Sunday, April 6, 2014

Words Get in the Way

"A Sunday in Spring"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

A few days ago, my wife and I were having lunch in a local restaurant. The place didn't seem all that crowded, but for some reason everyone seemed to be talking all at once and very loudly.  The volume of all those people speaking all those loud words was chaotic. I could hardly hear my wife who sat just across from me. It was so loud and so distracting that "I couldn't even hear myself think." 

I've been thinking about words that are sometimes so loud that "you can't even hear yourself think." 

I sit in my garden this Sunday morning on this utterly gorgeous desert day in Spring. The silence is resounding - no words from anyone, anywhere. 

Since it's Sunday, I imagine all those words that have been and will be spoken on this weekend - in all those churches, temples, mosques. All the prayers, all the sermons, all the hymns - formal prayers in prayerbooks, individual prayers asking "God" to grant personal petitions. Words-words-words, and for me, the words get in the way.

Words, of course, have the potential to connect us but they also have the potential to divide us. We can speak words of love and forgiveness and the words bind us together.  But when we use hateful words - words that hurt or words that judge, or when we hear people speaking in a foreign language, the words become barriers, wedges between people.

I have come to the point where I almost never talk about "God" in words anymore. Words about "God" or words addressed to "God" have become wedges for me.

There are just too many words about "God," and they are just too small and too limiting. When we use words about God, we tend to think we have defined, named or even captured and tamed "God." But how do you capture or define Holy Presence? How do you name the unnamable?  How can you tame the wild, untamable universal energy of blazing cosmic love? So when it comes to talking about "God,"  I find that words get in my way. 

And when I pray I rarely use words nowadays. For one thing words are always addressed to someone outside of "me" - a distant "other"- a person "out" there, "up" there - the Almighty and eternal King. 

However, "God" is not "other" apart from "me"- outside of "me."  Everything and everyone is "at-one-with" the ONE. That's why I rarely use words when I pray. They drive wedges that separate me from the ONE to whom I am intimately connected. 

Actually, avoiding the use of words is very much in keeping with the ancient contemplative traditions in Christianity, as well as in Buddhism. 

Like their Buddhist counterparts, the Christian desert monks of the 4th century practiced a discipline of "mindfulness." The desert monks lived in the fierce, untamed emptiness of a vast wilderness. They lived in holy silence, always awake and aware, paying attention to the revelations of the moment wherein they experienced a sense of transcendence that could never possibly be captured by lengthy prayers or the abundant use of words. 

The practice of "no-words" is continued to this very day by Christian and Buddhist monks who live together with one another in relative silence -practicing a discipline of meditation and mindful awareness. 

 But you don't have to be a monk to pray without words. 

As usual I sit in my meditation garden on this morning in Spring. The silence is abundant. I hear the songbirds sing and listen to the hummingbirds flapping their tiny wings.  I hear the gentle sounds of chimes and gurgling fountains.  I feel the rush of the breeze as the wind sweeps off the mountains herding the arrival of the rising sun. The many are "at-one-with" the ONE.

Not a word is spoken. Words get in the way.

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