“Bad habits and indifference to spiritual progress do much to remove the guard from the tongue. Devout conversation on spiritual matters, on the contrary, is a great aid to spiritual progress—especially when persons of the same mind and spirit associate together in God.” ~Thomas á Kempis.
In his grand work, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis centres on the process of becoming just like Christ; doing the things we need to do, believing the things we need to believe, actively, in order to get there.
The above is talking about gossip—about the predilection we all have to move into conversation, to acquaint with others, to strike rapport; and this for very human need.
God designed us this way: to desire, seek, and find a common fellowship. But there is a trap and this trap is woven from the self-conscious mind, by the thread of mindless chatter.
Where we do not focus on spiritual things—the things that build up, that are godly, and portray us against the flesh—we will fall for the flesh. Our talk will descend and, therefore, arrive in the gutter. We are there before we know it.
A Better Plan – But a Harder One to Implement
Gossipy conversation leads to emptiness; a running away from ourselves, and the discrediting of others as we judge them later in hindsight, for, “How could they say such a thing!”
There is usually either incredulity or self-deceit as we look back on these wayward conversations.
A better plan, but one so rarely implemented, and one so often shunned for lack of interest in piety, is upon every conversation to focus on the pure, the complementary, and the urging, encouraging, and strengthening aspects of life with other people.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that we talk about God all day, though that’s not a bad plan! Certainly part of our day, every day, should be devoted to silence, as is custom in contemplative spirituality—something we learn from devout monks. Only in generous portions of silence will we learn to listen for the Lord.
It’s a horrible state of affairs when we hear of people, especially in a church context, being criticised for being “too” spiritual. Can there be such a thing? If someone is genuinely passionate about their spirituality they will be passionate about others’ spirituality, also. And love will be the winner. Anything falling short of love is not genuine spirituality, but maybe pretence. Nobody is perfect.
Learning to Focus Conversation
Perhaps the biggest challenge is centring on the things we should be talking about and disposing, truthfully in love, talk of the worldly, deriding sense.
What matters are politics, current affairs, religion, and ethics, to us if we don’t have constructive intentions to make a difference? Chatting about them, and voicing our opinions (as if someone cared, for God doesn’t), is vain if we’re not doing something about it. This is taking us away from spiritual progress.
We would be better to focus the time and energy on making a difference. This may not be within our grasp—to make the sort of difference we’d like to. Therefore, we are best simply changing our minds to talk on different, more edifying, things.
Learning to focus our conversations toward matters of spiritual progress is an investment in the fellowship of friendship. It pleases God and, by it, within community, we worship aright.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.