The Gift of Gibberish

Hey, it’s me Mark!

Dr. Albert Mehrabian tells us that 93% of all communication is nonverbal. How about that? Pretty impressive huh? And he’s a doctor! So…this is a pretty big deal.

Our lives frequently involve us beating our heads against the wall trying to communicate with other people. We try to talk to our spouse more clearly. We try to understand our kids and have them understand us. We try to write really clear emails to our coworkers that don’t overuse exclamation points, but at the same time lack the ominous seriousness connoted by ending sentences with periods.

Dear boss...friendman...Hello there! I need, er, want, to meet you in the conference room! For business. All the best in your life, Workerguy

Dear boss…friendman…Hello there! I need, er, want, to meet you in the conference room! For business. All the best in your life, Workerguy

Communication is important, and it is difficult.


Certain short-form improv games require us to speak in gibberish. My favorite is 5 Things. In this game, one person is sent out of the room, and clues are gathered. Then they come back in the room and the other people on their team get them to guess the clues without using English; they can only speak in gibberish.

We usually succeed. Most people think we’re cheating somehow.

We aren’t.

Success comes because we have practiced communicating nonverbally. It’s just a skill, like any other. That means that you can become better at it too if you practice.

The truth is, having the possibility of speech removed actually frees us up to use all the other means of communication available to us. Suddenly, we discover that we can become a surfer by merely changing our posture. We can become young Michael Jackson by singing a few bars of gibberish to the melody of “ABC.” We can do all sorts of things, without ever resorting to language.

Gibberish helps us to make better use of the other avenues of communication available to us.

Praying in Tongues

People don’t often think of conservative Catholics praying in tongues. But I do.

Why? Because it helps me pray.

I’m a pretty verbal guy. I like to talk. I like to write. It’s important to me to get the words right in either medium. So when I pray, I often get hung up on the words. I want to be eloquent. I want to be original. I want to say something stirring or evocative or insightful. Then I get self-conscious about this.

It derails my prayer life a lot.

Praying in tongues frees me from all of this. Instead of trying to find the perfect words to praise God, or thank God or petition God, I babble gibberish and trust that God knows my heart well enough to know what I’m saying.

Without words, I find it easier to focus on my heart. Instead of composing a list of the things I’m grateful for, I just reflect on being grateful. We use words to convey to others how we feel.

When the Other already knows how we feel, words become extraneous. Praying in tongues frees us from the obligation of attempting to express the inexpressible.

It was St. Therese who said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven; it is a cry of recognition and love; embracing both trial and joy.

Next time you pray, try some gibberish, or some tongues. Let me know how it works out.


Image: Pixabay

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