Sunday, July 29, 2007

Silence speaks of the world to come.

After my Irish sojourn, I reflect after chatting with a militant atheist and agreeing with his criticism of the harm that millennia of organized religion have caused. I understand Christopher Hitchens' argument of and how enforced dogma and perpetuated group-think set up the totalitarian secular creeds that damned so many millions in the name of false consciousness, deviation from party lines, and simple stubborn individualism. The grooves worn deep in my own psyche by repression, timidity, and guilt seem to have been the pressure of a thousand and a half years of fervent renunciation, or so I imagine! My wife and I read the other night aloud a NYT Magazine article by Yale Law prof (and so young! He writes of his teens being in the 80s) who after 12 years at a Brookline yeshiva that gave him an amazing college prep & Torah curriculum combined went into the world where live the rest of us, who do not know that some Jews would only save a life of a goy on Shabbat so as not to cause friction between MOTs and the gentiles, not since inherently a non-Jewish life possesses the same right to existence as a Jewish person would possess.

On the other inevitable hand, my kids sit today in the back of the car on their return from Camp Shalom JCA nestled in Malibu's hills, as they regale each other with a scary story of a crazy man at another nearby J-camp who stabbed hapless teens with a "yod," the "fickle finger of Fate" (Laugh-in reference, dating me) used to touch the Torah scroll as the reader follows the chanting of the weekly portion. I think of how Leo & Niall chose to not attend the nature setting service or the fun one with singing clown Robbo (Krusty without the bad relationship with the rabbi father, and more sincere at least if he wants to keep this summer gig year after year), but the one in the formal set-up. Layne had shown me a picture sent of Leo in tallis, eyes closed. I confess I could not tell if he was mocking or serious, as his face had one of those unreadable expressions that he has worn ever since arriving at camp, at least from the snaps Layne sent me.

Well, I kvell to say that the emotion on camera was genuine, and in that shot Niall too slyly looked sidewise at the inquiring camera. Nachas to both my boys and their adoring, stereotypical. caring mom who sent them effusive e-mails every day. Niall claimed they were the high point of his day. Leo did not, but he did wear the pricy sneakers out that his mom had sent him and inquired frantically about, to no reply from her firstborn. There is a moment that I hoped my sons entered into from their side of the threshhold into the infinite mystery of the eternal now-- a place imagined or real we cannot tell the difference.

They can enter into the realm outside our own egos and edifices there briefly reclaimed, as it may be sometimes even in Hitchens' own life, as he may think of his own ancestors among the Jewish people and his own upbringing in Christian culture, from all the sex scandals and Tammy Fayes and hypocrisy that commissars and clergy indulge in like the rest of us sinners. A spark that goes back to its source after the shattering of the Light amidst the darkness in that kabbalistic model when the vessels were broken and their warmth sharded into the eternal formless place of tohu-bohu that Genesis mentions at its wonderfully ambiguous start, "when God began to form the heaven and the earth."

Here is a passage from the IFSB Carthusian Yahoo Group that sums up the appeal of silence, stones, and solitude. Edward Emery's post on the power of that left unsaid. My photo of the Church of Ireland iconic steeple in the Glen and the older stone a few yards away juxtaposed dramatically speaks to the same language that preceded us, and which will follow us, and which eludes us when we are far from such nodes, ley-lines, songlines, charged areas of energy made holy over thousands of years of pilgrims, fanatics, refugees, and endurers. "Place shapes awareness." Reminds me of the Marxian dictate that "culture precedes consciousness," always a conundrum before, but perhaps now I know a bit more, after my stay in the Glen, of its truth.

Isaac the Syrian observes that words are the language of this world while silence is the language of the world to come. Silence begets presence and in presence listening ripens as does awareness of all that is--of color, form, shape, texture, as well as of that which is not of the order of the visible--of interior shadings and intimations of another presence that threads through and weaves self with the uncreated light through the imago Dei.

Exterior silence is often essential to nurture and awaken interior silence. That is why place shapes awareness. Places of distraction give rise to misplaced relevancies. Places of emptiness, if tolerated, birth the new being of self in Christ. A desert is especially auspicious in drawing us into the silence that is the Word of God. A cave or places of stone also compel and support this development. We also find in aesthetic ambiance the surround that is conducive to intimations of the silence of the Word, filtered through either spatial-visual or auditory idioms.

Thus, we find within the United Nations, for example, in the midst of the bluster of frantic urgencies and the deal making that is the signature of the political a room filled with nothing but a large granite slab on which is directed a simple beam of light. No matter that virtually no one enters or if they do do not stay, for the very existence of this site within this place is an embodied metaphor for the hidden cave of the heart at the core of all being form which the energies of God stream forth.

Or we find in Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, unusually long intervals of silence including in the soaring finale an especially poignant silent interval in which all that proceeded it is gathered together and unified into a higher moment of expression, expressing through this silent summation transition between a reformulated language of this world and a language of the world to come. It is in these spaces of silence that we reside most intimately with the Word of God and in doing so we engage, for those of us who live in the 'world,' the spirit of St. Bruno.

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