It’s been noted by many that we humans live as much in a web of words as we do in an ecosystem of air, water, and living things.  Cut off from either the stories and words with which we understand ourselves, or the physical sources of life, we shrivel.

But sometimes the river of words overflows the banks, and inundates a gathering of people.  There is such a thing as too many words.  I just returned from a national “dialogue” event which was nearly swept away by words, so I am once again thinking about this.

In the course of two days, there were to be two presentations, two responses to those presentations, and two text study sessions.  Not an unusual set up, allowing each community to offer a presentation on a topic, and also to lead a study on related texts from their religious tradition.  This time, however, the responders did not respond to what was presented, and one of the text-study leaders took more than the time alloted to give an additional presentation.  So, we ended up with 5 presentations, and one text study.  The sessions devoted to processing all of this input were too short to get to much more than more talk about the concepts, rather than exchange about what they had to do with our lives, or why they mattered to us.  I found it deadening.

Dialogue requires silence as well as words; deep listening, and time to allow what has been said to resonate within, as part of the process of engagement.  This is especially true, I think, in a culture such as ours, so crammed with noise, images and information– a flood of words and pictures that come at us from so many different sources that orientation is distorted and actual communication nearly jammed.

Dialogue does not have to be this way, but it takes careful attention to limit the river of words and allow the other parts of communing to have their place.

I came away craving silence, as I realize that I often do.  And so, I turned again to Rumi:

I see the face that was my home.

My loving says, I will let go of everything for that.

My soul bgins to keep rhythm as if music is playing.

My reason says, What do you call this cypress-energy that straightens what was bent double?

All things change in this presence.  Armenians and Turks no longer know which is which.

Soul keeps unfolding inward.  The body leaves the body.

A wealth you cannot imagine flows through you.

Do not consider what strangers say.  Be secluded in your secret heart-house, that bowl of silence.

Talking, no matter how humble seeming, is really a kind of bragging.

Let silence be the art you practice.

(“I See the Face”, in Coleman Barks, Rumi: Bridge to the Soul (ghazal 122, Furuzanfar’s Kulliyat’e Shams (Tehran: 1957-66)))