If I had to share one lesson drawn from my life as a writer, it would be that every word we say is linked to an inner state of the heart, and it remains so linked.
“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Mt 24:34). Our language is wholly determined by the state of our heart.
In using words, we think we are telling stories, expressing opinions, arguing points, making observations, attesting truths, thinking things through. Indeed, we are doing all that. But in a more basic sense, we are manifesting the state of our heart.
This factor goes beyond the words, beyond intonation and silence, I’m tempted to say beyond anything “empirical” that science could record. Think of it as a “transcendental tether.” It is “in” language yet not linguistic: it is the person in language, “tethering” language to the heart.
Although, cognitively speaking, we are usually unaware and distracted from this manifesting heart-state by the *content* of what’s being said, I submit it is the primary thing that language manifests—that we broadcast far past the control of our minds.
Each word gives the whole person. You can’t state it, or force it to change by using words. The rosiest poem can be full of thorns, and the roughest screed may be booming with gentle love. It is the inner state that determines. The words are simply tethered to it. The less one is aware of that, the more chaotic and violent is this whole business of speech…
A writer is someone forced to reflect intensely on these facts. His first instinct is to say that we rarely accomplish saying what we mean, that our words are constantly *veiling* the true state of the heart. For the writer has this experience: hours, days, weeks go by, testing words, rearranging words, erasing and rewriting—all so that, by the end, word will correspond with heart. And that is, no doubt, a most admirable aim.
And yet, this strategy is like trying to push a tetherball with the tether. All you’re doing is flopping around a loose line, which makes loopy shapes but keeps going slack on the ground. So that if you want to get to the core, you have to put your hand directly on your heart. And that leaves you speechless. Not the tether itself, but the *need* of the tether disappears…
Seen spiritually, therefore, our first instinct to doubt the capacity of language is wrong. Really it is all about the stature of heart.
That is what the writer is really confronted with in all his scratches and sketches, fragments and drafts and old pieces: the stature of his heart. It is an inescapable recognition: he is (or has been) this way. This is what his heart sounds like today (or did). Whereupon he must ask in all earnestness: Do I want my heart to be this way? To sound this way? Is this how I wish to be for all eternity? “Be careful, lest the light in you is darkness…”
The writer gradually realizes that his language will be a prison until he liberates his heart and makes sure that the light in him is not darkness. Then he will start to sound as he really is. And he will never again feel like he cannot say what he means, for now he can trust that, if he *is* who he means to be, all his words will say that meaning.
If the heart cannot reveal something to itself, neither can words reveal it. They may help it get noticed, draw attentive crowds to the problem, but they can never get you all the way. Mere manipulation of words will never help, and there is great danger in using them as flags.
Many writers, I think, substitute change of words for a change of heart. As with everything in life, the temptation is to turn imprisonment into virtue, a sacrifice for art, etc. It is a very grave situation. Because the tether is so intensely alluring, it always seems that we can reach something else by messing with it. But this is simply not the case.
Every word remains tethered to the heart-state within, but it is only when the heart is free that this is a blessing and not a curse. Then, the priorities are straight, and the “writer” need “write” no more. That is, he can let writing assume its proper place: as the servant of holiness of heart.
Then, the words can and will be redeemed. They find their true importance, head to the right destination. Then, whether one writes or not anymore becomes a matter of indifference. Love of life in the heart—it is enough and more than enough, for then the Word is in everything…
“No one can tame the tongue—it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jm 3:8). So writes the Apostle James after comparing the tongue to a little rudder that steers a giant ship, or a tiny spark that starts a raging wildfire. He reminds his listeners that out of the same mouth come blessings and curses, praise and insults, invitations and judgments, beauty and crudity. Brothers and sisters, it should not be so!
Ours is a time flooded with content. With division of groups and competing worldviews. With a never ending stream of things to talk about, that’s for sure.
But in the end, what are we really talking about? We are only ever saying who we are, and where our heart is that day.
That is an incredible grace. It means, if we’re honest readers, we can always know where we are. If we are cruel in our speech, we know our heart is hurting. If we are gracious, we know our heart is full. The gradations and nuances are limitless here—the point is, we have a perfect ledger, a perfect gauge, a perfect seismometer of our inner state. We often wish to pretend it otherwise, excuse ourselves, down play the impact of our words and shrug off the inner truths they reflect. But finally, we cannot escape our speech, for it comes from inside the person. Though it gets lost in the world or in screen-scrolling, the psycho-spiritual effects do not decay. They can only be revisited, learned from, healed, and reformed. There is no anonymity at the source point, only the risk of self-neglect. And every instance of attention and negligence adds up.
We must find the person at the source of our speech, dive into awareness of the Heart, to verify if what we’re saying is worth our worth—or if it is not a kind of death sentence we’re pronouncing upon all. (Sadly, the way the Heart sees things, this is what is happening more often than not…)
We can learn to speak a better way, but only by changing and liberating our heart, ensuring that it is full of what is good and holy, so our mouths may speak this fullness—renouncing all curses and clearing all poisons, surrendering tongue and person fully to the blessings of the light.
by Timothy Lavenz
Oct 24, 2022