Talking Aloud: Holy Babbling

A glowing invitation.

A glowing invitation.

“Oh, and I think I want to get a confessor.” Even as the words poured forth from my mouth, they didn’t seem real, or rather, they didn’t seem really me. My spiritual director, a wise and caring nun sat across from me with her hands in her lap, trying to rein in my far-off staring. I think I had confused her with my comment, which even to me seemed unrelated to what I had been sharing before. Ever gentle, she prodded me with the most open-ended invitation in her bag of tricks: “Tell me more.”

I appreciate her invitations and I hear in them a range of permissions: to think aloud, to wrestle with my feelings and thoughts, to be myself in front of her. She’s given me license to talk to myself out loud, for in asking me to tell her more, she’s asked me to tell myself more, to unpack the strange, incongruous package I deposited at her feet. Tell me more…tell yourself more… what are you trying to say? What do you mean? What do you want?

And it’s a terrible, wonderful, vulnerable thing to do, to work out aloud in front of her what is going on inside of me. There are times in my life–many times–when words don’t seem to be real until I utter them aloud, whether to myself or another. Speaking aloud helps me to clarify my jumbled thoughts, to screen the general noise from the specific sounds, to sort out the order hiding among the mess.

Speaking aloud helps me to convince myself of what I’m arguing for or against, or of the efficacy of what I’m proposing that someone else do, like praying more or in a certain way. Saying something aloud is like putting flesh on bone, building it up until it is something else entirely, yet still exactly what it was in some way. Or it is as if I’m clothing a naked, shivering thought, keeping it warm until it is able to stand on its own. It seems a complicated, tenuous process–but a helpful one–so I begin speaking, telling myself more:

I know, that sounds weird, right? Why would I want a confessor? Isn’t that role, title and model from another era? Isn’t that for other, older, more conservative people? Maybe it is, but I want to increase my participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, especially when I realize others might be coming to me for reconciliation as a future priest. Pope Francis is always hitting us with mercy, mercy, mercy–he’s relentless!–and in my head I know that there is love on offer from the God I know and I want more of that God in my life.

Still staring at some far-away point, I continue, though it feels like I’m babbling, with no end in sight…

I guess I just want to regularize my participation in this sacrament and I want to stop hiding behind anonymous confessor-priests who I never see again. There’s no accountability there…and that makes it sound more legalistic than I want it to…Because it’s not that I want someone to hold my feet to the fire…it’s…it’s that… And then it pours out of me: I want someone to hold my heart to the flame.

My eyes begin to tear up and I hear my director gasp as my eyes meet hers for the first time in what seems like an eternity. I’ve given voice to a great grace, welling up and coming to a head in front of both of us. The casual utterance–the naked, shivering thought–is suddenly a fully formed, deep and holy desire which stands on its own and leaves us both breathless and speechless. My director and I sit in silence for several awed moments.

Speaking aloud in front of my director helped me to see that my original disconnected utterance was, in fact, more than mere words – rather it was a description of holy desires, deep wants, and unsatisfied needs. I surprised myself. Speaking aloud led me to be me: experimenting, vulnerable, unsure at times, honest. My babbling revealed something obviously and wonderfully real, surprisingly and remarkably mine. I was able to utter a truth that was buried deep within and I was brought to a halt as a sliver of clarity arose from within and passed through my lips. There was nothing more to say.

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The cover image, from Flickr user Frédéric Poirot can be found here.

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