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Depending on which hemisphere you live in, today is the shortest or longest day of the year—the day with the least or the most hours of daylight. Surely this is a metaphor and symbol for non-dual consciousness! We must welcome both light and dark to live fully. This week’s theme explores how silence can help us do just that.
People who are interested in issues of peace and justice surely recognize how communication, vocabulary, and conversation have reached a very low point in our society, both in our politics and in our churches. It feels like the only way through this is a re-appreciation for this wonderful, but seemingly harmless, thing called silence. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mystic, said centuries ago, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.”(If you think this is an exaggeration, a recent study at the University of Virginia said that 67% of men and 25% of women would sooner endure an unpleasant electric shock rather than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes!) Perhaps you see why I have given so much time and energy to male initiation rites and retreats in general. Very few, including priests and bishops, know how to be silent even during a retreat.
Silence is not just that which is around words and underneath images and events. It has a life of its own. It’s a phenomenon with an almost physical identity. It is almost a being in itself to which you can relate. Philosophically, we would say being is that foundational quality which precedes all other attributes. When you relate to the naked being of a thing, you learn to know it at its core. Silence is at the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return. (If the word “silence” does not grab you, you can interchange it with nothingness, emptiness, vastness, formlessness, open space, or any undefined reality.)
All things are in fact a creatio ex nihilo; every something, by God’s plan it seems, first comes from nothing! If you can first rest in the nothing, you will then be prepared for the something. When nothing creates something, we call that grace! Such silence is described in the very first two verses of Genesis. The first reality is described in the Bible as a “formless void,” and the Spirit is expectantly “hovering” over this “trackless waste and emptiness” (tohu bohu in the Hebrew of Genesis 1:2), as if to impregnate creation with God—which silent mystery I would call the birth of “Christ”! The Spirit is silent, secret, invisible, but totally powerful and always effective, humble, and quite willing to give the credit to others for all the further millennia of unfolding (“evolution”). The coming together of these Two Great Silences is the primal conception and the beginning of Everything!