Desert Wisdom: Think It, Say it?

This week we come in contact with Book Four of The Desert Fathers, the one that collects sayings related to “Self Control.”

The first saying is the story of a group of monks who wanted to visit Antony.  They boarded a ship headed in his direction.  On board was an old man, who also wanted to see the beloved saint.  During the voyage, he said very little, while the monks utilized their time talking about the Scriptures and the sayings of the Fathers.

When everyone made it to Antony, he inquired of the old man about his experience with the monks.  The old man admitted they were good people, but then noted that “they had said the first thing that came to their heads.” (DF, 4, 1)

And so the early Christian tradition came to advocate pondering before speaking, giving ideas time to form before trying to express them.  For many of us this is foreign to the way we live our lives.  Even bloggers like me can “speak first and think afterwards.”  🙂

Social networking is fueled by some alleged need to let everyone know what we’re doing  at precisely the moment we’re doing it (e.g. “I’m eating a sandwich in my car”). It makes for interesting reading (or does it?), but it hardly qualifies as wisdom, or even anything the world was crying out to know.  Without intending it, we may find ourselves among those who “say the first thing that comes to our heads.”

The way of self-control is more akin to the way of few words, the way of silence, the way of discernment.  If we do not learn this, we may find ourselves in the company of the hypocrites whom Jesus said, “think they will be heard for their much speaking.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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