I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I swallowed it my stomach turned sour.
Revelation 10: 10
Jesus was teaching every day in the temple. But the chief priests and scribes and leaders of the people were seeking to destroy him. And they could not find the thing that they could use, for the whole people was clinging to him, listening.
Luke 19: 47-8
We are a people of the word. We are not only formed by language, we are formed in language. “If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-2). Today we hear in Revelation echoes of the words of Ezekiel concerning how the prophet is to “digest the word of God.” God’s word to us is both sweet and sour, for it is a word of love and of life that both attracts and consoles us but also confronts and disturbs us. It is expression of Being that is far beyond anything we can ever know or manage, and so it is always summoning us to “the truth” that can set us free but which first will probably terrify us.
In the gospel of Luke today, we see that those who sought to destroy Jesus were stymied by the people who were “clinging to . . . [Jesus], listening.” The people are hanging on to the words of Jesus because they are words of life; they are summoning each listener to become the truth of who he or she is.
Perhaps the greatest barometer of the decline of a civilization is the degradation of its language. In a recent study, it is suggested that the recently ended election process in the United States may have been largely influenced by “false news,” by stories circulated in social media that were totally fabricated. Election campaigns are longer in the United States than in almost any other country, and yet, for all that time, persons are elected to office who remain unknown to the electorate.
At the point at which human persons cease to have responsibility for their words, true communication becomes impossible. The words we speak and write, to ourselves and to others, must remain “echoes” of Being, of the Word of truth that God is speaking. Human speech, in this sense, is sacramental. it is the utterance, the inner struggle to express, the Word in which we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). When our language becomes unmoored from its source, it becomes not only meaningless but dangerous. Instead of revealing Being, it conceals the truth. When our words are not held to the standard of truth, then connection among us becomes impossible.
The recent election campaign in the United States is only the culmination of a process long underway of the degrading of language in our culture. Long since, we have ceased distinguishing between fact (reality) and opinion (individual perspective). Somehow we have come to think that the truth emerges out of the conflict of personal opinions. Yet, if our perspectives, our opinions, our words are not responsible to the source of our language then more expression and talk only becloud the truth. There is much talk these days about the great disconnection among the people of the United States. It well may be that the only means to reconnection is through all of us reconnecting our language to its source and purpose.
So, what spiritual practice can possibly begin to serve this reconnection of our words to the truth? Perhaps it is a reappropriation and strengthening of the place of silence in our lives. It is no coincidence that a culture whose language has so degraded is also one where there is so little space for silence. For Meister Eckhart, our own words are to be an “echo” of the Word that is spoken to us, the Word that is our deepest identity. “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The word we are to speak is the word we are given to speak. And we receive that word in silence and stillness. When we still all our own pre-transcendent drives for recognition, success, wealth, and power, we open to a space in which God is speaking to and in us. This is the Word we have to share with the world.
When Jesus speaks, the people cling to his words — words that are necessarily both “sweet and sour,” comforting and challenging. They are words that call the listener to the deeper truth of his or her life, and that challenge the falseness in the life he or she is living. We too are given unique words from God to foster life and love in the world. Before we can speak them, however, we must first receive them. We must become disciples, students and learners, before we can be teachers. That requires of us a pervasive, all-encompassing spirit of stillness and silence. The source of political transformation requires first of all our personal letting go of those compulsive dispositions that keep our minds and hearts too busy and noisy to hear.
Language is nothing human; instead, the human being is something linguistic. The human person is the modifier and adjective of language. The human is, to use Eckhart’s expression, the “by-word” and adjective of language itself.
And as with Eckhart, Heidegger too characterizes the human being as the “respondent” or “correspondent” of the language of Being. “Originative thinking,” Heidegger says, arises as “echo” of Being’s address to us: “This echo is the human answer to the word of the soundless voice of being.”
Meister Eckhart uses exactly the same metaphor of the “echo” to describe the dialectic and reciprocity between the Father bearing and speaking His word in the soul, and the soul responding to Him by speaking and bearing the Word, His Son:
Out of this purity [of the eternal Godhead], God has given birth to me as His only begotten Son in the likeness of His eternal Fatherhood, in order that I may be a Father and bear Him of Whom I am born. In the same way, if one stood before a high mountain and called out, “are you there?” the echo would answer “are you there?” If you said “come out,” the echo would also say “come out.” (Sermon 214)
The human person comes to be human by responding to the address which Being makes to him or her. The human person is a response to the address of Being, an echo of its primal voice, even as the Word spoken in the soul is the echo of the Father’s voice.
John D. Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, pp. 166-7