December 2011

The Gift of Speech


In this season of gift-giving for many people around the world, I have been thinking about what “gifts” God, as the Creator, has given us all.

The most obvious is the gift of life. To be here in the first place, and to have the opportunity to grow and develop through our deeds, is the greatest gift of all.

If we also have health, love, and daily purpose, then we have blessings upon blessings. And if we do not, then the gift is perhaps not so apparent, and we must look harder for it.

A less obvious gift, and one that I’m thinking about now as a writer, is the gift of “utterance,” i.e. the ability to communicate through spoken or written words. Indeed this is held in such high esteem in the Baha’i Faith that in the calendar revealed by Baha’u’llah “speech” is even the name of one of the months — along with such other lofty concepts as knowledge, beauty and grandeur, to name just a few.

I heard recently about a young man who is spending several years in a retreat in India wherein, among other things, he has taken an oath of silence. I have never met this person, so I don’t know his motivation or anything else about him. However, I can’t help but wonder about the benefit of such extremely long-term silence and seclusion.

I do recognize that there is personal growth through turning off the outward distractions and addressing one’s own self, that “still small voice” in us all. However, it seems to me that the purpose of personal growth is to take what is learned and to use it in the real world, the world where we are tested by each other and the world where there is such a huge need for help, compassion, love and active involvement.

In the Baha’i Faith, monasticism, asceticism and long-term seclusion are not sanctioned. In fact, Baha’u’llah calls upon certain monks and priests to "give up the life of seclusion and direct their steps towards the open world and busy themselves with that which will profit themselves and others". Similarly, He reminds us that practices such as sitting alone on a mountain in silent contemplation or periods of personal meditation should not be for an immoderate length of time and should ultimately be outer (rather than inner) focused.

Overall we are encouraged to participate in the social realm where the application of the Teachings can make a difference. And we are encouraged to enjoy the beauty and the comforts that are available to us. To be clear, a distinction is made between being attached to the material world and being engaged in — and grateful for — its gifts.

Through the “gift of utterance” we can discuss, share, entertain, relate, problem-solve, reconcile differences, negotiate, teach, inspire, comfort and more. With our current times calling for social salvation, and not just personal salvation, what better way than to use all of the gifts that our Creator has given us.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2011