The Loosened Tongue: Naught but Silence Can Express
In an earlier essay, featured here on Antler, I attempted to establish the legitimacy and shape of a modern poetic-prophetic ministry. One of the claims of that piece was that a prophet does not choose their call to speak, but are themselves chosen by the Other. True as that may be it doesn’t follow that individuals can’t makes themselves more open to just such a call—or to any other form of Spirit-led service for that matter—and prepare themselves to carry it out. One of the most fundamental of these methods is the use of silent waiting.
While periods of silence may have some physiological and emotional benefits in and of themselves that isn’t our concern here. We are interested in silence as a tool—a method by which an individual may wait on the Lord, and through which the Word may come to be known and heard. This distinguishes the kind of silence meant here from popular understandings of Eastern meditation. Stillness is our means, not our end.
Why silence? There is some (almost clichéd) scriptural precedent: the command to “be still and know that I am God;” Elijah finding the Spirit not in the fire, or the wind, but the still, small voice within. Reason provides us with an even more compelling argument—if we believe the Lord is speaking then it will be beneficial to shut up and listen.
There is a discomforting power in silence. In it lives the possibility of being confronted with everything we otherwise seek to avoid. Our pretense is slowly stripped from us, which is why we so often seek to fill silence up, whether through external diversions or internal chatter. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes in “Creative Silence,” our culture is, with its multitude of diversions, designed to help us escape stillness. “For when we come face to face with ourselves in the lonely ground of our own being, we confront many questions about the value of our existence, the reality of our commitments, the authenticity of our everyday lives.”
Truly, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but rather than fleeing this inward calamity we must rest in it, for it is precisely here that the mountains are leveled, the rough places smoothed, the doors shattered, and the treasure of darkness is discovered (Isaiah 45:2-3).
If we are ever to have any hope of faithfully relaying a message, or even a single word of Truth, then we must first learn to listen, though it is a painful skill to develop. Not because sitting at the feet of the Lord is intrinsically unpleasant, but because our inclination is to ignore the Witness that has been planted in each of us.
Silence allows us the space to put ourselves aside and encounter inspiration. Some people take to it more easily than others, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary for those who struggle. As George Fox writes: “But all you that be in your own wisdom and in your own reason, you tell that silent waiting upon God is famine to you; it is a strange life to you to come to be silent, you must come into a new world. Now you must die in the silence, die from the wisdom, die from the knowledge, die from the reason, and die from the understanding.”
Sometimes silence is profound—most of the time it isn’t. Personally I’m just as likely to drift into wandering about what I’ll be eating for lunch as I am to keep my mind on the Lord. Sometimes messages drop down out of the stillness like lightning—most of the time they don’t. The real gifts of silence tend to manifest gradually, which is why the poet-prophet isn’t spared the first rule of good writing more than anyone else—revise, revise, revise. Somewhere in the midst of all those drafts you’ll often find your inspiration working itself out almost in spite of your efforts. The best thing I can think to compare it to is intentionally letting weeds overrun a garden. You have to do the real work of first plowing and planting, but the weeds take over all on their own.
Rod Dixon is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), though he often gets mistaken for an old order Mennonite. His short-stories have appeared in several journals, most recently Red Rock Review, Euphony, and The Louisville Review. For fun he is the non-fiction editor of Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought. For money, he researches and develops manufacturing procedures for a non-profit serving the blind and visually impaired. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children.