How Our Words Fail Us
Many of us live our lives surrounded by and filled with words. We believe we can understand what we can explain and put into words. Our confidence grows until the time when words fail us.
Something deep inside us believes in the power of words. We live in a culture of articulation. Words are our way of understanding and controlling the world around us.
We put thoughts and feelings into words the same way we park our car in a garage or put animals into cages.
Each of us strives to find the words with which we want to express what we hope to say. A resulting tsunami of words sweeps over us.
Words seem to be the best way for us to communicate. People who write and speak well can turn their abilities to use words into lucrative careers. Words can inspire us or help us understand. Some words move us to tears or anger or remorse. We even depend on words when we talk to ourselves.
It can be frightening or embarrassing for us when our words fail us. We forget what we were going to say or cannot remember words we heard or read.
In fact, our words fail us all the time. It is a challenge for us to communicate clearly and specifically using words.
Some of us may be better than others when we use words, but words themselves are not precise. Even when we use simple, basic examples, each of us sees something different in our own minds. Our experiences in the world are personal and filled with variety.
When we hear or read the same words we understand them differently.
How will we interpret the words we will read or hear today? Can we make our words understood?
When Our Words Fail Us
Our hearts are now filled with pain and fear, mourning and confusion. Questions rise up from deep within us but words are not enough to ask them.
We ask how these things can happen here in our world full of promise. It is as if no one can hear our words. Each of us is distracted by our own words.
Who can help us understand what we cannot find words to express? How can we even ask for help when words are not enough?
Even those of us who believe in the power of spiritual life do not know how to ask for help. Can we trust spiritual life within us and all around us to help us understand?
Where are the answers we were so confident about only a year or so ago? Can we ever be certain again when we do not even know how to ask our own questions? Who can we ask when words fail us?
Many of us have a difficult time dealing with how we respond when words fail us. We try to force our way through how we feel and put our fear and anxiety behind us. Some of us were taught not to pay attention and move on as quickly as we can.
Covering up the emotions created when words fail us does not help us. We may be able to move on to the next immediate project, but the underlying causes will remain with us. They will eventually overwhelm us.
When words fail us we need to take time to stop and listen. We need to listen more deeply than merely to words. Our listening can take us beyond words into sacred stillness.
There is truth in stillness which our words cannot capture, cannot communicate.
Listening to Sacred Stillness When Words Fail Us
We are not researching the answers to our questions or refining the words we use to ask them.
Sacred stillness is not a search engine we use to find our answers. We take time to listen and live the questions we do not know how to ask.
Stillness does not resolve our questions or make them go away. Our words are transformed by the power of sacred stillness.
We take time to breathe and listen to stillness, letting go of our concerns for a few moments. Giving our consent for stillness to do its work in us helps us understand what we cannot put into words. It is not about making us feel better or more comfortable.
We struggle with questions we cannot fit into words. Listening to sacred stillness allows us to express our deep truths when words are not enough. We go beyond words into spiritual life.
Spiritual life is not simply how we sort out what we think or how we feel. Contemplative practices are not ways to avoid or escape the difficulties of life.
We listen when our words fail us and are not enough for what we have to say.
Understanding When Words Fail Us
When we want to understand something we try to analyze and explain and put it into words.
We believe sorting things out and finding a way to think our way through is how we gain understanding. Some of us believe the more words we can say about something the better we understand it.
Listening to sacred stillness is not about examining things closely and deciding what to say. When words fail us we listen and responses emerge within us.
We sit with the violence and injustice all around us and within us. Sacred stillness within us is the same as sacred stillness in the world all around us.
When words fail us reflection and listening to sacred stillness are how we allow our questions to emerge within us. The questions we have seem overwhelming to us, more than we can bear.
Listening to sacred stillness is how we bring our questions to life when words fail us.
We have questions to ask which are beyond words. When words fail us we listen until we understand.
How will we begin understanding when words fail us today?
Where will we go when words fail us this week?
[Image by Steve A Johnson]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.