Sir, Silent Man, whoever you are, though I see you throughout the week, and have for quite some time, you puzzle me.
You enshroud yourself in mystery, thoughts barricaded behind a mask of flesh; I know so little about you, and yet there’s much to say about your silence itself. For silence can only really result from one of two options. The quiet man either has little spirit, and so lacks the will to speak, or he has the spirit to speak, but his reason forbids him to. He never ceases to think, however high or low his thoughts may climb; he entertains an opinion always, though he may not understand or express it; and though he may feel drawn to act, his reason forbids him action. He finds his present circumstances more valuable, or perhaps more advantageous, than what communication might bring him.
I myself have never been a quiet man, but I’ve always been jealous of his self-control. I’ve never wanted to have a shallow mind, never wanted a static intellect, but I have — many times — wished for an anemic set of passions, a spirit easily tamed, easily subdued — quiet, manageable. No, even that isn’t quite correct. What I want isn’t necessarily a cold, lifeless soul, but a will and reason which overcome all passions, which conquer the emotions and master the urges. What I want is far less common than what men have been given. Few have passion like I do; but even fewer have a will which can master it.
And what are we supposed to make of these passions? Plato once spoke of passionate men, the men who have an indomitable geist, which drives them either into a great harm or great good, but one thing is certain: the geist will not leave them be. It makes man a monster or a majestic, and the difference always comes down to how that energy is channeled. I speak not simply of speech and silence, but of all urges. We love certain things more than others, and are drawn, in some mystical way, toward them. How we’re drawn, we don’t quite understand; we feel a sensation, gripped not with hands, nor seen by eyes, nor heard by ears, and yet felt in the very seat of the soul. But when we begin to feel the pull, as though something far deeper than intellect and reason, and far more powerful, were dragging us along to an unknown destiny, we cannot escape it. We hear the siren’s call, and almost as if entranced, we run our ship aground, quite possibly to our ruin. If we overcome the call, and turn away — particularly from the more powerful passions–, we’re left wondering what could have been, and only time can deaden the soul’s yearning. But yet, if we answer the call, what happens? I suppose that all depends upon who — or what, is calling. Above I’ve spoken of the first call, the call of the flesh, in which we find nothing but death. But when the call is of the Spirit, that second nature known to only the Christian, we live.
The two calls are almost entirely different, alike perhaps alone in their origination beyond the human will. The former burns and cries and drags us along, kicking and screaming, until we finally either acquiesce or fight it, and when we give in, we experience some sort of ecstasy for a moment, and then we’re left with simply that: a momentary cessation of the call. And when we have the desired object, it is then everything changes. What we have is something very bitter, a promise of something sweet which ended in ugly deception, a fantasy propagated by a restless imagination; and to make matters worse, we find the urge shortly down the road, having merely found another object to which it latches itself.
The latter call is almost the polar opposite. The sensible man knows that the Spirit calls him into danger, for one reason or another, but his resistance comprises a different kind of argument. He knows he should, but he can’t; but why? He can’t because his urges cry out for protection and satiation, the present comfort pleading, begging man to remain where he is, to exist safely. The flesh calls him to be reasonable, to not step into the unknown, perhaps to make the grand leap of faith into a sickly hop, if anything at all. In this sense, urge and Spirit play a role in both callings, though their functions are respectively reversed. But yet, the Spirit’s call is so entirely different than the other, the danger of suffering — but a sweet danger–, that when man gives in, whether he experiences pain for so doing, he finds his consciousness enlightened. His ecstasy has almost nothing to do with his urges; the body which begged him to suppress the call may still curse him, but he leaves the body behind instead, in pursuit of something he cannot see, and a warmth he cannot express. It leaves him no dissatisfaction upon satiation, no sorrow upon accomplishment; he begins with something terrifying, and ends with peace. In this sense, its divine end, it is a reversal of primal urges.
The Psalmist says that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, which I can only take to mean a broken human spirit, the spark of life that, having been dragged along by primal forces it cannot really see, nor entirely understand, has become sick of them. It blames both the call and itself for choosing to follow. It hates its own miserable state not simply enough to hate the present circumstances, but to curse the very passionate burning which brought them, the burning which it formerly recognized as life. It cries for deliverance, recognizing that only one Savior lives, who can restore the spirit and make one clean, who can overcome the primal calling and unchain from the fleshly urge, who turns man from the swine trough, and makes him to soar with the angels. But if we’re to bring a broken spirit, we can only do so after having been mastered by the primal call. We can only cry for salvation when we first become aware of our subjection to urge, and secondly, only after we hate that subjection.
And, silent man, what am I to make of you? You don’t necessarily refrain from all pursuits, but one thing is certain: you aren’t driven about by inexplicable and fatal urges in the same way the passionate are. Whatever lives within you, that indescribable pull, you master over so that none know of its existence: as James says, the man who can bridle his tongue has mastery over his entirity. Yet here I stand, exactly the opposite, a cauldron of passion boiling within me, every second on the verge of disaster — no personal strength, no powerful will, holding me together. My composure is maintained by the grace of God, my pathway forged by the Almighty, though the jungle of the soul brings forth vine and thorn to block my way.
It’s said that the Christian receives new passions upon conversion, and this much is true. But it’s much different than I believe many understand it to be. What I do, my ability to live the Christian life, has little to do with old, deceased passions. No, those are very much alive. They’re referred to as dead not because they don’t exist, although, I must admit I deal with so many of them on a far different level than before. But if I am strong, if I walk the narrow way, I only do so because my passion for my Savior is greater. I, like all people, act according to that which I desire most; the miracle is that I desire Christ more than the otherwise indomitable force within me, my primal urge. I am a different man, a new man, not because I’ve obtained a different body; I’m a new man because I have a new Spirit. Jesus is my salvation, He is my will. I have nothing else without Him. In His absence, I don’t even have myself: I would be driven by something entirely other than my intellect.
So when I see you, silent man, I always wonder which type you are. I wonder — do you feel what I feel, and champion it? Or do you feel something else, something more manageable, something easily subdued, and expend little energy in its suppression? Whichever you have, I congratulate you: your battle is my war, you shield against the rain while I stand against the tide. I can only assume that it is this way for a reason, and appreciate you as a special mystery, a man whom I can analyze, but never understand. But if I do know one thing, it is this: he who has been forgiven much will love Christ much, and I thank God He has given me almost insurmountable passions, so that He can conquer with His gaze what I couldn’t with my entire being. I see you, silent man, and I remember my own salvation.