I have been on a word fast for almost seven weeks now. I call it a fast to make it sound like a spiritual discipline, but perhaps it was more about a shortcoming than a discipline. I also call it a fast because I hoped that my deliberateness would assist me in emerging with a new sense of direction in my wordy vocation. The fast was my prayer that words would return with new meaning and purpose.
My laptop computer stayed at the office this summer for the first time in a few years. I often catch up on theological reading during the summer but that did not even cross my mind this time. I took out five highly acclaimed novels from the library and they are all collecting dust on the shelf. The past few summers I read through the Psalms but I must confess that I barely cracked open the Bible in the past seven weeks. I wrote no essays, articles or even poems. When family members engaged in conversations and debates about God, the Bible, or religious issues I left the room or remained silent even when I could have made a contribution. I barely even opened my journal and what I did write was more like a diary of daily events than any kind of reflections [This might be the most drastic of my word cutbacks].
It has not been a pure, legalistic fast where no words were read or spoken. I did lead that Anabaptist history tour in Europe with a script prepared beforehand. I did write out the sermon I had researched in June, although reading it over now does not inspire confidence that the words are inspiring or even right. “God, energize these words.” I did read one book: my twelve year old son’s young teen sports novel. “Dad, you have to read this book!” And I did have those two journal entries, but that was about it for arranged words.
The most difficult part of the fast was not cutting out words, it was realizing that I had no words to cut out. As I said seven weeks ago, “I have run out of words.” It was almost frightening that a theologian would not have words. Can I still do my job? Words are the tools of my trade. The good thing is that other things consumed my mind and time: watching mindless movies on the flights to and from Europe, visiting five countries in Europe for two weeks, driving 7000 km from BC to Manitoba through seven states with amazing geological oddities [dunes, gorges, and balanced rock in Idaho; geysers, boiling mud, and yellow canyons in Wyoming; cave formations and carved mountains in South Dakota] and back through four provinces, visiting a long line of relatives every day for ten days… It was all good fun without a lot of heavy words.
Now the time has come for the fast to be broken. Tomorrow I return to my work as a theologian. I’ll ease into it by tidying up my electronic desktop, dusting off the one made of particle board, and making some lists of things that need to be done to prepare for the semester. Sunday I will be breaking the word fast in a serious way as I deliver the sermon in our church. It’s a new sermon I’ve never preached before, although it is on a common text from the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:37-36].
I thought it might be nice to conclude with a profound quote about the importance of balancing silence and words [I’m sure I have some in my notes somewhere], but none comes to mind right now.