Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No Place for Silence

As I was away over the weekend I missed the third episode of 'The Big Silence' on the BBC, so I've just watched it on iPlayer here in the library, my old computer at home not being up to the task. It was a well-done series, I thought; but Jamieson's sadness and puzzlement at the end about people's alienation to putting what they had found in silence into traditional words and church structures seemed the only disingenuous moment. He was right on when he pointed to the relationship between silence and the evolution of doctrine, but oblivious of how those doctrines have been divorced from silence, twisted, and used to beat people up, keeping them immature and dependent, narrowing the parameters of what it might possibly mean to be human.

How can Jamieson stand the conflict between what deep silence teaches and what being a Roman Catholic forces you to assent to? Does he just glaze over, tune out, the way so many RC monastics do when confronted by contradiction (as opposed to paradox)?

I'm a professed religious and my sympathies are all with the alienated. Organized religion has become so embarrassing that it's not surprising people don't want to be associated with it. I'm not willing to use the fossilized language, either, not unless it's ringed about with explanations and caveats and provisionality. Some of it can still be useful, but only as it is understood in its wider relationship to silence and as it is restored to its relationship to silence and, most of all, as it yields to silence.

Encouraging these five people to look for support for the practice of silence in religious communities such as parishes is an exercise in futility: Jamieson should know better, but of course he has the Holy Office breathing down his neck, so he probably feels he has to say something about local churches. But most parishes are about noise, banality, programme, class, manners and keeping everything frozen in any fantasy time other than ours, using liturgies with too many words, never a pause for breath—anything to keep silence at bay.

Few of them have anyone knowledgeable about silence or able to teach it, not as just another programme ('On Wednesdays there is a meeting at Mrs. X's house for coffee, to pray for people and then have some silence'), but rather integrated wholly into the life of the parishioners, into the liturgies and life of the parish. Instead it's a class-ridden system where the church is about the clergy and the laity are nothing but bums in pews who are forced to support the clergy life-style and admire the same old tired old names who are brought in to spout the same old tired wheezes in trendy consumer-speak, or to pontificate, encouraging people to wallow in their complacency while the world crumbles around them.

The bottom line is that if you want support for deepening your silence there is no place to go.


Blogger Ultra Monk said...

I was in formation in a contemplative order for 4 years: a noisy place even though the words of silence were used. My life is much quieter living by myself; even my office at work is often times quiet for hours.

8:09 pm, November 10, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if there were a place to go, what should it look like? How can we try to create or cause such a place to arise? Or is it really hopeless?

8:35 pm, November 10, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many options for help in deepenng silence as long as there is not an insistence that only a RC take on this practice will do.

11:36 pm, November 11, 2010  
Blogger fs said...

Thank you for this, Maggie. We could take the example of Jesus. He spent plenty of time with people, eating, drinking, talking, teaching and healing, but he advised everyone to pray in private. When he was outside, he would step away from the crowd to commune with God. And as you well know, solitude in the wilderness tempered him for his ministry. Following his example, we need to keep and value our times of solitude, for therein lies silence.

Often, people seem to lose something essential when they identify too strongly with the group. I firmly, firmly, firmly believe that the only "group" Jesus wants us to identify with completely is the human race itself and that everyone is our neighbor. The parable of the Good Samaritan bears this out.

I think I'd go so far as to say that too much group-identification is inherently sin-inducing. That's where we get the "us vs. them" mentality, mobs, snobbery and exclusion, relational aggression, scapegoating, war.

I've wondered if parishioners go into a kind of trance whenever anyone with a clerical collar is speaking, for they so easily turn off their critical thinking faculties. Why does "the church" institute these dress-up distinctions among people? Would you believe that the priest who taught one of the catachumenate classes at my church responded to my description of a solitary theophany that brought me to God with, "You can only know God through other people," a stance she held firmly to in all the years that followed. What kind of terrible teaching is that? As far as I know, no one but me ever questioned the statement. If she'd taken out the "only," her assertion would not have been so damaging.

Church may have its uses, but it is not necessarily the place to find God.

8:53 pm, November 13, 2010  
Blogger Annie said...

I wish I had the technology to hear the source for this post, but going by what you have written and by the responses, it keys into something that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I can't recall if I've read anything about it in anything you have written. It seems to me it isn't just silence that people are afraid of. And I wonder if it is even fear. As ensconced as people are in community and encouraging faith in action (while professing that prayer is not a "work"). What I come to, what haunts me, is what James calls our enmity to God. So often, I think, our community becomes our way of avoiding the silence and every way and means we might tap into the source. And for me it also begins to explain the utter contempt they have for those that do. When I accidentally stumbled across it, I found no help even when I went to my priest. Perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree.

8:23 pm, November 16, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Annie,

Right on. You have put your finger on something very important. Thanks for expressing it so well.

I am just starting reading an incredible book called 'The Master and His Emissary' you might like even if you only read the introduction and then skip around. Very, very scary. And the USA seems a lot farther along in this process than the UK.

Bless you for your witness


8:56 pm, November 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Maggie and Anne, The intro to the book can be found free here:

Maggie--- I wish you'd talk more about the brain (specifically the role of silence and mental illness). You often toss words around (like schizophrenia) but do not elaborate much. You've done this ever since 'Furnance'. I've also heard you say mental illness is just that (mental illness). Is there reading you can suggest to deepen my understanding?

Barb R. - Cincinnati

ps--- never thanked you for your work on intercessory prayer (VERY HELPFUL, VERY HELPFUL, VERY HELPFUL). :-)

11:11 pm, November 16, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Barb, Wow, that's a tall order, especially when I'm going out of town for a couple of days. But when I use a word like 'schizophrenia' I mean splitting, dissociation, not necessarily to the extent of screaming in telephone booths on Broadway, but still pathology, with deleterious effects on family, life path, etc. This sort of mental illness (as opposed to that which has genetic roots), in my view, is partly determined by deep choices and/or are survival strategies.

In general, however, I think the medical establishment has over-medicalized us. Soon there will be no 'normal'. This is a hideous mistake. The amazing variation in human beings is one of its glories.

I wouldn't touch the mind-brain problem! I'm very glad it's one of those mysteries that will probably never be solved! Who says ineffability is a fiction?!

7:55 am, November 17, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Forgot to address your question about silence and mental illness: impossible to generalize, but for some people who have abusive backgrounds, silence can be a refuge, a positive affirmation, a safe place; this is especially true for children.

The noise of our culture tends to induce mental illness and noise is a well-known tool of torture.

There is silence and silence, of course, partly depending on context. Lack of contact with the silence of the natural world can lead to deprivation of nature psychosis. Yes, it's really in the official guide.

8:00 am, November 17, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of these days, I'll be able to read you without a dictionary close by! :-) I do thank you for your comments!!!

Barb R - Cincinnati

5:06 am, November 18, 2010  

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