“The Habit of Perfection” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Twice in the past week I said or wrote something deeply embarrassing—hurtful words about someone else that I have regretted with a stab in the heart. The first time was with someone very close to me. The second was in a recent post. In the first case, my embarrassment led to a reconciliation with the person involved: we have never been closer. It is too early to predict what will happen in the second case, but I’m praying about it. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a vow of silence.

Yeah, I know, you’ve probably heard that one before, especially if you know me personally or have hung around this virtual soapbox for any length of time. Like many people with a certain minor gift of eloquence, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. I get too smart for my own britches, and my mouth runs all the same, and then I feel awful about it.

Which is why I’ve chosen another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., for this week’s installment. I suppose it is about taking literal vows; but it has a lot to say to all of us, especially me, and right now.

The Habit of Perfection
Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shelled, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

  • Anonymous

    Aw Webster… I'll say a little prayer for that situation to work out for you. Also – I would like to say that this 'minor gift of eloquence' is what has brought us this blog and we are grateful for it. I guess, it happens often that our strengths can become our weaknesses and with grace, our weaknesses become our strengths. Rose

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    Webster, ever seen a Macedonian film entitled Before the Rain? A young monk has taken a vow of silence, but becomes embroiled between the local Christian and Muslim populations. Soon he is up to his neck in lethal controversy.I thought of it when you said you'd taken a vow of silence. A life of trying to be faithful, loving, wise … and even "silent" … is generally, well, "messy". I truly doubt you intentionally set out to create hurt to anyone in your forementioned post, or that you were too "smart for your own britches." Probably more like St Peter – you jump out of the boat and start toward Jesus, then look down … gulp.Keep up the good work!

  • Webster Bull

    Rose, Athos . . . Thanks!

  • Mary P.

    Webster, only those who open their mouths have to worry about saying the wrong thing. I can't think of anything braver than putting words on a page for the world to see. At times like this, maybe you should remember those times when you knew the Holy Spirit used you and your words to reach someone and make a difference? Someone heard what you dared to express, and it has changed lives. You know this. Don't stop posting! You three are lamps in the world. So you're not perfect! I know, shocking, right? The Good Lord doesn't need us to be perfect! He works with us and our imperfections! He even uses our mistakes to help others. So maybe He's using your mistake as an opportunity for someone else to grow, even now, just as it did last time.Take heart, my friend!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don't speak. – Blaise PascalOf course, Blaise wrote this while working on an apologetic magnum opus for Christianity that he never finished. He wasn't exactly staying quiet. :^)

  • bt

    Many a time I've said more than I should have. I have a relative who teaches grade school, who told me once that his follow teachers thought he was smart, however actually it was because he rarely said anything. He told me that if he ever started to talk a lot, they would soon realize how unintelligent he actually was! ;)

  • Webster Bull

    @bt, Better advice I have seldom heard. (How's that for an economical response?!) :-)

  • Ferde

    Webster, I'm sure this new vow of yours has a time limit. Knowing you and what you have to offer all of us, I suspect, and hope, it will expire before lunch. So you shot your mouth off and put your foot in it. So what? If I had a dime for every time I've done that I could buy a couple of cases of that particular beverage we're so fond of.And it's not like you did it in secret or that the object didn't get his at bat against you. He did and in my book you're even. I hope he feels the same way. Whether he does or not, you're still my friend, so cut yourself some slack.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Ferde: He is back in the saddle…already. Mission oriented, as always.

  • Anonymous

    Look, did you set out to hurt people? If not, get over it. Consider: white guy, brainy, athletic, decent looking, family money, Exeter. In this culture, a winning hand of cards, although crippling in its own ways. I'm guessing the credit for your open heart and general decency goes to your wife. Go thank her.As for the "minor gift of eloquence," false modesty. You think clearly and tell the truth on paper. Those things aren't minor. Facility isn't all bad, you know. And you've grown enormously as a writer since you started the blog.Still an atheist, but a happy reader also,Lidap.s. I think you might not want to post this. Too blunt, too personal.

  • Webster Bull

    Best comment of the week, Lida. Of course, I posted it! WB

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04545510194367389333 Stefanie

    Ah, words, words, words. I agree with Blaise!But then why don't I remember that when I seem to add my two cents to every conversation? Surely my words are needed everywhere and for every situation??? Personally, I need to remember not to be offended when I'm the receiver of unwanted "witty" or "high-spirited" remarks directed for my benefit. Gotta admit, I'm not so forgiving of that because it's always better to give than to receive!Ah, but love really "does cover a multitude of sins." You, Webster, show your real love through your words. Shoulder this burden of expressing words and carry on.


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