Please welcome my guest blogger, Doug, the Outpatient Monk:
I am in the middle of forging a batch of sock puppets. As I do I cannot help but see the contrasts between the kinds of toys I am fashioning and a stern bit of advice from Benedict's rule: Don't speak unless spoken to.
The key piece of the sock-puppet is its mouth. One can even use a sock puppet with no eyes or costumery as long as one can make it talk. All one needs is an opposing thumb and a little imagination. Whatever sort of hat, bow, mustache or eyepatch I sew on to one of these little guys, their true role in any given plot really hinges on the words that come from its mouth.
In other art forms, we know that there are other ways of discovering characters. But sock-puppet shows are usually not meant to be nuanced performances with long periods of exposition and complex character development. They are often the "Three Stooges" of repurposed laundry. You get in, you say something silly, you play a mental laugh track and you move on. Puppets are there to make impressions.
Like these puppets, we use our speech as a way of announcing quickly to others what role we intend to play in their lives. We can use our mouths like clown horns, Honk!, or like gavels, Thud! I make you laugh, I share my opinions, I position my place in the universe.
In this world it makes sense. People's attention spans are short and we have impressions to make. The faster I do it the safer I will be. This is who I mean to be. File me away where you think I belong.
But Benedict has me wondering what it would be like to sew a sock puppet with biggish ears and a smallish mouth. What if I introduced the role I would like to play in the lives of others not by the size of my gab, but the depth of my interest. What sort of quiet lonely world would it be if I didn't start relationships by trying to make impressions?
It is frightening. I might be missed all together by people I desire, people who amuse me. What if I gamble poorly and spend all my time listening to someone who turns out to have interest in being friends with me? What if I am misunderstood? To live like that would be to live in another world entirely.
Precisely. Benedict is trying to help us fashion another world entirely.
Benedict's admonishment to be silent is not to curtail my humanity. On the contrary it is an invitation to go ahead and move into a world that doesn't need me to make quick impressions. He invites me into a slower world where people sit together, have tea, and find each other without having to advertise.
Benedict -- in calling us to work, stability, and silence -- wants us to make room for each other in our lives. It is not so much fasting and denying as training for a different kind of race. Listening can be a powerfully transformative experience. Perhaps it is the secret of prayer, to simply know we have been heard by God.
I want for people to know, if nothing else, that their stories have been heard by God because I quickly passed them along as I listened. "What the world needs," my friend likes to say, "is a good listening to."
The lesson for today, in short, is that it is better to make a sock puppet, than to be one.
Doug's stories and reflections can always be found at
For more thoughts on Making, Silence, and Making Silence:
For more on making sock puppets, see my favorite puppet book by John Murphy: