An Economy of Words and a Richness of Spirit

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Matthew 6:7-15


Way, way back in the early days of the internet, when we had what now seem to be the quaint and glacial dial-up connections comically featured in the latest Marvel blockbuster Captain Marvel, we were promised easier communications, the paper-free office, and a host of other benefits.  Some of those promises have been at least partially fulfilled.

In other ways, however, our communications have become more complicated.  Which medium or platform is the best: e-mail, text message, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Face Time, telephone or, heaven forbid, face-to-face?  We now have to drink from a virtual firehose of information.  We are being buried in words as well as images and ideas. 

More and more, I’m becoming aware of the importance of having an economy of words.  The great American novelist Ernest Hemingway was said to have been a master of this, and if you have had the pleasure of reading For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea, those skills on full display.  Although the Gospel of John is often noted for the long (and wordy) discourses of Jesus, the author also demonstrates the power an economy of words can have. His very short sentences, “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35) and “And it was night” (13:30b) convey remarkable depths of sorrow and foreboding.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus encourages us to consider an economy of words in prayer and he gives us a model in what we now call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer.  Keeping things simple a message that we sometimes fail to heed both in our personal prayers and perhaps even more in our liturgies.  We can easily bury ourselves in words, and our prayers can become only slightly more holy versions of “Blah, blah, blah….”

Our Father, Jesus reminds us, knows what we need before we ask.  Yet we know that asking reminds us of our need for God and God’s grace.  At the same time, we can talk too much.  Lent is a good time to fast and abstain from wordiness…and to spend more time listening. —JC