“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Adrian van Kaam would often point out that if sexuality was the great repression of Freud’s time, so it is spirituality, our innate sense of home in the transcendent sphere, that is the repression of our own. It is this alienation from ourselves as spirit, as beings whose true home is in transcendence and mystery, that makes the words of Jesus that we hear today so unfathomable to us.
Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about what to say at the frightening, and what today we’d call traumatic, moment of being charged and arrested on the capital offense of blasphemy. In the midst of the most hostile of environments, when the “wolves” about them set on them like prey, they are to remain steady and confident (that is “full of faith”). The reason, he says, is because they will not be impotent in the face even of being arrested and imprisoned. They will rather have the deepest form of potency of which we human persons are capable. It is the capacity and potential to speak the words that must be spoken because they are the words of the Spirit of our Father.
We live in a world that is filled with words, most of which are either meaningless or manipulative. Today’s news reports speak of the sham that was yesterday’s eight hour Congressional hearing concerning the alleged tainting by bias of FBI investigations. I only witnessed moments of this, and admittedly if they are excerpts selected by the news media, they are probably the most absurd. Nonetheless, the so-called questions given, which were actually usually just pompous posing, had nothing serious about them. The words spoken were countless, but very few, if any, of them came from the place that Jesus describes today.
When Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about what to say, we can readily identify with them, even if we’ve never been arrested or brought before the judge. Although we may not worry about what to say on a day to day basis, we all experience, at the most important moments of life when saying the good or right thing is most important, this fear of being mute, of having nothing to say. This is why our customs and cultures teach us the conventions of speech from an early age. We come to know that to say “How are you?” is not really a request to know what is happening in someone but only a form of greeting. We are even given customary words to say for more extreme and difficult life events. For example, we know to say to one who has lost someone close to them, “I’m sorry for your loss.” This spares us both plumbing the depth of our own reaction and fully waiting upon the expression of the unique and mysterious experience of the bereaved.
So, our words can come from convention and culture. They can also come out of our own unconscious. Sometimes in our therapeutic age we can take this to be the deepest expression of which we are capable. It is, at times, more authentic than the conformist cultural response, yet it is not necessarily the word we are being given to express. It is rather a self-centered reaction in defense or promotion of our own pride form. It may be true, but it is true only to a partial aspect of ourselves, that which comes from the misperception of the reality as ego-centered. I am personally aware of countless times when I have reacted to what is being done or said out of fear or anger or dislike.
Jesus is telling the disciples that, if they are living in communion with him, with the Christ form that they carry within, they will be inspired to speak the word that is to be spoken, that is, that addresses the reality and truth of the situation. This capacity we have to first receive and then to speak this word comes from our transcendent form potency. As human persons we are a potency at each level of our personality. We have vital or bodily potency which enables us to take care of ourselves and of others. We have functional potency which enables us to fulfill our ambitions, to control our world to an adequate degree so that we may survive and even prosper. We are also transcendent form potency. This is our capacity to receive form as it is given to us by the mystery and to give form to our life and to the world in accordance with the reality of the mystery of creation. It is what makes possible a consonant life, a life in which the mystery “sounds through” our being and our words. This is the distinctively human capacity in us, and it is precisely what our culture and time tend to repress.
This morning I heard the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius ask a congressman, concerning yesterday’s hearings, what he would say to countless Americans who saw yesterday’s proceedings as nothing but politics, in other words meaningless. The congressman had no real answer and, in typical political fashion, spun an answer in service to his party’s position. I heard in the question another implied question: “What of the truth emerged in yesterday’s eight hour session?” I believe the truthful answer would have to be nothing. Not having watched the eight hours, I am not able to say that this was true of every congressperson at the meeting. But certainly for the most part, language was used only to attempt to prove one’s own point and to strengthen one’s own position. It was a demeaning and dehumanizing of the gift of language, using it merely manipulatively.
I doubt that Jesus is telling the disciples that the Spirit of our Father will give them the best legal arguments to speak before the judge. In fact, we know historically that what they said was often ineffectual, if we take the result of their words as the measure. What Jesus did say is that if they remained receptive and present to the depth of their lives, to the presence of the Lord within and around them, they would be given the words that were required by the reality and truth of the situation. They would speak the truth, and the outcome would depend on the good will and receptivity of the hearers.
The longer I live the more I realize how real inspiration is in our lives. Without exaggeration, I can say that when we are humbly, openly, and receptively available to the mystery and to life, we are given what we need to say or to do. Of course, this is not separate from our own hard work to become competent and prepared, to give all of our energy to the task or moment at hand. But, when we do that, we are often amazed at what “comes to us.”
Perhaps a recent personal experience will help to illuminate the point. Recently a couple of us were tasked with preparing and coordinating an international meeting. We had worked very hard for weeks in preparation. At the end of the first day, we gathered with others we had included in the preparation process, and we shared together our deep feelings of concern and even discouragement. It had not been a terrible day, and yet it was impossible to see how we could move to fulfilling the task of the meeting if things continued on in this way. And so, we spent the initial moments of our reflection and discussion, emptying ourselves out by sharing our own fears and discouragement. We tried to open ourselves by both being honest with each other about what was happening in us and by looking from every angle we could see at what had occurred during the day. After some time, including moments of silence and speechlessness, one of us offered an idea for how to begin the next day. In amazement, we all confirmed our sense that this was the right thing to do, and, in fact, it effected in the group an opening to the work from a much deeper perspective. Interestingly enough, it also showed in retrospect the value of what we had done on that first day.
The real task before us, the one to which we are called, is always “beyond us.” If we keep the call confined to our own felt sense of competence, we may always be working on our own rather than God’s world. To do what is to be done and to say what is to be said will always require of us more than what our vital and functional potencies are capable of. Jesus assures the disciples that if they go out in faith rather than anxiety about their own capacities, they will be given what to say. He assures us of this as well. We settle for far too little because we worry about what to do or say. We realize our true capacities as human beings to the degree that we learn how to realize and express our transcendent form potency. We, with Jesus, can become the “light that shines in the darkness,” but only to the degree that the light of Jesus shines through us. As St. Paul came to realize, that happens not in our strength but in our weakness. It happens when we try, at least, to give all we have until we are empty, and then the more that we are in Jesus can come to light.
I am not much of a poet. Yet, it is good for me to attempt to write poetry. I do so because it is for me an experience of my weakness and poverty. I love language, but it is difficult for me to wait and wait on the word to be given to me. When every word matters so much, we must enter a dark and mysterious place where that true and single word abides. This is the experience we each have every time we are faced with “not knowing what to say.” Such an experience is a summons to deep silence, to waiting on that which we really do know but don’t know that we know. When the speech of convention, custom and unconscious reaction fades away, what is left? What is left is the promise of Jesus: “. . . do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
The formation mystery freely invites the human life-form to interformation. In doing so it grants the human life-form the form-receptive potency to open itself to interformation with the mystery. The disposition of awe is refined in persons as their formation fields are formed by the formative language of traditions. The power of the interformative word to constitute a relationship of mutuality with the formation mystery disposes people to open themselves to the mystery and the formation field in a new form receptivity. When a person begins to speak about a personal mystery, the mystery of call and transcendence, the disposition of awe-filled interformation pervades one’s experience of the formation field.
Romeo J. Bonsaint, Formative Speaking and Its Influence on the Transcendent Integration of Human Life, p. 104