When I worked in catechetical publishing a million years ago, our general editor and house curmudgeon-slash-spiritual-director at Benziger was the redoubtable Fr Gerard Weber. Jerry had a mind like a steel trap, a deep devotion to the Church of his Chicago roots, and zero tolerance for the kind of flowery, “feminine” language that so often characterized children’s catechetical texts in the days he was trying to get us all to leave behind. Whenever I strayed into that kind of tweeness, Jerry was sure to scrawl PIOUS TWADDLE! across the manuscript in what looked like a preview of the blood I was going to shed when he caught up with me.
The inoculation took. A year or so ago, when I was asked (wearing my stewardship writing hat) to help The Cunneen Company tailor some of their offertory enhancement materials for use in our diocese, I made the mistake of being a little too frank–or too Jerry–in my critique of what looked to me to be an excess of pious posturing. “I’ve removed most of the egregious twaddle,” I emailed John Cunneen, my client. Through God’s great grace, John has a sense of humor, and he not only forgave the brashness but was so delighted by the phrasing that he had AlphaGraphics New Haven, his related business, whip up egregious twaddle T-shirts for me and a bunch of mutual friends. (You can see them, front and back, in the photo that accompanies this post.)
It was only natural, John having provided the marketing hook, for me to name the blog for the shirts. And it will stay that way, because I can’t promise that I’ll avoid being either egregious or twaddly or both in what’s to come.
What I will promise to try to be, for John’s and everybody’s sake, is less dense and tangly. When a friend asked him today if he had seen the blog, John responded that he was following it happily (and appreciating the product placement), but wished I would be clearer. “It’s like sitting next to a scientist on an airplane,” John admitted. “You just nod and act like you get it!” Or as my designer friend Perry is always telling me, “Say more, but with fewer words. A lot fewer words.”
By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary.
When it comes down to the true and real and entirely un-twaddly Word, in other words, the best any of us can do is sit close, shut up, and nod.
Image is the author’s own.