Jesus threw some zingers out, I tell you.
Case in point: here's one makes me cringe pretty much every time I read it: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
I have spent the last week or so regretting pretty much every time I open my mouth. It seems that every time I utter a phrase or two, I am left with an aftertaste of either a) superficiality, or b) bitterness. As the days pass, I crave silence more and more, simply because speech inevitably leads to frustration. I guess I figure that if I just shut up long enough, maybe things will smooth out a little. Jesus' words remind me that there is something else at stake: my heart. As I began to look back over my words from the week, this is the emerging portrait of my heart, that deep place from which my words flow: afraid, bitter, jealous, critical, and a semi-shade of empty. Even in light of Jesus' reminder, the conclusion is in many ways the same: shutting up is probably a good idea. The difference is that silence is not the fix, but the starting place. It is an avenue for encounter with the one who changes not just the overflow of the heart, but the heart itself. Silence, then, becomes far more than just a temporary form of damage control.
In my desire for reprieve from my stupid mouth, I pulled one of my favorite books off the shelf as I headed out the door this morning. The plan was to spend a few (hopefully speechless) hours at a coffee shop, and the book was Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart, a short but hugely impactful look at the importance of the monastic virtues of solitude, silence, and prayer in our current context. His words on silence have stayed with me in a profound way since I first read them: "Silence teaches us to speak." According to Nouwen, words are meant to give life, but can only do so when they are rooted in a listening silence. The way we throw words around left and right as if it's a virtue to constantly tell all (I am as guilty as anyone of this) has cheapened words. They are stripped of their sacredness, their power. More than that, they are actually dangerous. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil, and in most of our lives we seem happy to prove his point. Nouwen writes that even an abundance of good words is a cheap substitute for the rich utterances that come from one who has allowed silence to teach him to truly speak. In that deep silence, the inner fire of the Spirit is guarded and kindled. It is the Spirit who teaches us to speak not death, or even simply distraction, but life and healing.
Nouwen nails it. But the nitty gritty of it all...that's the challenge ahead. Silence is not exactly easily incorporated into my daily life. Just this morning I had to explain to someone that my lack of words was not, as he had supposed, due to my being angry with him. It requires a whole paradigm shift to learn to spend time with others with few words involved. I don't know where to start, really. But I'll try, because I crave that carefully guarded fire of the Spirit. I crave the taste of words that reflect the creative and life-giving power of my Maker. From the fruit of my lips, Proverbs tells me, I will be nourished. I feel like I've been downing package after package of corn syrup-y fruit snacks. Some resemblance to fruit in shape, pretty much none in nutrition or taste. I think I've hit my limit.
I'm ready for a growing season of silence, in hopes of tasting the real stuff instead. Less crap, more fruit. Jesus, help me shut up long enough to get there.