Lent Reflection day 25
In the eleventh step of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent, he says this about the tongue: Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory, on which it loves to show itself and make a display. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a door to slander, an inducement to jesting, a servant of falsehood, the ruin of compunction, a creator and summoner of despondency, a precursor of sleep, the dissipation of recollection, the abolition of watchfulness, the cooling of ardor, the darkening of prayer. In the writings of St. Hesychios from The Philokalia, he says: We should shun loose speech like an asp's venom and too much company like a ‘progeny of vipers’ (Matt. 3:7), for it can plunge us into total forgetfulness of the inner struggle and bring the soul down from the heights of the joy that purity of heart gives us. This accursed forgetfulness is as opposed to attentiveness as water to fire, and forcibly fights against it all the time. Forgetfulness leads to negligence, and negligence to indifference, laziness and unnatural desire. In this way we return to where we started, like a dog to his own vomit (cf. 2 Pet. 2:22). So let us shun loose speech like deadly poison. As for forgetfulness and all its consequences, they can be cured by the most strict guarding of the intellect and by the constant invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For without Him, we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5).
The twenty-fifth chapter of Unseen Warfare addresses the same thing in exactly the same way: The greatest necessity of all is to control and curb our tongue. The mover of the tongue is the heart: what fills the heart is poured out through the tongue. And conversely, when feeling is poured out of the heart by the tongue, it becomes strengthened and firmly rooted in the heart. Therefore the tongue is one of the chief factors in building up our inner disposition. All three of these great spiritual works speak about the circular motion of talking too much. First, evil in the heart makes us talk too much, but then talking too much feeds the evil in the heart, and so on. The opposite is also true. Silence breeds watchfulness and attentiveness. When someone is talking about nothing in particular, and some danger enters the room, the talking stops. Or, should stop. Can you imagine someone yammering away about nothing in particular in a room that’s on fire? It’s hard to imagine, or perhaps it’s not. We do this all the time, talk too much when sin is destroying everything in our life and our life itself.
I served in a parish one time where we had a man on the parish council who was very laconic. He could go through entire meetings and not say a word. But when he spoke, everyone else stopped talking and listened. At the few times he had something to say, everyone knew it was going to be good. Many other times I’ve been in parishes where the parish council contains the opposite kind of person who talks a lot but has nothing to say of value. Each word said would produce a spiritual forgetfulness, and as St. Hesychios said, forgetfulness leads to negligence, and negligence to indifference, laziness and unnatural desire. Indeed. What does the person want who talks constantly? To be heard, to be listened to. And yet, the way they go about achieving that goal spoils any chance they have of attaining it. As St. John Climacus said, talkativeness is the throne of vainglory, on which it loves to show itself and make a display.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t know about you, but I want to flee from that as fast as possible. As we come to the twenty-fifth day of this beautiful Lenten journey, let us measure our words, and thereby maintain our faith. Unseen Warfare ends the chapter with this: I shall indicate to you the most direct and simple method to acquire the habit of silence: undertake this practice, and the practice itself will teach you how to do it, and help you. To keep up your zeal in this work, reflect as often as you can on the pernicious results of indiscriminate babbling and on the salutary results of wise silence. When you come to taste the good fruit of silence, you will no longer need lessons about it.