversation between humanity, God and the universe - it is the context in which conversations between church traditions take place. We need to understand this context.