Some links on Spirituality: Silence, Mysticism, and “Spiritual but not Religious”

An email exchange with four Trappist monks. One of them writes:

After communion, we sit there a few minutes and the quiet is intense. Coughing stops, nose-blowing stops, throat clearing—it all stops. The silence is palpable and is, I believe a real communion. A recent retreat master told us it seemed that we were out of time and in the eternity of the sacrament we had just received. The same thing happens when we have Eucharistic Adoration on Sunday afternoons. No group of human beings can agree when it comes to ideas or words; we may arrive at consensus on isolated issues through a lot of work and compromise. But in the silence of adoration, we can arrive at a deep communion when we share the same faith. Sometimes I think silence is one way of not letting our differences define who we are for one another.

And later:

This says on one level that silence is in our lives to create an ambience of recollection so I’ll remember and honor God’s presence. On another level, silence reminds me that the misuse of words, the abuse of language can also be the sinful abuse of people; silence for us means not talking, more than not making noise… On yet another level, silence means listening. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the first word of that Rule is “Listen.” That’s the great ethical element of silence: to check my words and listen to another point of view. I’ll never have any real peace should my sense of well-being depend on soundless peace. When I can learn the patience of receiving, in an unthreatened way, what I’d rather not hear, then I can have a real measure of peace in any situation.

Another writes this:

I would say the cultivation of silence is indispensable to being human. People sometimes talk as if they were “looking for silence,” as if silence had gone away or they had misplaced it somewhere. But it is hardly something they could have misplaced. Silence is the infinite horizon against which is set every word they have ever spoken, and they can’t find it? Not to worry—it will find them.

Why Mysticism matters:

The path of the mystic is one of transcendence, of going beyond: beyond the mind, beyond time, beyond the whole world. When the mind is transcended, awareness of the passing of time fades away. And when time disappears, awareness of the world also disappears. All the greatest mystics from the world’s religious traditions have made the same unexpected and liberating discovery: when awareness of the world and everything in it, including ones own bodily shape and form, disappears, the most intimately felt sense of “I” still remains. Except now, “I” is all there is—beginningless, endless. When the historical Buddha awakened to this depth dimension, he called it “the Unborn,” “the Deathless,” or “the Uncreated.”

An Interview with David Webster, author of Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish, and Unhappy:

Finally, I argue that the dissembling regarding death in most contemporary spirituality—the refusal to face it as the total absolute annihilation of the person and all about them—leaves it ill-equipped to help us truly engage with the existential reality of our own mortality and finitude. In much contemporary spirituality there is an insistence of survival (and a matching vagueness about its form) whenever death is discussed. I argue that any denial of death (and I look at the longevity movements briefly too) is an obstacle to a full, rich life, with emotional integrity. Death is the thing to be faced if we are to really live. Spirituality seems to me to be a consolation that refuses this challenge, rather seeking to hide in the only-half-believed reassurances of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’, previous lives, and ‘soul’.

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One thought on “Some links on Spirituality: Silence, Mysticism, and “Spiritual but not Religious”

  1. I loved the line, “The silence is palpable and is, I believe a real communion.” It is in the moments of silence we are open to wisdom being revealed. Thank you for a wonderful post, Father John.

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