11 June 2016

The Silence of Solitude and the redemption of Silences of Violence

Dear Sister, you wrote about silence being associated with some violence. I wondered if you could say more about that. Also, I am trying to understand what you mean by the redemption of silence and solitude and their transfiguration into the silence of solitude. Could you explain that for me? I understand they are different and that they overlap some but I am not seeing how a bigger silence redeems a smaller one (I know those are not your words exactly but I think you know what I am referring to and I am unable to cut and paste from your blog).

Thanks for the questions. I need to find the post you are referring to. I remember the reference to silence as violence and don't think it was more than a few months old, but I am not sure which specific post I included that in. Still, until then, let me give your questions a shot.

Sometimes folks use silence and maybe isolation as well as a kind of weapon. That is a form of violence which can be both painful and damaging. For instance there is a kind of shunning or exclusion that can work this way. We see this in certain religious sects and though the action is meant to serve rehabilitation it does not always work this way. We also see it, though, in society at large and even in families who punish by ostracizing and shunning. Jesus' culture had lepers and the otherwise "unclean"; India has its "untouchables," many countries and times have scapegoated Jews, etc. Dysfunctional families sometimes have the child on whom the anger and other tensions or dysfunctions  within the group devolve. How ever and whenever silence is used in this way and some version of shunning happens the person caught in such a situation must find a way of redeeming things. They must find a context which embraces and includes their own situation and transforms and revalues it in the process.

The kind of silence that does that must be a loving and inclusive silence, the kind of silence we associate with good friends who sit companionably together in mutual support; it will be the kind of silence that is necessary when words would be weak, futile, and insufficient --- and thus, intrude, distort, and betray; it will be the kind of silence that occurs when one person's love has no words or another's pain has none because these realities are simply too deep and exist in silent relation to  the ineffable. We know that Jesus' suffering during the passion was the most intense and extensive any human being could have experienced. We know that Jesus' emptiness and abandonment were as deep as they could conceivably be and that his Abba suffered a rupture or separation in his own life as well at this time. Our own experiences of abandonment and emptiness are always mitigated by God's presence and often by the presence of others who love us nevertheless. We also know that Jesus' cry of abandonment was an inarticulate cry and that otherwise he was generally reduced to muteness. And yet he remained open and responsive to his Abba; when sin and godless death swallowed him up in ultimate emptiness and final muteness, God, the very abyss of the "silence of solitude" embraced all of that and took it into his very self. This silent love transformed it all entirely and brought life and meaning out of death and absurdity.


At my parish with the daily Mass community I am hoping we will be trying an experiment in shared silence soon. We have begun to talk about cultivating a period of extended silence before Mass once a week and asking everyone who comes into the worship space (chapel) to take their places quietly and join us in this way of developing community. We are not trying to create little islands of mute isolation as once was enforced pre-Vatican II. Nor are we looking to deal with issues of noise and courtesy per se. Instead we are looking to allow each person to experience the freedom to go deep within their own selves to that Self beyond words and at the same time, to support one another in this. Because we will all be rooted deeply in the God who is the silent Ground of Being we will be joined together at the level of heart --- beyond words, beyond our individual pain, but also in a way which allows each person to pour out their hearts to God in silence.

My hope is that a dimension of the same kind of community will come to be that occurs in monastic communities which share this kind of silent prayer regularly. If we can do this my sense is people will find it a powerful medicine or balm for their souls when words cannot help --- and, over time, we will be creating ministers capable of being with others in their pain in ways we each often hunger for, but which our culture distrusts or simply is entirely ignorant of. I believe it will transform our already-very-fine community of faith into a greater image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Perhaps some will discover a call to contemplative prayer and living!

My director showed me the above picture yesterday which symbolizes one of the ways our own work together sometimes proceeds. I think it's a great way of thinking of the shared silence of solitude that can embrace and safely hold the various discrete silences, mutenesses,  emptinesses and overly-full griefs, fears, and other realities of our lives that cannot be fixed or (often!) even touched by words. Similarly it can transfigure them into a greater and silent song of love, friendship, and communion. We (my parish community) want to be that community that cares for and supports everyone without exception beyond the limitations and exclusion of words, noise, and futile activism. So we will try periods of shared quiet prayer to create a context similar to the greater and loving silence which can also bring the redemption of those often-damaging forms of silence and exclusion I mentioned in my earlier post. Our world desperately needs people who can bring this kind of silence (loving inclusion) to its pain.

Does this begin to answer your questions? If not please feel free to ask again and even to sharpen those questions I failed to answer.