The Harmonizing Power of Dialogue – by Steve Tumolo

Illustration by David KleinJoe Biden wins

But God’s peace steals our attention

The people and the woods of Agape

Invite us to be still.

One in a hut, one in a hermitage,

Our stay is too brief.

Yet even a pause in the woods

Can heighten our capacity to hear.

The healing power of dialogue

Takes root.


“Biden won!” I said to my wife Julene as we pulled up to Agape for our brief hermitage stay. We just heard that the Pennsylvania results were in and we were thrilled. As we spoke to Brayton our conversation moved quickly. We realized that what may be a national moment of joy for 80 million Americans, may also be a moment of dread for more than 70 million fellow citizens. He spoke of the frightening divide in our country and about the vigil Agape members were holding in their town with the banner: “God’s Peace Heals All Division.”

Never had Agape experienced a message that resonated with the public like this one. This sign did not declare a winner or a loser, and did not try to persuade or even warn, but simply stated the firmly held beliefs of the carriers.  The open-heartedness of the observers seemed to be in response to being called to become instruments of God’s peace.

Settling into Hermitage Time

Agape has two hermit locations.  Julene was shown first to the writer’s hut, a fallen former tree house, now planted firmly on the earth. Armed with transcripts and a highlighter, she spent the weekend reading and writing for her dissertation while studying the contemplative praxis of women peace leaders. It’s fitting for the patron of ecology and peace to provide solar powered energy to Julene’s peace writing project, so Brayton and I ran electrical cords from St. Francis, the main house, to her hut. Together we made our way up the hill to the hermitage where I settled into the wooded area.

Insights from the Retreat

“God’s peace heals” is the message that lingers from our retreat time at Agape where we see the need for God’s peace in our society, in our closest relationships, and in our interior beings. Our country is dangerously divided. We are targeting and killing each other in churches, synagogues, night clubs, and at rallies. God’s peace is needed urgently in our society.

But the call to unity strikes closer to home. When Julene and I were married, we carried 90 years of single life to the altar. I take credit for most of those years. Our being single for so long means doing our own thing and yet becoming one is a process. God’s uniting peace is needed in our marriage.

The call to wholeness, however, penetrates even more deeply. My Enneagram-7-ness wants it all. I chart multiple directions and find myself downstream with feet in two canoes. This is my reluctance to say no, to embrace limits, and to focus. I need God’s healing and uniting peace for my own integration.

Dialogue, the action that brings God’s peace, is the way of the universe.  Everything is in dialogue, in relationship, with everything else. The sun communicates its gravitational pull and planets keep close–relationship. The earth receives the sun’s light and warmth and thrives because of this receptive communication. Ecosystems are vast webs in dialogue. Nature harmonizes all of life.

In dialogue with the people of Ware, Agape surrenders to their peacemaking engagement while Julene and I practice communication that suspends, at least for the moment, attachment to outcome. In the stillness surrounding my hermitage, I allowed the sound of leaves rustling in the wind to quiet my mind. From a settled place, I heard the interior communication that often goes ignored.

Receiving feelings and distinguishing them from thoughts, I connected to my heart and its desires. Dialogue, then, becomes a vehicle for God’s peace in society, in relationship, and within my being.

How does God’s peace heal division?  Like the healing of a bone that is broken, the formerly united parts are cleaned, aligned, casted, and given a chance to rest. And then something miraculous happens. The body heals its own bones.

This may be the template for peace, for how God’s heals our relational breaks. We clean out judgment and enemy-images. We align ourselves in a way that supports the mutual flow of life. We rest in this aligned state, backing off from heroic activity. Then, out of rest, out of settled nervous systems, relating and its healing power flows.

This may be the template for inner healing. We clean out the destructive thinking, the condemnation of others and self. We align our whole being. And we rest.

God’s peace is the natural process of life that takes over when given a chance. When the muck is cleaned away and we allow ourselves to settle, healing dialogue can happen. God’s unifying peace reunites broken bones. It can heal us.

Steve Tumolo, an old friend,  is Executive Director of Heart to Heart and Principal of the Center for Receptive Communication, . In both roles he helps people and organizations develop the skills needed for healing dialogue.