Have you ever been strengthened and uplifted by someone’s words of encouragement? When things look particularly bleak, a word of hope and appreciation can mean so much and turn the tide on a drift toward despair.
Similarly, a word of discouragement and lack of respect can have disastrous consequences in the daily struggles of life.
Words are very powerful; they can build or destroy. Hence our responsibility in using them judiciously, recognizing their power and the creative or destructive capabilities of each syllable.
We live, however, in a sea or words. Just look at TV. When you got the news only at 7 PM from Walter Cronkite, the networks had time and motivation to select words that accurately and fairly conveyed what was happening. But when the news media expanded to 24-hour news feeds like CNN and Fox, much time had to be filled up. So then the talk, talk, talk began in which the focus seemed to be filling the time and not seeking the truth. Eventually, this carelessness with the words spoken took over and developed into organized propaganda of the left and the right. Truth became elusive, especially when talk of God was tacitly rejected.
What gives power to the word is paradoxically silence, for it is in the quiet of expectation and in the desert of imageless and formless openness that the word, once spoken, has its power. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the great African voice of spiritual insight, wrote on entire book on this subject called “The Power of Silence” in which he warned that the dictatorship of noise takes away meaning from our lives and purpose from our future. But we live in a kingdom of many words, especially with the ubiquitous smartphone and pads and computers. We are constantly barraged by words spoken, written and inferred. Words such as these have little power and ultimately no meaning. We become overwhelmed and quickly forget whatever is said. But when we live in silence, then a word spoken has immense significance.
A couple of illustrations might be helpful.
Most of the parish knows about the sabbatical I took a number of years ago. Part of it was to do the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I went to a retreat house built over the ‘Cova’ or cave where he wrote a great deal of it when he stayed in the Catalonian city of Manresa. An intrinsic part of that 30-day experience of prayer is to live in near complete solitude and to be silent (except for my brief daily meetings with my spiritual director) for those 30 days. After a couple of days, I settled into a deep silence that felt very comfortable and frightening at the same time. Therefore, when my spiritual director spoke to me, the words had an enormous power since they came out of the silence and went back into it. No conversation, no radio or TV, no smart phone, no computer. I ate 90 meals by myself in a separate little dining room. But the silence and the solitude prepared me and formed me so that the word of God could manifest Himself to me in all His splendor and power.
Another example comes not from the kingdom of words but of music. I love Classical Music and Opera! Whenever I listen to a lot of music, such as when I play it in the background as a kind of ‘wallpaper’, the most beautiful music becomes ‘ho hum’. But the times that I have limited the music I listened to and set aside a distinct time when I could devote myself completely to the experience of deeply listening to the music, it has been a transformative experience; its beauty and longing and power brought joy and peace to my heart and soul! But it was the time that I was in silence that prepared me for the perception of the depth of that music.
We cannot appreciate Easter without Lent, Christmas without Advent; and to allow the Word of God to enter our lives in all its power, we must let the silence prepare us for the power of the Word. Attention that comes from expectation and need is the prerequisite to perceive the Word’s power.
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