Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ladder of Humility Step Nine: Taciturnity

The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, for Scripture warns, In a flood of words you will not avoid sinning, and, A talkative man goes about aimlessly on earth. [RB 7: 56-58]

Committing a thought to words brings the thought to bear on the real world, even changing reality subtly. I might think that a brother annoys me, but once I say it out loud, the thought obtains a potency to wound and disfigure my relationship with him. Why should my reactions and internal feelings mold others' worlds? And yet we do this subtly all the time, and not only by our words. Our gestures, frowns, smiles or lack of attention incarnate the movements of our hearts constantly. Even so, words possess a certain efficacy, being bearers of spiritual realities. How often do we unthinkingly let fly with whatever happens to be on our minds? How often does this happen simply because we cannot endure silence, aware in those moments of our human inadequacy and lacking the crutch of self-justification that constitutes so much idle talk?

I have found it of interest that in contemplative monasteries one of the first impressions a newcomer has, once he is deprived of his normal means of distracting himself by chattering, is that others are watching him. He cannot ward off others' eyes (at least he feels this to be so) by striking first, controlling the exchange by saying something. It takes real humility and ease with oneself and one's lowliness simply to be as we are and let others think what they will without trying to sway them one way or another. When we cannot set the terms of others' opinions, we assume that they are judging us, or at least that we are at a disadvantage. When we disavow needless speech, we give up the right to 'spin' our self-presentation. We give people what we are and not what we claim to be.

In Dostoevsky's 'Grand Inquisitor', Jesus Christ remains completely silent while the Inquisitor goes on and on at length, admitting that he and what he stands for are a complete fraud. Jesus Christ, the Word and the Truth is also He Who Is. We do well to trustingly imitate Him, so as to enter reality more deeply. Our thoughts are not His; let us not by careless speech obscure His salvific thoughts by committing ourselves to our own fallen ones.


Anonymous said...

There's a pragmatic reason for keeping your mouth shut, too:

"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." ~Abraham Lincoln

Jason Aubrey said...

Beautiful post! God Bless,


This blog is published with ecclesiastical approval.

If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
Locations of visitors to this page