Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I is for Idle Talk

(Scroll down to read the Letters A-H in “A Sinner’s Lenten Alphabet.”)

In the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephrem, we ask God to take 4 things from us that can hold us back in our spiritual growth: sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk. And so, the Letter

I
Is for
Idle
Talk


The Abbess Thaisia, a spiritual daughter of St. John of Kronstadt, wrote in her Letters To a Beginner: On Giving One’s Life to God:

“If any sin or any passion knows how to clothe itself in an attractive form, it is precisely—idle talk.”
These are pretty strong words about something that most people would probably consider pretty harmless. But is it? How many times have you been hurt by words? And how did those harmful words get started? Possibly with idle talk? Abbess Thaisia makes a strong case against it:

“Deeply rooted in people is the love of idle talk, i.e., empty, unnecessary conversations, and it has become a beloved pastime among them. It seems we don't know and don't believe that idle talk is a sin, and a serious sin, which gives birth to a multitude of other sins: quarrels, conflicts, gossip, slander, condemnation, calumny, and the like."

So it’s not just being chatty that’s the problem, but what it can lead to, especially gossip and slander and other hurtful behavior. When I was in first grade my teacher put masking tape over my mouth because I wouldn’t quit talking in class. She even called my parents to come get me once, and when my dad picked me up, he said, “You okay, Motor Mouth?” That was one of his nick-names for me. Remember the doll, “Chatty Cathy?” Chattiness might be cute on a doll. And a 6-year-old. But that chatty mouth still gets me in trouble.

Again I think balance is needed so that we don’t become snobby or aloof in our efforts to curb our conversations. Combining hospitality and love for others with self-control in our talk isn’t easy. But I want to learn to bridle my tongue. Without the masking tape. And I think that what comes out of my mouth is a reflection of what’s going on inside my head, so maybe controlling idle talk needs to begin with controlling idle thoughts. That work of hesychia that I wrote about yesterday.

I’ll close today’s post with a nod to my Facebook friends who offered comments on yesterday’s post and suggestions for the Letter “I.” One said to write about icons, but since I include them throughout my writing, I’ll only make a comment on one aspect of these holy images here—they have small mouths. Enough said.

2 comments:

Discourse said...

An interesting thing to note with the icons. Never thought of it...

Elizabeth Westmark said...

Eloquent homily, Susan. By the way, my parents gave me a Chatty Cathy doll. Seemed like it was almost as tall as I was -- scared me to death! I'm sure it was expensive and a big splurge, but I didn't want to have anything to do with it.