My silence is my salvation

I enjoyed reading a fascinating article on silence in the poetry of Thomas Merton and T. S. Eliot (in The Merton Journal 22.1 [2015]). The author, Sonia Petisco, quotes Merton as follows:

My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this my life has to be silent. Hence my silence is my salvation.

Also, these lines from Eliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ spoke to me:

… pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers.

Petisco herself offers some interesting insights into Merton and Eliot’s work, noting, for instance, that ‘with their poetry they were implicitly hinting at the dethronement of man as the owner of Logos, so that things around us can recover their own speech and engage in a (sic!) honest dialogue beyond the objective/subjective dichotomy. … awakening in us a new sacramental awareness of the mystery of Life’.

And some brilliant lines from Eliot’s ‘East Coker’:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

And from Merton’s Cables to the Ace:

Waste. Emptiness. Total poverty of the Creator: yet from this poverty springs everything. The waste is inexhaustible.

Eliot again, this time some well-known words from ‘Burnt Norton’. For, addressing the limitations of language, he is all too aware that his words:

… strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
will not stay still.

‘History’, Merton suggests in The Tower of Babel, is ‘going inevitably forward / by the misuse of words’. The current public discourse around refugees and asylum seekers comes to mind. What both, Merton and Eliot, are aiming for, Petisco suggests, is ‘a theology based on the regenerative Word of God as the only antidote to the word of fear ruling the contemporary world’. However, that word can’t be heard because there isn’t enough silence in the world. Again, what is needed is ‘a Word which decentralizes man as the owner of Reason, restoring the lost dialogue between “I” and the otherness’. And, with silence being the key, Merton prays:

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all’.

.

Myriad petty little unsexy ways

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. … The alternative is unconsciousness …

David Foster Wallace, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

Not a manipulated extension of myself

We cannot love God or our neighbour. We love both or neither. And what love means is rejoicing in the otherness of the other because the depth of this awareness is the depth of our communion with the other. … in the people we live with we find not objects to be cast in our own superficial likeness but, much more, we find in them our true selves, for our true selves only appear, only become realized, when we are wholly turned towards another.

[…]

In this recognition of the other person, a recognition that remakes my mind and expands my consciousness, the other person comes into being as they really are, in their real self, not as a manipulated extension of myself. People move and act out of their own integral reality and no longer as some image created by my imagination.

[…]

The essence of community … is a recognition of and deep reverence for the other.

John Main, Word into Silence

More and more

I move more slowly than I used to because I don’t want to miss anything.
I find more and more beauty and meaning in everyday, average moments that I would have missed before.
I need fewer answers because I see more.
I find more people more fascinating than ever because I’m more and more used to being surprised by the mystery that a human being is.
I’ve discovered more and more events are less about the events themselves and more about me being open to whatever it is that’s going on just below the surface

Once again this is from Rob Bell’s What We Talk about When We Talk about God.

This

The challenge for all of us is:

to become more and more the kind of people who are aware of the divine presence, attuned to the ruach [the spirit of God], present to the depths of each and every moment, seeing God in more and more and more people, places, and events, each and every day.

Indeed,

what our experiences of God do at the most primal level of consciousness is jolt us into the affirmation that whatever this is, it matters. This person, place, event, gesture, attitude, action, piece of art, parcel of land, heart, word, moment – it matters.

Thus Rob Bell, What We Talk about When We Talk about God. This, indeed, is the way to live, yet as Bell rightly notes, it is a challenge for us, who so often live in the past or the future rather than in the present moment.

‘The Guest House’, by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing