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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Speaking Out of Silence

Sometimes it’s the passages that I have not underlined that stand out the most when rereading a book like The Way of The Heart. That was the case with the following excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s reflections on how “Silence Teaches us to Speak” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, pages 40-42).

According to Nouwen, silence teaches us to speak by shaping our words. Words that emerge from silence come forth in fullness and presence, he writes, when they are born in the “divine silence in which love rests secure.” Now here is the passage that stood out for me when I read it earlier this evening on my commuter train:

“Here we can glimpse the great mystery in which we participate through silence and the Word, the mystery of God’s own speaking. Out of his eternal silence God spoke the Word, and through this Word created and recreated the world. In the beginning God spoke the land, the sea, and the sky. He spoke the sun, the moon, and the stars. He spoke plants, birds, fish, animals wild and tame. Finally, he spoke man and woman. Then in the fullness of time, God’s Word, through whom all had been created, became flesh and gave power to all who believe to become the children of God. In all this, the Word of God does not break the silence of God, but rather unfolds the immeasurable richness of his silence.”

“As soon as we begin to take hold of each other by our words, and use words to defend ourselves or offend others, the word no longer speaks of silence. But when the word calls forth the healing and restoring stillness of its own silence, few words are needed: much can be said without much being spoken” (page 41).

When we speak, may we have the wisdom and courage to speak out of silence.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Silence Guards the Fire Within

Last weekend our men’s Saturday morning Bible study group was challenged to consider the presence or absence of silence in our daily lives. We meditated on listening to God in 1 Samuel 3:1-21, then watched a video clip that challenged us to consider whether we welcome silence or avoid it by always turning up the volume.

Henri Nouwen asserts that silence is essential because it “Guards the Fire Within” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 37). “Silence guards the inner heat of religious emotions. This inner heat is the life of the Holy Spirit within us. Thus, silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.”

By way of explanation and interpretation, Nouwen then expounds on quotations provided first by a certain Diadochus of Photiki, who wrote about “Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination,” as quoted in volume one of The Philokalia (London &Boston: Faber & Faber, 1979). A second quotation comes from James O. Hannay's book The Wisdom of the Desert (London: Methuen, 1904, pages 205-206).

As Nouwen writes, “Diadochus of Photiki offers us a very concrete image: ‘When the door of the steambath is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it; likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech, even though everything it says may be good . . . Ideas of value always shun verbosity, being foreign to confusion and fantasy. Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts.’”

Commenting on the sayings of the Desert Fathers, James Hannay writes: “The mouth is not a door through which any evil enters. The ears are such doors as are the eyes. The mouth is a door only for exit. What was it that they [the Desert Fathers] feared to let go out? What was it which someone might steal out of their hearts, as a thief takes the steed from the stable when the door is left open? It can have been nothing else than the force of religious emotion.”

“What needs to be guarded is the life of the Spirit within us. Especially we who want to witness to the presence of God’s Spirit in the world need to tend the fire within with the utmost care,” writes Nouwen (page 39).

“It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.

“Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Silence--a Home for the Word

“Silence is the home of the word. Silence gives strength and fruitfulness to the word,” writes Henri Nouwen (The Way of the Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 34).

Instead of silence, noise and busyness is more often the background and springboard for many of today’s communicators. For all who would communicate God’s Word a rediscovery of the value of silence will be essential. As you spend quiet time immersed in the Bible, a book, reviewing an article, or reading pages online as you prepare to write or speak—cherish the silence.

“How seldom have long talks proved to be good and fruitful? Would not many if not most of the words we use be better left unspoken? We speak about the events of the world, but how often do we really change them for the better?

"We speak about people and their ways, but how often do our words do them or us any good? We speak about our ideas and feelings as if everyone were interested in them, but how often do we really feel understood? We speak a great deal about God and religion, but how often does it bring us or others real insight?”(The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, pages 36-37).

Let silence do its work in your heart and mind as you gather thoughts and words and prepare to share them with others. Listen first in silence.

“Just as the rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them” (Isaiah 55:10-11, The Message).