Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Silence and the Word

Guardini proceeds from stillness to its relationship to speech and the word.  In the glut of words and voices of our day, we often lose sight of the the word as "a thing of mystery." Words are expressions that arise from the depths of a man's heart and spirit and come to shape the reality in which he lives.  Like stillness, then, our understanding of words and language is not to be taken lightly.  The more a word expresses, embodies meaning and captures what is in the heart the more it becomes "a living word."

IN THE LAST CHAPTER we discussed stillness in the presence of God. Only in such stillness, can the congregation fundamental to the sacred ritual come into being. Only in stillness can the room in which Holy Mass is celebrated be exalted into a church. Hence the beginning of divine service is the creation of stillness. Stillness is intimately related to speech and the word.
The word is a thing of mystery, so volatile tht it vanishes almost on the lip, yet so powerful that it decides fates and determines the meaning of existence. A frail structure shaped by fleeting sound, it yet contains the eternal: truth. Words come from within, rising as sounds fashioned by the organs of a man’s body, as expressions of his heart and spirit. He utters them, yet he does not create them, for they already existed independently of him. One word is related to another; together they form the great unity of language, that empire of truth-forms in which a man lives.
The living word arranges itself onion-linke in various layers. The outermost is that of simple communication: news or a command. These can be conveyed artificially, as they often are, by the printed word or some sound-apparatus which reproduces human speech. The syllables thus produced draw their significance from genuine language, and they answer specific needs well enough. But this superficial, often mechanical, level of words is not yet true speech, which exists only in proportion to the amount of inner conviction carried over from the speaker to that which is spoken. The more clearly his meaning is embodied in intelligible sounds, and the more fully his heart is able to express itself, the more truly does his speech become living word.
The inmost spirit lives by truth, by its recognition of what is and what has value. Man expresses this truth in words. The more fully he recognizes it, the better his speech and the richer his words. But truth can be recognized only from silence. The constant talker will never, or a least rarely, grasp truth. Of course even he must experience some truths, otherwise he could not exist. He does notice certain facts, observe certain relations, draw conclusions and make plans. But he does not yet possess genuine truth, which comes into being only when the essence of an object, the significance of a relaton, and what is valid and eternal in this world reveal themselves. This requires the spacousness, freedom, and pure receptiveness of that inner “clean-swept room” whilch silence alone can create. The constant talker knows no such room within himself; hence he cannot know truth. Truth, and consequently the realirty of speech, depends upon the speaker’s ability to speak and to be silent in turn.

The spirit of man lives by truth, Guardini explains above, and this truth is expressed in words.  However, man can only discern this truth through silence.  The internal fragmentation that takes place through constant chattering coarsening a man's capacity to recognize the truth .  He lacks the internal space necessary for the truth to emerge.  The more incessantly a man talks the more empty he becomes - merely pouring for emotion he impoverishes himself and never provides himself with the opportunity for the reverie for true insight to emerge.
But what of fervor, which lives on emotion and emotion’s evaluation of the costliness and significance of things? Doesn’t fervor pour the more abundantly into speech the more immediate the experience behind it? And doesn’t that immediacy remain greatest the less one stops to think? That is true, at least for the moment. But it is also true that the person who talks constantly grows empty, and his emptiness is not only momentary. Feelings that are always promptly poured out in words are soon exhausted. The heart incapable of storing anything, of withdrawing into itself, cannot thrive. Like a field that must constaly produce, it is soom impoverished.

Yet, Guardini is quick to point out that the silence out of which a word a truth emerges cannot itself be empty.  Silence must be a place of encounter; encounter with self and God.  Even less can the silence of the Liturgy be empty.  It is there that the heart of Christ and the hearts of the redeemed give full expression of worship and adoration offered to the Father.
Only the word that emerges from silence is substantial and powerful. To be effective it must first find its way into open speech, though for some truths this is not necessay: those inexpressible depths of comprehension of one’s self, of others, and of God. For these the experienced but unspoken suffices. For all others, however, the interior word must become exterior. Just as there exists a perverted variety of speech – talk – there exists also a perverted silence – dumbness. Dumbness is just as bad as garrulity. It occurs when silence, sealed in the dungeon of a heart that has no outlet, becomes cramped and oppressive. The word breaks open the stronghold. It carries light into the darkness and frees what has been held captive. Speech enables a man to account for himself and the world and to overcome both. It indicates his place among others and in history. It liberates. Silence and speech belong together. The one presupposes the other. Together they form a unit in which the vital man exists, and the discovery of that unit’s namelessness is strangely beautiful. We do know this: man’s essence is enclosed in the sphere of silence/speech just as the whole earthly life is enclosed in that of light/darkness, day/ night.

Consequently, even for the sake of speech we must practice silence. To a large extent the Liturgy consists of words which we address to and receive from God. They must not degenerate into mere talk, which is the fate of all words, even the profoundest and holiest, when they are spoken improperly. In the words of the Liturgy, the truth of God and of redeemed man is meant to blaze. In them the heart of Christ – in whom the Father’s love lives – and the hearts of His followers must find their full expression. Through the liturgical word our inwardness passes over into the realm of sacred openness which the congregation and its mystery create beofre God. Even God’s holy mystery – which was entrusted by Christ to His followers when He said, “As often as you shall do these things, in memory of me shall you do them” – is renewed through the medium of human words. All this, then, must find room in the words of the Liturgy. They must be broad and calm and full of inner knowledge, which they are only when they spring from silence. The importance of silence for the sacred celebration cannot be overstressed – silence which prepares for it as well as that silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony. Silence opens the inner fount from which the word rises.

Romano Guardini
Meditations Before Mass

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