Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Humility Step Eleven: Restraint of Speech

"The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, as it is written: 'A wise man is known by his few words.' [RB 7: 60-61]

The commentator on this step risks looking foolish indeed. The experienced monk is aware of how problematic his own thoughts can be. One of the key works of the monk is the 'discernment of spirits', meaning the careful sifting of the inner impulses of mind and heart. So often we speak reactively, saying the first thing that comes to mind, without asking ourselves whether the thought has the force of reason, or whether it is subtly self-serving. Will what I say add to the discussion or merely reassert what everyone knows? Am I able to speak gently and seriously, without having to sugar-coat hostile or ambiguous words with a nervous smile and giggling? Or do I fear being overwhelmed by others' opinions and fear having to do someone else's will, and so assert my opinion with force? Do we ever really ask ourselves these questions? The humble among us do, and wind up reticent to speak with over-confidence. The humble realize how often we are misled by hidden passions, agendas and habits of mind. The humble are not afraid to defer to another's judgment. Would that we all attained this!

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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
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