The Power of Language

by Dave Gosling

A single word can brighten the face

of one who knows the value of words,

Ripened in silence, a single word

acquires a great energy of work.

War is cut short by a word,

and a word heals the wounds,

and there’s a word that changes

poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.

Withhold the unripened thought.

Come and understand the kind of word

that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word

and when not to speak at all.

A single word turns a universe of hell

into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don’t be fooled

by what you already know. Be watchful.

Reflect before you speak.

A foolish mouth can brand your soul

Yunus, say one last thing

about the power of words–

Only the word “I”

divides me from God.

Yunus Emre

Every major faith tradition warns against the uninhibited use of words. The wise understand that human beings possess a finite amount of energy. To speak is to use that energy, to direct it toward an object with intent. A hurtful word to a friend, a shallow or pointless conversation, an internal dialogue with one’s own egoistic agenda, a curse against the universe….these are all ways language can deprive us of energy otherwise allocated for the accomplishment of Good.  Like Yunus, we should hold our words until the right one approaches, the one that “changes poison into butter and honey”.

The magnitude of this challenge is clear in the current global landscape. The rise of technology has not only given us a variety of platforms from which to use our words carelessly and often; it has also opened our psyches and souls to the millions of meaningless words spoken by others. We are encouraged to push the entirety of our lives–our hopes, dreams, desires, and accomplishments–onto others, feeding our habits for constant attention, affection, and desirability. How, then, can we possibly withhold words until they ripen with meaning and compassion?

Counselors are blessed with a professional setting that encourages this process of patience and growth. Words, when they are spoken, must be carefully weighed and measured. They must reflect the professional knowledge of the speaker, but only in relation to the patient’s anguish and concern. They must also contain compassion and understanding. They may even be graced by the light touch of Spirit. Too many words and the power of the message is lost. Too few and the message remains unclear, muddled. May we all learn with Yunus how to “withhold the unripened thought” until the timing is right. It seems a great challenge, but one that also contains an immense blessing in its power to change and improve lives.

Seeking Silence

“What you seek is seeking you.”
Rumi

Silence calls to me.

There’s an oxymoron for you.

Here’s another one: Thomas Keating says that silence is “God’s first language.”

I automatically equate language with the spoken word and this is a mistake on my part. Language occurs in so many different ways such as body movement, facial expression, feelings. Sound is not required.

Noise is easy to find in the world. Noise happens with constant abandon. I have nothing against noise. It is very necessary. Birds call to each other to find their way. A baby cries in the night to signal to mother a need to feed. Without noise, we would not hear the approaching car, the cell phone ringing, or the announcement that our dinner order is ready. Noise helps us survive. But we need silence to distinguish between the various noises in our lives to give them meaning. If we did not have those precious seconds of silence, life would just be one huge cacophony of sound and nothing would make sense.  

The Quakers believe that God speaks to us in silence. Their unprogrammed worship is conducted in silence – they gather in communal stillness. No one speaks unless he or she feels moved to do so by God.

I am seeking some spontaneous silence . . . a time where noise falls away and makes room for the voice of God. Usually, that only occurs during a power outage and that just aggravates people.

When I sought out a way to learn to speak God’s first language – silence – I found Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is reminiscent of meditation. One chooses or asks the Holy Spirit for a sacred word as the focus of intention to consent to God’s presence. When distracted by thoughts (which also include feelings and body sensations) while in prayer, I return to the word to return to the place within me where God and I reside.

In his book, Manifesting God, Thomas Keating makes the important distinction that God is not separate from us. God is within us at all times and it is up to us to create this space, this fourth dimension within ourselves, where we can constantly communicate and live in the presence of God.

The call is not a noise or a sound. It is an urging, a pulling, a beckoning . . . like home waiting in the distance with a candle flickering in the window.