The most destructive forms of speech in community, Benedict understood, are those that involve judgments against the other. Benedict calls this form of speech “murmuring,” included all forms of griping, gossiping, and nagging. He forbids it absolutely. When I was a monk, I thought that the rule of silence was mainly in service of contemplation. Now, after many years of suffering poisoned discourse in the halls of academe, I have come to understand that silence was mainly about charity. As we learn every day in our new world of constant chatter, savage judgment, and long-distance shaming via (anti)social media, when speech is totally without restraint, mercilessness is an almost inevitable consequence.
— Luke Timothy Johnson, How a Monk Learns Mercy
In the close quarters of my new endeavor, this portion of an article on mercy and Thomas Merton stood out to me.
Monday I listened to a colleague vent about how all the expressions of care (his new baby was very, very preemie about three months ago) are rubbing him raw… all while a close colleague of both of ours sat doing her homework. He sighed, “You don’t have to live here. You’re not around it all the time!” Through the grapevine I hear that one of the people in my cohort, back in a dorm environment after several years away, is feeling more than a little confined.
Presbyterians don’t have a cloistering tradition, but if we did, small seminaries would be our version.
I think about my colleague who (probably) Wasn’t Speaking To me. The dynamic ate at my brain for months, until I hashed it out over a dinner with M. We decided that mostly I was clinging to mad because my colleague’d deprived me of data… and I had a soupçon of castor-oil-type treatment I was tempted to deliver. Better to work that out on my own time, and sustain the silence of charity!
She’s not here this semester, not listed in our directory, and I wonder if her form of inverse ‘murmuring’ was part of that. I do know that I perked up my ears during the session when our cohort learned how APTS tries to live God’s beloved community. I could have stood to have those tools back then.
It doesn’t sound particularly pious or even blessed to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” And really, it’s not fully true — if you wound me, as part of the beloved community it is crucial that I say to you: You wounded me. That doesn’t fit in most people’s “nice” box. But with God’s help I can say it without backspin, as a simply true thing. And you then might say, My goodness; I am sorry; I see now how to not make that mistake again. So that together we stitch up the tear in the world.
But for all those pesky other things? Yeah. I’m zipping it.