Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Five Ways to Pray Always: Part 7, Speaking From Silence

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prayer-silence_webSpeaking From Silence

"Talk is cheap," grumbled a man in front of an airport television after Haiti's recently returned president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, spoke of peace and reconciliation as key issues for the remainder of his interrupted presidency. Are words cheap or do we speak them cheaply?

One of my preaching professors remarked years ago, "For the elderly widow who sits day in and day out in her room at the nursing home, waiting for someone to visit, the words of the nursing assistant who pokes her happy face into the room with an upbeat, 'Good morning, Mrs. Johnson!' are anything but cheap." They are Mrs. Johnson's lifeline, her bridge to the rest of the world. They are the voice of God in what may seem to her as an otherwise empty universe.

Our speaking becomes contemplative when we allow our words to be born out of a contemplative silence, a silence which is in communion with God. Words and silence go hand in hand like a pair of figure skaters gliding in tandem across a fine sheet of ice. Without prayerful, contemplative silence in our lives, we will never know what it means to speak the word of God.

All people of faith are called to let God's voice and word be heard in our own fragile act of speaking. We can argue like Moses that we are "slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10), or with Jeremiah we can protest, "'Ah, Lord GOD!' I said, 'I know not how to speak; I am too young'" (Jeremiah 1:6). In the end, though, we have to face the challenge and let God use our mouths as instruments of divine love and the gospel of peace.

Words born from the silence of God's heart are not cheap. Words, in fact, can change the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke four simple words back in the 60's that have kindled the fires of social change for three decades: "I have a dream." The nursing assistant who greets Mrs. Johnson every morning may not be aware of the life-giving impact her simple greeting has on the elderly patient in room #42-B. The Word becomes flesh in a simple, "Good morning, Mrs. Johnson."

Contemplative speaking is to speak as God would speak. It requires that we cultivate a quiet space within us, a place of listening, a field sown in compassion and love. Several years ago I was walking down a sidewalk behind a mother who was walking hand in hand with her daughter, who looked to be about four years old.

The little girl stumbled and fell and, after quickly jumping up and brushing off her tiny knees, exclaimed, "Mommy, I'm sorry I fall down all the time." Her mother could have missed the moment, laughed at or even spanked the girl, but she didn't. She lifted her daughter up into her arms, kissed her and said, "That's O.K., honey. No matter how many times you fall down, Mommy will always love you." Talk isn't cheap when we talk like God.

Jesus spoke healing, life-giving words to thousands of people. They were not complicated, theological homilettes; they were words which welled up from a profoundly human heart: Your faith has healed you; Know that I am with you always; Be not afraid; Your sins are forgiven; Peace be with you.

When we rush through life at supersonic speed we don't even have time to think nice words, much less speak them. And so we have a world full of deceitful politicians, long-winded preachers, gossipy neighbors, angry spouses and TV programs filled with violence. Many of today's speakers have lost the capacity to speak words of life. Yet words of life are needed now more than ever.

It is time to stop, to slow down, to seek the silence of the desert and learn again how to speak like God. Simple words like "thank you" and "I forgive you" can transform our divided world into a global village of compassion and understanding. Taking a few moments to breathe deeply and ask God for help before responding to someone in a tense conversation is a good place to start. Our words can open the door for God's Word to break into human history, and once again our world can witness the Word becoming flesh--this time in us.

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"Reprinted from' Five Ways to Pray', St. Anthony Messenger, copyright 2008. Used by permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 800-488-0488. All rights reserved."

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