There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby only see a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down – maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later. ~Vincent van Gogh
This was quoted by Henri J.M. Nouwen in The Way of the Heart. He is talking about silence. He uses this quote to reflect on how we seldom tend the inner fire of our souls. We want others to be warmed by it so badly that we stand with the door open saying, “Come inside and get warmed!” Yet, all this really does is cool the inside which was once warm. Instead, we ought to stoke to fire and get it roaring. You can tell about the warmth inside by looking at the chimney. A wisp of smoke means a weak fire.
Henri Nouwen says that, “The word is the instrument of the present world and silence is the mystery of the future world.” By choosing not to speak, we keep the door closed and wait patiently for the hour to come when someone will see the billows of smoke escaping from our chimney, and then – sooner or later – someone will knock on the door and find warmth inside.