Michael W. Austin

Ideas that Matter.

Too Many Words

Consider this, from Henri Nouwen:

“Over the last few decades we have been inundated by a torrent of words. Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, in books, on walls, or in the sky; words in many sounds, many colors, or many forms; words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! They form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence.”

If the statement about records wasn’t there, this observation would be apt for today. But it was written in 1981! Of course, the problem has only intensified since then. What can be done?

If Nouwen were here today, his advice in 2017 would be the same as his advice in 1981. We need to follow the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who thought of silence as a central way to God. This can be a silence of words, and should be, but over time silence is an inner condition of the heart that we can cultivate.

Sometimes people need our silence more than our words, our presence that includes the presence of God more than our advice. Silence helps us cultivate an inner sanctuary where the Holy Spirit is present and active. As Nouwen puts it, “It allows us to speak a word that participates in the creative and recreative power of God’s own Word” (p. 58). Out of an inner richness, we are able to help others. Ultimately, it is a trait of the heart that enables us to truly love others.

I highly recommend Nouwen’s short work, The Way of the Heart, which also includes rich discussions of solitude and prayer.


Photo by Denis Mesie, CCL


  1. Silence is a habit that I need to be conscious of for sure, not just for myself in my quiet time but also to the benefit of others. Good read this morning, thanks Mike!

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