Can You Live without Speaking?

I came across this quote today: “Abba Isidore of Pelusia said: ‘Living without speaking is better than speaking without living. For a person who lives rightly helps us by silence, while one who talks too much annoys us. If, however, words and life go hand in hand, it is the perfection of all philosophy.'” It’s from a lovely little book by Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light, which I’ve been reading devotionally.

Isidore says talking little is better than talking much. In our society, this is counter-cultural. Could you go a day without speaking? Could I?

4 Responses to Can You Live without Speaking?

  1. What a great story, Betty. A truly radical act.

  2. Betty Johnson says:

    I did an exercise in silence while I was in my undergrad. It was to last for one week and I had the approval of the professors. After the discomfort and novelty of the first day, those around me understood what I was doing, yet I was still met with all emotions, from curiousity, to humor, even to anger. Above everything else, the exercise taught me to be quiet with myself. The resultant paper consisted of ten words (the exact required length of the paper) and was the progression that happened throughout the week. (It also included a full bibliography and an explanation of how I came to the boldness to turn in such a paper!) To this day, I think it was one of the most powerful papers I have ever written. And to this day, I get communications from my peers from that time (almost 20 years ago) telling me of some joy they have found in their silence, or something new they have learned about themselves by being silent. It was a very difficult exercise at the time. Today, silence (coupled with solitude) has become, for me, an adventure in discovery.

  3. Under stress (which I suppose a blackout could be) we all have a default position. When we’re functioning the best, perhaps we can choose whether to speak or be quiet rather than automatically heading for our default.

    I’ve also been thinking more this week about Isidore’s words about “words and life going hand in hand.” This is not simply not talking, but making what we say count.

  4. I was just reflecting on an experience along this line. At a recent conference in the midwest a sudden storm came upon our group as we gathered for the evening worship. We were gathered in a space with high windows and could see violent winds, rain, and thunder and lightening. Soon, the lights went out and emergency lighting came on. A conference site staff member came to tell us about a tornado warning and ushered us downstairs to a designated storm area.

    We sat around in the semi-darkness waiting out the storm. It was interesting to see the “extroverts” filling the space with talking and joking, while the “introverts” just sat around waiting—feeling no need to speak or to fill the time with talk. As the time dragged on that pattern continued until the storm passed.

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