Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
Speak only if it improves upon the silence.-Gandhi
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.-1 John 3:18
Writing about silence is like writing about God: the words conceal more than they reveal.-Carl McColman
He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.-Lao Tzu
So my people come to you as usual, sit before you, and hear your words; but they do not put them into practice. Although they express love with their mouths, their hearts pursue dishonest gain.-Ezekiel 33:31
I have read many such quotes over the last few years, and it often makes me wonder and doubt my vocation here of writing or “speaking” about the mystical experience, the heart of religion, and deep science and philosophy. Is it worth it? Does it actually do any good in the world? Or is it merely “drawing close to God with lips” but “keeping hearts far away from ‘Him'” (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13).
Such a realization is actually what Joseph Smith had in his First Vision as well, that most religious people (if not all) merely flap their lips and speak a lot about God, but don’t actually draw themselves or their hearts near and into the Divine Reality (JS-H 1:19). It is paying lip service, but doesn’t actually do what it says. It doesn’t actually bring people into the Presence of God, or into participatory action with God.
Even Jesus talked about this in criticizing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.-Matthew 23:2-4
Jesus seems to have been criticizing the lack of action, that the Pharisees said to do many great and wonderful things, but they did not do them themselves. This seems to be precisely what hypocrisy means, saying but not doing.
I have often said that what I write is not the thing, that any word that is spoken is not the reality of God. It can’t be. God transcends all those words, thoughts, ideas, concepts. They are merely symbols, pointers, references, metaphors, stories, but it is never, ever, ever, the Divine Reality in itself. That cannot be communicated from one person to another, no matter how many priests or gurus tell us it can. It is only known in truth within one’s own self, because it is one’s own Self, the true divine Self at-one with God.
And so do these words do any good? Is there any use in spiritual texts? In scriptures? Does our writing have any utility whatsoever? Is it operative? Is it useful or effective? Does it actually point to the Way? Can the written word actually serve the purpose of “preaching the gospel”? Can we truly love through words? Are word themselves a form of action in the world?
I think if we asked great authors, contemplatives, and poets such as Mary Oliver, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tolkien, Melville, Billy Collins, Thomas Merton, and a host more, they would likely say unequivocally, “Yes!” The written word is itself a genuine mode of action, a reflection of truth, a means to express love in the world.
I think the trap that we may fall into, the risk we run with words, is in thinking that they are It, that the ultimate Truth is to be found in them, that they are an end in themselves, and if they fail to serve to bring us into greater union, connection, compassion, and service in the world. When the word becomes the thing, then we can become trapped in it, imprisoned by the words rather than liberated by them.
I have recently considered whether I should give up this writing, this website, this activity, surrender it, and go back to school and get a degree in something like Data Science, Big Data, Computer Science and Statistics, and do work on machine learning, data processing, and artificial intelligence, something which can actually, you know, make some money, something that has some “real practical value.” Would that be a better way of giving my gifts to the world? Would that hold more value and worth to the modern world? Indeed, it may be much more valuable to the world than what I’m doing now, and I could be paid the big bucks for doing it, but I’m not sure it would be the best gift I can give. My kingdom is not of this world.
I have been given a gift, graced with something, which seems to be exceedingly rare in the world today, a pearl of great price, which I want to share with you as much as I am able, and help you find it too. I feel I would be remiss and ungrateful if I did not, even profoundly irresponsible and negligent. But the temptation of material prosperity and “success” beckons still; we could buy anything in this world for money. Is this not ego?
I’ve recently seen this meme online a lot. It has been attributed to the Dalai Lama, David W. Orr, Kathleen Westberg, and perhaps others. It seems the actual source may be Orr in the book he co-edited Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. In Orr’s quote he also says,
It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.-David W. Orr
Which also reminds me of this quote from modern mystic and theologian Howard Thurman, which I’ve been drawn to a lot recently:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman
Now this may sound quite selfish. Don’t do what the world needs? Do what makes you come alive instead? How narcissistic is that?! But as Thurman points out, what the world needs may be precisely people who have come alive, people who have awakened to deep meaning, to love, to compassion, to their art, to their gifts, to their unique contributions, to their talents, to their deep empathy, to their healing ability to restore what has been broken, the peacemakers, the reconcilers, the lovers, those who are truly ALIVE. They are not people who merely see an opportunity to make a lot of money and be “successful” in business, in the consumerist materialist system, in the world’s eyes. This may actually be a death sentence, because, of course, the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives, as mystic-writer Annie Dillard has pointed out:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
If we do not do what makes us uniquely come alive, then we may not be giving of our best gifts to the world around us, and we may not actually be living Life! We may instead be living a willed, faked, mock-up of life, a kind of illusory life, a mirage, water on the horizon that can never quench our thirst. Only a life truly lived is worth living. Indeed, I’ve said before, the whole purpose of life is to live it, fully, passionately, authentically, abundantly (John 10:10). That is where we find the living waters which quench our thirst forever! (John 4:14). And the meaning of life may be that which we give it. We give it that meaning, through a life lived authentically, not how others wish us to live, but how our life speaks to us.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?-Mary Oliver
Are such words empty? Do they mean nothing? Or are they a call, a beckoning from the fog before us, a hope drawing us forward, giving us a light to steer us along the way, thoughts to soak into our bones and transform us at the deepest level?
I hope they are this. I hope my writing is this. I pray that what I write is useful, that it may serve as a guide, a compass, a map, a possibility, a hope, a suggestion of the way we may go through life. I give it freely as a gift to the world, an offering if it may be helpful in restoring peace, in growing love, in bringing compassion, in awakening hearts, in telling a new and better story of our human nature, and the nature of reality, which is both old and new. It is not Life. Nothing is that, except Life. But it is something we do in Life, as part of that One, to point to it, to point to ourselves, and our deepest Self, and what it is that is going on here.
I will continue to write, to give of this gift, as long as God would have me do so, as long as God gives me the gift of breath and sustenance, to speak and to attempt to express the inexpressible which I have gracefully experienced. Because although it is an impossible task which we will forever fail at, we have to do it. It must be done, and many are doing it, if for nothing else than to point to Love, to point to the Way, to point to Goodness, to Truth, to Beauty, to Silence. And maybe, just maybe, there is a bit of goodness, truth, and beauty in the words themselves.
And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;-Isaiah 6:5-13
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
4 thoughts on “The Value of the Written Word for Good, for Love in Action?”
“…there is no need for endless reading. In order to quiet the mind one has only to inquire within oneself what one’s Self [soul] is; how could this search be done in books?” Ramana Maharshi
“It is impossible [to write about it] because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?” Isaac Luria
Human cannot ‘know’ absolute Truth, but mystics can come closer to it. Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal.
Great quotes, Ron. That’s how I feel too. And yet, we must still write, we must still read, we must still speak. We would not have these quotes if they did not speak. We would not have the scriptures which state the inadequacy of words, if they did not write them. And so it is perhaps a paradox. We cannot speak it, but we must try anyway. And the words must always subvert themselves. The words are never “It.” We affirm, and then deny, and then deny the denial, and then deny the denial of the denial, etc., until perhaps our mind lets go and we experience the infinite, beyond words.
All I can say is “Keep writing!!!!” I would not abound in the grace and Love of God today if it weren’t for writers like you, Bryce, and others. These beautifully expressed words of hope and awe are such a beacon in my life. I know they don’t substitute for the mystical experience, but they open my heart to it. My deepest gratitude to you and all inspired writers.
Thank you, Amy. You are very kind. I am grateful the writing is so meaningful to you.