Silence: Understanding the Divine …

At first this silence had seemed a deprivation, a symbol of an unwanted isolation.  I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence, which settled comfortably and caressingly around me like a soft shawl. It seemed to hum, gently but melodiously, and to orchestrate the ideas that I was contending with, until they started to sing too, to vibrate and reveal an unexpected resonance. After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence, which had a dimension all of its own. I started to attend to its strange and beautiful texture, which of course, it was impossible to express in words. I discovered that I felt at home and alive in the silence, which compelled me to enter my interior world and around there. Without the distraction of constant conversation, the words on the page began to speak directly to my inner self. They were no long expressing ideas that were simply interesting intellectually, but were talking directly to my own yearning and perplexity.
― Karen Armstrong from The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

Theology is– or should be– a species of poetry, which read quickly or encountered in a hubbub of noise makes no sense. You have to open yourself to a poem with a quiet, receptive mind, in the same way you might listen to a difficult piece of music… If you seize upon a poem and try to extort its meaning before you are ready, it remains opaque. If you bring your own personal agenda to bear upon it, the poem will close upon itself like a clam, because you have denied its unique and separate identity, its inviolate holiness.
― Karen Armstrong from The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, of self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology.
― Karen Armstrong from The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

Not long ago I accompanied a Trappist abbot as he unlocked a door to the cloister and led me down a long corridor into a stone-walled room, the chapter house of the monastery, where some twenty monks were waiting for me to give a reading. Poetry does lead a person into some strange places. This wonderfully silent, hidden-away place was not as alien to me as it might have been, however as I’d been living on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery for most of the last three years. Trappists are more silent than the Benedictines, far less likely to have works that draws them into the world outside the monastery. But the cumulative effect of the Liturgy of the Hours – at a bare minimum, morning, noon, and evening prayer, as well as the Eucharist – on one’s psyche, the sense it gives a person of being immersed in the language of scripture, is much the same in any monastery. What has surprised me, in my time among monastic people, is how much their liturgy feeds my poetry; and also how much correspondence I’ve found between monastic practice and the discipline of writing.
― Kathleen Norris from The Cloister Walk

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