We communicate a whole lot before we even open our mouths to speak. If we are aware and invested in the relationships around us sometimes words are not even needed to communicate needs. Children do this all the time as they are developing their communication skills. I myself have had to rely on these other forms of communication to work with parents at the preschool. One of my most hated jobs at the preschool was the parent teacher conferences. Most people treated these like they were being called into the principal’s office and came hostile and ready for combat. Many would come into the classroom arms crossed standing in the doorway looking for the quickest way out of the conversation and room.
I often had to use my body language, soft words, and positioning to disarm the situation before I could talk about their child’s development. So I chose a table way in the back of the classroom, I would choose a seat next to them and not across a table, I would welcome them with a smile and a handshake and ask them how they were doing and how their day had been. Usually after this the arms would drop and their demeanor would change and they would sit and be ready to discuss their child. What I always found amazing was what my body language and my smile communicated to someone else.
As we prepare for the holidays, it is time we consider our body language and ask ourselves, “Are my movements and facial expressions expressing the message and warmth that I am intending?” Max Eastman author of The Sense of Humor writes, “A smile is the universal welcome”. We can communicate hate, fear, and disdain or we can communicate warmth, love, and respect all without ever opening our mouths and saying a word. This is certainly what Paul was talking about with the Last Supper section of his first letter to the Corinthians.
There was a problem with communion in the early church; a big problem. Some would eat and drink until there was drunkenness and gluttony and then there were others that only got scrapes at the end. Those who came late because they had to work received only what was leftover. This would be like being told Thanksgiving dinner was at 6PM but then everyone met, ate, and enjoyed themselves three hours prior at 3PM and there was very little left for you to eat and no one who would sit with you. That sends a message, a very clear message. That message is that some people are more important than others. No words needed to be spoken. The physical actions of the people did all the speaking in these instances.
It was obviously insulting and bothersome enough that word was brought to Paul and Paul felt the need to correct the congregants, encouraging them to be more mindful of the message they send with their actions. Just as God came to know in the story of the tower of Babel, we can do more when we are united together speaking the same language verbally and physically. When we are united in such ways, we can either make people feel safe and welcome or we can continue to perpetuate fear, hate, and anger. It is all about being considerate of one another and thinking about the other people in our lives.
In all cultures, in all communities, in all families (no matter how difficult relationships may be) a smile is a simple way of disarming people and changing situations from stressful, potentially hurtful experiences, into something much more manageable and dare I say possibly enjoyable. If we use all of the skills we have discussed in this series, then we can begin to build more meaningful relationships with those people around us and perhaps begin the long process of setting an example for a world that is divided. If we just become more conscious of one another, more respectful of the other, and leave room for the Holy in our conversations then we can allow for the peace we all long for in life to be planted. We can be more welcoming, more loving, more respectful of the needs of others and more aware of our own needs. We can respond more thoughtfully with our words instead of talking just for the sake of talking and acting purely for our own desires. Let us remember the words of advice from Paul to the congregation in Corinth, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if any one is hungry, let him eat at home—lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come”. His advice is to put consideration and respect of the needs of others first, to consider feelings and the desires of God before we act. We are called to holy communication which means considering and truly taking an interest in the well being of one another. This means listening to each other when we talk, making sure our body language and our countenance matches the warmth we truly long to exude to the world, and always considering the needs of the people around us. All of this leads to healthier relationships, healthier conversations, and healthier communities.
So go forth today, preparing for your holidays and use this as an opportunity to practice with family, friends, and loved ones better communication skills and to invite the presence of God to the feast, the conversations, and the relationships in our lives and see how communication can be welcoming, inviting, and healing.
 Max Eastman, The Sense of Humor. 20th Century Political Activist.
 1 Corinthians 11: 33-34,RSV.
(Based on Genesis 11:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34)