This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. Rocky and I played on the same flag football team in seminary for three years. He threw me a couple passes for touchdowns. It was pretty amazing. More than that though he’s a passionate person, and an incredible writer. For more information about this series, click here.
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but the prudent are restrained in speech.” Proverbs 10:19
“Say what you need to say.” John Mayer
I am setting for myself an impossible task: speaking briefly on brevity.
I am a verbal person, and so my spirituality is a verbal one. I experience the gospel in the parables of Jesus and the paragraph-length sentences of Romans and Corinthians, filled as they are with exhortations and ecstatic pronouncements. The trailhead of my spiritual journey is a conversation, as are most of the significant markers along the way.
Of course, in almost 20 years of Christian discipleship I have wrangled with my dependence upon words, and I have heeded the wisdom of silence and contemplation for brief periods. But my mouth must be moving for me to make sense of the world and my place in it. So I have embraced the verbal as the irreducible core of my being.
Asked to identify my vocational “values” recently, I stumbled onto this assertion: “I want to contribute beautiful speech to the world.”
Step one of pursuing that desire has been to take an exacto blade to my speech, both oral and written, and to remove from my speaking all dead weight. I want to cut down the distances between my subjects and my predicates. I keep recalling the justification offered by novelist and essayist G.K. Chesterton in apology for the length of an essay he’d written: it would have been shorter if I’d had more time to work on it.
Why? Because I recognize now how much of my speech is driven by fear and a lack of faith. The less I believe, the more I talk. Or rather: the less I believe, the more words I use to say what I think I believe. When my conversations start accumulating conjunctions and dependent clauses I know I need to start trimming away at the filler, the word-walls I construct only to hide behind.
This is not a critique of ornamental speech, either; I have nothing against adjectives and adverbs. Ornamentation is purposeful. By contrast, most of my useless chatter is purposeless scaffolding–a twisted freeway of intensifiers and qualifiers, introductory clauses (“I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which . . . “) and nervous follow up sentences (“Do you know what I mean?”)
I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which I tend to multiply words when I don’t trust the truth to actually speak for itself. Do you know what I mean?
But, eliminating the cautious buffers I place between my subjects (God, You, I, We) and my predicates (Loves, Despises, Wonders, Feels), and again between those predicates and their objects, makes me trust God with the reality behind the speech.
Rocky Supinger is a pastor at Claremont Presbyterian Church. He blogs at Yo Rocko.