I can still hear the words. I don’t remember who said them – but I heard them sometime in my teenage years. The occasion was doubtless some sort of argument. There were many things to argue about: Love, Peace, War, Jesus, Drugs, Sex, Rock ‘n Roll. There was a great deal of talk and almost no conversation. But why was the experience of talking to someone similar to speaking to a block of wood?
The simple answer is, “No one is at home.” When the ego (the false self generated by our anxieties, fears, grandiosity, etc.) becomes our public voice, the true self is rendered mute. Conversations with the ego are almost useless. Conversations with the ego also tend to provoke responses from the ego – “like calls to like.” Thus one set of defenses speaks to another set of aggressions, switching places as the war of words waxes and wanes. No information is exchanged. No minds are changed. The heart remains inert, shielded in a fog of make-believe.
We are often struck by the relatively short statements of Christ. “Follow me,” and a man leaves his fishing nets and becomes a disciple. I have often wondered if the gospels simply give us a brief summary of a longer conversation. As years have worn on, I think not.
One of the longest conversations recorded in the gospels takes place between Christ and the woman at the well (John 4). Every word of Christ is addressed to the heart. The woman initially responds from the ego.
Jesus says, “Give Me a drink.” She responds (defensively), “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” Jesus speaks again to her heart, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Christ continues and speaks about living water. Her first response from the heart says, “Sir, give me this water….”
Christ goes deeper into her heart, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Her response, “I have no husband,” is a confession, spoken from the depths of her heart. There is no explanation no prevarication. In the final moments of the conversation the ego offers a last defense – one last argument of Samaritans versus Jews. Christ responds with the word of the coming Messiah, and reveals Himself to her. In the coming of the Christ, all space between Jew and Samaritan is bridged. The one common hope of the heart destroys the imagined pain of the false self. The words of Christ, spoken consistently to the heart, reveal a woman whose life is a story of broken relationships (five husbands and a live-in friend) to be a saint. The woman at the well, known to the Church as St. Photini, later dies a martyr’s death, having drunk to the full the living water given her that day.
Our own conversations, both when speaking and listening, do well to be grounded in the heart.
Here are some tools to use to remain in the heart:
Use fewer words – be silent if possible. (Eccles. 3:3)
Only speak the truth, though it is not necessary to be unkind. (Eph. 4:15)
Resist the effort to defend yourself. (Matt. 10:19)
It is not important to be right. (Proverbs 26:21)
Do not argue. Your effect on someone else’s ego will come to nothing. (Hos. 4:4)
Tell your anxieties that everything will be ok. (Phil. 4:6)
Don’t be in a hurry to speak. Let someone else finish their thought. (Proverbs 29:20).
Those who know me will understand the irony of my advice. Of those who sin against speech, I am first.