Like many people, the last several months have left me at a loss for words. While our airwaves are filled with more syllables than most normal humans can process in a day, I have been rendered somewhat mute by the state of our nation and our world. This lack has carried over into my ability to write in this space or nearly any other. The fact of the matter is, with my Mother’s voice not far from my consciousness “If you can’t something nice, don’t say anything at all.”, I have been unable to speak or write anything at all. The inability to find the right words, the best words, the kind words, the balanced words,the sensible words, has been a constant, silent companion.
Perhaps this has not been the worst thing. Over and over again in my life I have been, as most people have, in the presence of people who speak without thinking, whose opinions fly quickly from their lips,often to their own embarrassment or even peril. Those who allow their mouths to move without a measured thought process can often cause more harm than good. I would like to believe that, at least in the last several months, I have not been among them. If I have, I apologize and hope that any words I have said have not been harmful to anyone’s spirit.
The other side of this coin is that words are important to me. I love them. I love to use them. This place of silence or of silencing myself has come at a cost. And so, as we enter the season those in the Christian household call Lent, I am making my way back to words. I believe it will be a slow process and one I will not take lightly. At least, I hope not. My hope is that I will walk these days measuring my words with wisdom and care. Lent, after all, is meant to remind us of the counter-cultural lifestyle we are called to live after the example of Jesus. A man of measured words. A man of kindness and well chosen stories. A man who knew the power of silence and the practice of prayer.
This walk back into words actually came through a phrase I heard yesterday on a radio broadcast, a phrase that points toward a wordless act. I heard the story of a nun whose work was ‘the prayer of the loving gaze.’ This sister of an unnamed religious order, when at a loss for words in her prayer life, practiced focusing her eyes with love toward what was right in front of her. Another sister. The stranger on the bus. A flower blooming in a frigid winter. The sunrise. The sunset. All those whose faces and lives passed through her ordinary day. She fixed her gaze with love on the fullness of Creation, one view at a time. No words necessary. Only a full bodied presence and an open heart.
For some reason, the seeming ease of this lived prayer opened my heart and my mouth to words again. And for that I am grateful. This nameless, faithful sister’s practice offered itself to me and gave me a way of traveling into not only these days of Lent but into these often harsh days in which we live. Perhaps the words will continue to be difficult. And when they are, I will turn to the ‘prayer of the loving gaze.’ My sense is it might be what will help me be faithful…to the beauty, the terror, the gift, the grace, the challenge, and the Presence of the One who holds it all.
And so Lent begins….