Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Words we Speak, and the Silences We Keep

Over the last four days, I participated in the 2015 OCDS Congress in Milwaukee. I took copious notes, but now is the moment where I go back over them to see if I can translate them into consumable language so that others can catch at least the gist of the talks that I did, if not the actual intent of the speaker.

The talk that hit me the hardest was by Fr. Marc Foley, O.C.D., so I'm going to start there with transcription. The title he was given was:
Mary and Martha
Carmel: Contemplative and Apostolic
Personal Transformation and Society Change

 but he kind of ditched that and went for a laser-focus instead on the apostolic weight of the words we speak and the silences we keep.

The following is what I captured:

Mary is a symbol of attentive listening. The inflow of God into the soul instructs us in the perfection of love. Peaceful attentiveness to God is contemplation.

St. Therese said that Jesus teaches without words, and that we have no absolute need of teachers and books.

The most important place of this attentive listening is not even so much in our set times of prayer as during our daily occupations.

We have two forms of choice: the words we speak, and the silences we keep. These are deeply significant in our response to God. Essentially all of life can be understood within these two choices. Listening to God's voice and speaking forth what we hear is the core of the apostolic intention.

We tend to think of apostolic activity as answering the question "What do you do?" Do you do parish work? Do you work in a soup kitchen? Do you protest injustice? If you are called to do these, by all means, do them. But the most apostolic of actions is what we hear God instructing us to say. When there is congruence between what we hear God instructing us in and what we do, then Mary and Martha are working together.

When our speech is rooted in the indwelling presence of God, then the Word becomes flesh.

Contemplation and apostolic action in St. Teresa's focal gospel, the first gospel choice for her feast day, the woman at the well: "Spring of water gushing up to eternal life." There are two words here in the Greek. The "well" is man-made. "Spring" is underground, and natural. In the optional gospel, we have Jesus saying, "I am not the source of my words." And this raises in us the question, What is the source of my words? Is it the cistern of my ego, or the wellspring of God's Spirit?

D. W. Winnicott, a psychotherapist, stated that he knew freedom when he no longer had the need to be clever for his clients. This is freedom from self-absorption. No longer needing that psychologically astute response was freedom.

St. Teresa writes in her Meditations on the Song of Songs that "Martha and Mary never fail to work together in a soul in the state of union. When the soul is working interiorly, active work arises that is like lovely and fragrant flowers, spreading from the tree of God's love. No self-interest. Fragrance for the benefit of many, lasts, and has great effect.

When the soul is working interiorly, there is a congruence between what we hear and what we say.

As St. Therese lay dying, a door and a window had been left open in her room, creating a draft. Mother Gonzaga came in and insisted she tell her who did this. Therese knew it had been the infirmarian. And as she was speaking to tell Mother, she said it came to her mind a more charitable way to tell the truth she knew. She followed that way and was rewarded with great peace. Is anything more important, more apostolic, than following such inspirations?

St. John of the Cross teaches that the first movements toward sin and the first movements of inspirations come to the conscious mind, and so we must be alert to them with vigilance as we stand at that threshhold. What will be born into this world?

What is the heart of Carmel? Inner language and outer speech. And yes, it is hard to speak. It is hard to be silent. Our pride, envy, anger, etc want to rise. But this is where detachment and purification comes in.

Writing in a spiritual discipline (it is the speaker's gift, and also something that has made him realize his egotism). It is all a practice of detachment, allowing God to edit our speech. It is necessary for spiritual growth and for fruitfulness.

St. Teresa's words again: If words arise from the deep spiritual root, fragrance spreads, lasts, and has effect. We all ask this question, especially as we get older: Will my life have mattered?

In Night Prayer, we ask that our work may bear fruit for eternal life. This is what we mean.

St. John of the Cross says that for a preacher to benefit people (and, more broadly, one who speaks), it is a spiritual practice and not a vocal one. And it comes in conflict with our fears, with our desires to manipulate, please, or flatter others. We may preach with the intention for spiritual benefit for others, but still have no detachment from pleasing people. And this need to please or flatter can influence what we say and don't say. The need to flatter gives people power over us. When we have detachment, we don't need them.

Silence and its impact on spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Chapter 15 of the Way of Perfection

Being silent in the face of criticism, but with discretion, in the bounds of common sense (would my silence cause anger, guilt, scandal? then don't be silent).

No desire to be held in esteem. Release from fear of what people think of us. Time will be witness of the benefit you see of this silence in yourself. Come to the point where you don't care if people say good things or evil about you. Hear people's talk as if it is another person's affair (with that much detachment). Be present to what is said, but no enmeshed in the emotions. Then you can respond, and then you have PEACE.

From the Councils of St. John of the Cross:  You will be chiseled by people's words, deeds, or temperament. You ought to suffer the mortifications with patience being silent for the love of God.

Essentially, don't over react.

If I don't practice being patient, what will happen? St. John says, profoundly, "They do not get along well with others!" This is huge. People are our world. We become nuclear reactors. People won't want to deal with us. Patience, on the other hand, brings us peace and connects us to others.

Romans 12: "Do not repay evil for evil. Do not avenge yourself but leave room for the wrath of God. Feed and give drink to your enemies, and in so doing heap burning coals on their head." What is this leaving room for the wrath of God? You give opportunity, create enough psychic space for the person to hear their own words. Don't fire back. Allow their own words to echo in their own mind. When they hear what they've said, a work of grace can happen, a moment of revelation.

The silence of pure innocence persuades when words fail.

Words are the most powerful things we possess. God creates by words, and when we speak, there are consequences. Words of kindness heal, and words of hate and evil wound.

St. Edith Stein says (in Vol 5 Essays on Women, The Problem of Women's Education, pp. 231-232). When one has grasped the importance of speech, it brings a responsibility upon oneself. Words reveal the soul. It's inner activity is revealed. Thoughtless speech reveals superficial dealings. Speech has repercussions on others souls: they can guide, or leave injury, cause retreat, or leave a deadly mark.

Milton attempted to show what the world would have been like in the world before sin. He states that paradise is where all language is pure and innocent.

What would the world be if all speech was pure, if all speech and silence came from the tree of God's love?

1 comment:

Donna said...

What a powerful talk! I think I will need to read this many times over to fully comprehend all that he had to say.

Initially, though, one sentence stood out: When there is congruence between what we hear God instructing us in and what we do, then Mary and Martha are working together.

We so often think that we either have to be Marth or Mary. But, in fact, we are called to be both. Lots to think about here.