St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Finding That Authentic Voice in Your Heart

Our daughter Glynis relayed an important insight that grandson Jachym, seven, had recently.  Glynis asked Jachym what the most important part of his body was and he pointed to his heart.  S0 she asked him why that was most important, and he said, “that’s where your voice comes from, and your soul speaks through your voice.”

We have all known people who came across as inauthentic, and most often we discover this by listening carefully to the shape of their voice.  Something is absent from their voice.  You cannot detect any soul in it.  Not only disembodied, that voice is also empty of soul, and thus empty of heart.

Perhaps we have even been among those who come across as inauthentic.  It is not easy to come into the fullness of voice, to emerge from silence in truthfulness and candor when in conversation with others.

I taught a course entitled SILENCE AND SPEECH when I was a professor in Chicago.  The basic idea was that true silence is essential for truthfulness in speech and, conversely, true speaking reveals our inner silences.  I think Jachym has figured this out at an early age, and I hope the knocks of life do not dislodge his insight.

The novelist and essayist Pico Iyer wrote, “We have to earn silence, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. …We all know how treacherous are words, and how often we use them to paper over embarrassment, or emptiness, or fear of the larger spaces that silence brings.  ‘Words, words, words’ commit us to positions we do not really hold, the imperatives of chatter; words are what we use for lies, false promises and gossip” (TIME essay, January 25, 1993).  Iyer is onto truth here, but I think it incomplete; what I miss is the note that genuine speech emerges out of true silence even as true silence issues forth in authentic speaking. Thus are the lies avoided, thus do we become truly present, and thus does the soul speak.

The world is full of babble.  It surrounds us on all sides, seeps into our lives via a host of media: radio, television, and now the other devices that invade our space and rob our silence.  Words have become cheaper than ever before, it seems, and hence we distrust the voice.

Of course there are times when we don’t know how to speak, and it’s a good thing: confronted by death, confronted by love, confronted by suffering, speech falls away and we know the silence of empathy, the quiet of compassion. Such silence is both logical and understandable.  It requires a huge effort to speak anything of merit into the silence of suffering brought about by war and violence.  The writer Alice Borchard Greene long ago said, “When the cargo of feeling is too heavy it sinks the frail craft of verbal response.”  Better to keep silent.  Better to retreat to your heart where your voice comes from.

For many people in our society, the retreat to silence means only absence and not possibility, only void and not creative center.  We have been so long drawn off silence by noise that surrounds us that we think we are hollow when noise and words are absent.  It is not so.

We still have time to find that heart where the voice originates, where the soul can be expressed through the voice. Every spiritual tradition presents a way into silence through contemplation, meditation, or prayer.  Find it in yours or find someone to help you enter it.  The world is in need of authentic speech.

published 01 June 2012