Kempis’ Warning

Posted on April 18th, by nicholas in exercises, peacemaking, rumination, tania runyan. 2 comments

Kempis’ Warning

{Tania Runyan reflects on the problems of gossip}

Diane is a stay-at-home mom. Every afternoon, her toddler naps for two hours, during which time Diane texts the twenty-something server she met at Red Lobster:

How r u

Same old

Get em nice & steamy for me

U know i will


One day, he stops by on break, just to say hello in person. She puts Chloe in her crib, turns on the white noise machine in the nursery, and unfastens the top two buttons on her blouse as she heads downstairs.

Did you feel your pulse quicken? What did you want to happen next? For Diane to come to her senses and kick the punk to the curb?

Sin is fun. We like to enter into its colorful mysteries, especially when someone else is doing it.

Thomas à Kempis writes in Book 1, Chapter 4, in The Imitation of Christ, “But alas! Such is our weakness, that we often rather believe and speak evil of others than good.”   I read that statement and immediately consented to its truth. What is wrong with people — all their reality shows and nasty talk, even gossiping in church! But under my manifold layers, my gracious smiles and self-deprecation, I fool myself. A few hours after reading Kempis, I found myself (but of course hadn’t intended) chatting with a friend on Facebook about some people I thought had mistreated me. I believed the worst about them and let him know. Dare I say I enjoyed it, that it alleviated my boredom for a moment to type those words then watch the ellipsis on the chat screen as I awaited his juicy reply?

A few chapters later, Kempis writes about “Avoiding Superfluity in Words.” He reminds us that discussing worldly affairs overmuch can be a hindrance, for even Jesus ran up to the mountains several times: “Why do we so willingly speak and talk one with the other, when we seldom return to silence before we have hurt our conscience? The cause why we so willingly talk, is that by discoursing one with another, we seek to receive comfort of one another, and desire to ease our mind over-wearied with thoughts.”

In other words, we often flap our jaws, giving “too much liberty to inconsiderate speech,” for nothing more than pure diversion when we’re feeling stressed out. We may have heard and repeated the theory that people tear each other down just to build themselves up. Could it be even baser than that? Are we just so simultaneously busy and bored that we aren’t imaginative enough to edify—or just shut up?

My chat friend didn’t take the bait. In fact, he put an end to my fun by pointing out something good and lovely about these people. In turn, I typed something sweetly humble, then left the conversation feeling pretty low. Not so much that I had bad-mouthed my friends, but that I had been caught.

I’ve been working on keeping my mouth closed. (Try not to laugh, people who know me.) I’ve been trying to suppress that almost imperceptible flash that passes between two people when the odd one enters the room. I’ve been trying to filter my knee-jerk criticisms and sneering remarks, “for this outward comfort is the cause of no small loss of inward and divine consolation.” Pray this today. Let the divine work in his drab, quiet habit of goodness, like the stay-at-home mom who shuts off her phone at nap time, makes a cup of tea, and stares out her window at the small brown birds.


Tania Runyan is the author of A Thousand Vessels (WordFarm), Simple Weight (FutureCycle Press) and Delicious Air (Finishing Line Press), which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many publications, including PoetryImageAtlanta Review, Indiana Review, The Christian Century, Willow Springs, Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, and the anthology A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. She was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

2 Responses to “Kempis’ Warning”

  1. Sarah says:

    ouch. needed to be convicted right now and this does a marvelous job…

  2. Laura Brown says:

    For several years in a row, I gave up dissing for Lent. For exactly the reasons you mention.

    I had been reading through “The Imitation of Christ” earlier this year and then laid it down and didn’t pick it back up. I think it got uncomfortable being convicted on every page. This persuades me to open it again.

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