The Power of Words and Silence

Silence and words don’t seem to go together, do they? But I imagine that words and silence are two of the most influential forces of transformation.  I know that they have been in my life.

Recently, I stumbled across this passage from Frederick Buechner:

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves . . .
And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental, and a library is as holy a place as any temple because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth.[i]

I love it.  I especially love that part about words coming alive for us and in us to make us more alive within ourselves.  Has that happened for you?  I would love to hear about it.  I know that this is happening in me.  I am excited to share about these life-giving words.

Words have the power to cut through to my heart.  Reaction to life-changing words can be immediate and visceral.  As if my soul is reaching through my gut, heart, and body to catch these words that it knows it needs.  But life-changing words can also remain hidden.  Buried deep.  Waiting until I am ready.  And all of a sudden, one day, I realize that I am living that word, that one that I read well over a year ago and hadn’t thought much of since that time.  Now it is a part of who I am.  How does that happen?

Maybe that is where silence comes in. Silence is the place I go to in order to let go of words that are inadequate and confining.  It is in the silent spaces that my heart is learning to meet God.  Practicing silence allows me to listen for and hear the words that matter.  Maybe it is in the silence that true words have the space to put down root.

When I discovered silence, I think I truly discovered Words—they started pouring out of my heart in poetry, journaling, and essays; powerful words started working their way through my heart, transforming it; and life-changing words would pop up as messages nudging me forward.  Silence.  Listening.  Words.  An inseparable trio of grace.

I don’t know how to put it any better than Madeleine L’Engle in her poem Word from The Ordering Of Love:

I, who live by words, am wordless when
I try my words in prayer.  All language turns
To silence.  Prayer will take my words and then
Reveal their emptiness.  The stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language, for I see
Through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I turn me to the Word to pray.  Amen.[ii]

[i] Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, p. 170-71.

[ii] Madeleine L’Engle, The Ordering of Love p. 52

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