05 April 2012

The Silence of Jesus vs Eremitical "silence of solitude"


Throughout this last week of Lent and into the Triduum we will be confronted increasingly by Jesus' silence, indeed his muteness in the face of the world of powers and principalities arrayed against him. Increasingly the Word of God incarnate is rendered mute. In Mark's passion narrative this awful silence is rent only by Jesus' cry of abandonment --- that moment when Jesus' passion becomes even deeper than it had been and he suffers the loss of that relationship which is most foundational and intimate to him plunging him into an absolute hopelessness and helplessness. It is at this point, I think, that John's Jesus cries out, "I thirst!" And his thirst goes unslaked.

Because I have been writing and thinking about "the silence of solitude" in the past several months the contrast with Jesus' increasing muteness during his passion and what canon 603 refers to as "the silence of solitude" is more striking to me than it has ever been before. The hermit's silence is not one of powerlessness --- though indeed, in terms of the world's categories, a hermit is marginalized and relatively powerless --- nor is it one of absolute aloneness or abandonment. Instead it is the silence of covenant and friendship, of rest and essential peace in Christ. It is, as I have written many times now, a silence which sings of abundant life, a dialogical reality where God's love is the counterpart of human poverty and muteness, and the result is a sacramental silence which speaks powerfully and prophetically of fullness and completion.

But in the next three days especially we meet a vastly different kind of silence. It is the horrifying silence we all deeply fear, the silence we feel compelled with desperation to fill with even empty sound and trivial speech so terrified are we of being alone in the sense that Jesus was left alone; it is the silence which alternates with the music of love and affirmation and which presses us to seek companionship and reassurances we can never provide for ourselves alone. In the next three days Jesus, the Word incarnate, becomes increasingly subject to this silence. He enters increasingly into a loneliness which excludes all communication, all meaning, and all capacity for transcendence. His silence is the silence of one who has absolutely no one who can elicit or empower speech, no one who can summon him beyond himself --- one who is without anyone who can elicit or empower love, and is without the relatedness which is the ground and source of all meaning. It is the abyss of isolation which renders all speech -- including the speech or language event one is and is called to be -- absurd and impossible.

As I wrote in the piece on Jesus' descent into hell, hell is an abyss of ultimate isolation, loneliness, emptiness, lovelessness, and inhumanity. It is precisely that impenetrable "place" or "space" within and outside us where speech, language, or communion becomes impossible and where, as Benedict XVI writes, no word of another can reach and no love can advance. It is this hell, this spiritual or personal black hole, into which Jesus is increasingly drawn in these last days of Lent, and during the Triduum especially. Despite superficial similarities, the silence, or better, the muteness associated with this state is precisely antithetical to the "silence of solitude" of the hermit; it is the silence against which one can see most clearly how rich and full the silence of eremitical or solitary life truly is. The hell of muteness crushes; the silence of solitude empowers song. These two different realities are what makes it especially important to discern the difference between those whose silence is that of isolation and those who are truly called to the silence of solitude as hermits. The first witnesses to hell and the sovereignty of death which blots out Life and Speech, the second is the background of heaven and the sovereignty of God who is Life, Love, and creative Word.