Summary: Explore the beauty, spirituality, and meaning of silence with hosts Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson, and Carl McColman. Silence is a topic most of us think little about — yet it is vitally important to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. We examine silence from spiritual, religious, psychological, philosophical, and other perspectives, celebrating how important silence is for our individual and shared lives.
What role does silence play in mysticism? That’s the question that launches our conversation this week. Episode 16 is inspired by the recent release of The Little Book of Christian Mysticism, by Carl McColman. But rather than just focus on the new book, we decided to broaden the conversation in this week’s episode to a more general reflection on how silence and mysticism belong together — and influence each other. We launch our conversation by looking at the problems connected with merely trying to define the word “mysticism” (and related terms like “experience” and “spirituality”). From there we explore the connection between mysticism, mystery and silence. “The Christian of the future will be a mystic — which is to say, a Christian who’s comfortable with silence, who’s comfortable with mystery, who’s comfortable with paradox and ambiguity, but who moves into all of that for the sake of love: the love of the Divine, and the love of one another.” — Carl McColman Our conversation considers how mysticism is misunderstood by both the academic world the world of “pop” spirituality, how mysticism can make a difference even in the context of the institutional crisis in the church today, and how mysticism can be meaningful to the ordinary person today — leading to the radical (but ancient and orthodox) teaching of deification or divinization — what Saint Peter called being “partakers of the Divine nature.” In our conversation, we explore who are some of Carl’s favorite mystics, how the women mystics of the Middle Ages need to be acknowledged as courageous heroines of the faith, and which mystics ought to be declared doctors of the church. “Experience is the beginning of mysticism... People will say ‘I am drawn to mysticism because I want an experiential faith.’ I think that’s great! But let that be your starting point, and not your ending point. If the experience of God is the beginning of mysticism, then God’s encounter with you is the end of mysticism.” — Carl McColman Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode: Carl McColman, The Little Book of Christian Mysticism Maggie Ross, Writing the Icon of the Heart Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names and the Mystical Theology Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism Carl McColman, Befriending Silence Carl McColman, Answering the Contemplative Call Jacques Derrida, A Derrida Reader John of the Cross, Collected Works Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing Don Cupitt, Mysticism After Modernity Karl Rahner, Concern for the Church Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light Teresa of Ávila, The Book of My Life C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism Caryll Houselander, Essential Writings John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance Bernard of Clairvaux, Selected Works George Maloney, Inward Stillness Douglas Steere, ed., Quaker Spirituality Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine The Catechism of the Catholic Church Hildegard of Bingen, Selected Writings Marguerite Porete, A Mirror of Simple Souls Hadewijch, The Complete Works Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue Catherine of Genoa, Purgation and Purgatory; The Spiritual Dialogue
Meet Brother Elias Marechal — Trappist monk, author, contemplative, storyteller, and a man of deep, resplendent silence. Silence is always there — from the time we're born it's there, because it's in the image of God. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO This episode — a conversation with Brother Elias — is our second Encountering Silence "Field Recording" in which one member of our team (in this case, Carl McColman) records a face-to-face interview with a person whose life is deeply engaged with silence. Brother Elias is a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, at the edge of the Atlanta suburbs. Born in New Orleans, he is a lifelong spiritual seeker, who after a profound encounter with Divine Mystery while a freshman at Notre Dame, has devoted his life to meditation and to a spiritual practice both deeply rooted in Christian mysticism and yet profoundly embracing the wisdom of all the world's contemplative paths. He is the author of two books: Dancing Madly Backwards: A Journey Into God (Crossroad Publishing, 1982) and Tears of an Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer (Paulist Press, 2015). Of the latter book, Thomas Keating says it is "valuable and full of wisdom drawn from the author's remarkable experience of East and West." And Cynthia Bourgeault notes, "If you've never experienced authentic Trappist sapiential writing before, you're in for a treat!" Carl McColman has known Brother Elias since 2005, so their conversation carries the warm feel of two old friends. They sat down together at the Monastery guesthouse in November of 2017 to have a wide-ranging conversation about silence, writing, and prayer. The image of God contains all of God's qualities and characteristics. The first one is silence. Second, kindness; the third, compassion; then listening with deep respect even to someone with an opposite view, and so forth. And the whole idea is that you're in this land of unlikeness and then you wake up in some way to the image of God. And you begin this journey, led by the Spirit, through the land of likeness in which, as you go along, all the various characteristics of God begin to unfold... in a simple, easy, and effortless way. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO In the podcast Br. Elias discusses his first encounter with infused contemplation — at the grotto of Notre Dame University, when he was a freshman — and later discovering the complementary practice of acquired contemplation. He also reflects on a near death experience he experienced as a child, about his lifelong quest for purity of heart, on his experience of twenty-five years as a Trappist monk, how silence is an essential element in restoring the image and likeness of God within us, and much more. He speaks about his early experience learning meditation and how the practice of meditation fostered his own relationship with silence — and how the Holy Spirit carries us through the unfolding of the image and likeness of God within us. He shares his understanding of the role that breath plays in prayer — particularly the Jesus Prayer — which allows us to let go "into the abyss of the kindness and compassion of God." There is silence in heaven, because to communicate with one another, one "transfers" thoughts to another, and the other transfers thoughts to you — and this includes God. It's very very interesting. So silence is all-pervading in the heavenly kingdom. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode: Elias Marechal, Tears of an Innocent God Isaac of Stella, Sermons on the Christian Year Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings Desert Mothers and Fathers, Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land
What is the relationship between silence and rhythm? Silence as the offbeat: there is no rhythm without the silence. — Cassidy Hall What are the ways that silence can create rhythm? How can silence enhance the notes of our day; how does silence strain out the noise in our life and directs the way we approach the everyday rhythms of our lives? I always feel that poetry is like wild language, that it's language that actually hears the birds, and the wind, and the rippling of the pond, and then is just able to imitate that in human speech... poetry doesn't care if you notice the words, right? The poet is saying, the words are saying, "If you saw what I saw in my head, if my words were able to give you the vision, then we're there!" — Kevin Johnson Our conversation dances between the beat of the heart and the cadence of the lungs; from there we reflect on poets and artists and how both rhythm and silence shape their work; the relationship between silence, rhythm, breath, and prayer; how sometimes the rhythm "falls out" because of self-consciousness (as opposed to the "deeper silence" where we simply relax into a silence akin to forgetting or selfless-consciousness), and how even the difficult times and moments of life might be indicative of simply a bigger rhythm at play. In between every beat of the heart is a moment of silence. — Carl McColman And of course, we talk about poetry, and the social ramifications of silence (i.e., how silence subverts our culture's aggressive materialism) —and much more! Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow Maggie Ross, Silence Vol. 2 The Dalai Lama, Stages of Meditation Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings Pema Chödrön, Pure Meditation (the Audio Collection) Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook Carl McColman, Spirituality Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book Guillermo del Toro (dir.), The Shape of Water George Lucas (dir), Star Wars Carl McColman, Befriending Silence Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island Patrick Shen (dir.), In Pursuit of Silence John Cage, Silence Jessica Mesman Griffith & Amy Andrews, Love and Salt Monica Furlong, Contemplating Now For the podcast featuring our friend and co-conspirator Jessica Mesman Griffith, click here: Things Not Seen Podcast #1806: The Communion of Haints Episode 14: Silence and Rhythm Hosted by: Kevin Johnson With: Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman Date Recorded: March 5, 2018
Fr. James Martin, SJ is the author of numerous books as well as an editor at America magazine. A Jesuit priest, Fr. James has emerged as one of the leading voices for Ignatian spirituality — and Catholicism in general — for our time. He has also become a lightning rod for some segments of the Catholic world — his gentle call for greater dialogue between the Catholic Church and LGBT Catholics has led to social media attacks along with calls for boycotts and cancellations of Fr. Martin's speaking engagements. Yet he himself remains undeterred, seeking to be a voice for hope and reconciliation in our troubled world. "We've developed this culture of noise and distraction so much, that when people are alone with their thoughts or alone with silence, it's frightening." — James Martin, SJ The Encountering Silence team met Fr. James Martin when he presided at a Mass for a Pax Romana meeting in New York last December that the three of us attended. Several weeks later the four of us gathered via Skype for a rich conversation exploring the connections between silence, Ignatian spirituality, prayer, spiritual direction, meditation, interspirituality and interfaith dialogue, and how writing (and revising) his book Building a Bridge has made a difference in his own ministry. Fr. James also muses on the essential connections between silence, relationship, and God — and how silence and prayer can help us to overcome fear of "the other." Our phones — a friend of mine the other day called them "weapons of mass distraction." — James Martin, SJ Incidentally, when we recorded this episode, the release date for the paperback edition of Building a Bridge was scheduled for March 13, 2018. Subsequently, the publisher moved up the release date one week — so the book is available now. God enjoyed silence when God was on the earth with us. — Fr. James Martin, SJ The verse from Ecclesiastes that Carl mentions is Ecclesiastes 3:11: "God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart..." (New International Version) In terms of prayer and silence, I participate in it ultimately to be in a deeper relationship with God... I meet God in silence, and God speaks to me in silence... God always speaks to me in silence, I just need to be paying attention. — Fr. James Martin, SJ Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: James Martin, Jesus: A Pilgrimage James Martin, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything James Martin, Building a Bridge (revised/expanded edition) Ignatius of Loyola, Personal Writings Martin Scorses (Dir.), Silence James Martin, Becoming Who You Are Bernard of Clairvaux, The Letters Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God Martin Buber, I and Thou Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out William Johnston, The Still Point Thomas G. Hand, Always a Pilgrim Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, Living in the New Consciousness Robert Kennedy, Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit Francis X. Clooney, Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Borders Teresa of Ávila, The Book of My Life John of the Cross, Collected Works Thomas Merton, Essential Writings Bede Griffiths, Essential Writings Anthony De Mello, Selected Writings Bobby Karle, Ignatian Yoga Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate Richard Rohr, The Naked Now Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home Pope John Paul II, In God's Hands Lawrence Kohlberg, The Philosophy of Moral Development Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice Maggie Ross, Writing the Icon of the Heart Julian of Norwich, Showings Joyce Rupp, Fragments of Your Ancient Name Irene Zimmerman, Incarnation
When we embrace silence as an alternative to conflict, are we just choosing to escape? Or can silence be a refuge, a temporary or even permanent shelter from the challenges of life? How can we tell the difference between silence-as-refuge and silence-as-escape? Recognizing the ache that we meet, the ache of the whole world ... that we meet in our silences, right? It reminds us that there's space there for the whole world. — Cassidy Hall Silence can be "toxic" when we refuse to speak to someone in the interest of resolving conflict or managing differences; likewise, silence can be toxic if we enter into it as a way of escaping conflict, or avoiding essential conversations or tasks that require our (verbal) attention. But an alternative to the toxic quality of silence-as-escape is today's topic, silence-as-refuge: the recognition that even the most socially and politically engaged activist needs times of retreat, of quiet, of rejuvenation and reflection. For me what's important is that the silence circulates even among the words... the word "silence" here is actually pointing to something else: a shift of attention, a refocusing. — Kevin Johnson Our wide-ranging conversation explores how monasteries can function as "silence refuges," fostering an ability to love from a place of deep interiority; the relationship between silence and "perfection;" the classroom setting as a venue for silence as a pedagogical strategy; the relationship between loneliness and solitude (aloneness); and much more! When we're taking refuge from something, that thing that we're taking refuge from doesn't just go away. It's learning to be patient with the messiness of life, or the brokenness of life, or the wounding of life. — Carl McColman Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Desert Mothers and Fathers, Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out Patrick Shen, dir., In Pursuit of Silence Maggie Ross, Silence: A User's Guide Volume 2 Pablo Picasso, Living in Art Helen Lees, Silence in Schools Carl Jung, The Portable Jung Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer Rumi, The Essential Rumi Saint Benedict, The Rule of Saint Benedict Silence as a refuge is necessary; Silence as a refuge is listening; Silence as a refuge is cleansing; Silence as a refuge is the poetry of love. Episode 12: Silence as Refuge With: Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman Date Recorded: November 27, 2017
This week marks the first Encountering Silence "Field Recording" in which one member of our team (in this case, Cassidy Hall) records a face-to-face interview with a person whose life is deeply engaged with silence. Today's episode features Cassidy in conversation with a Benedictine monk, Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, OSB. Father Stephanos is a monk of Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, California. The Encountering Silence team met Fr. Stephanos online, through a small social media group for artists, writers, and others who explore the intersection between art, spirituality, justice, and authenticity. In that context Fr. Stephanos is a voice of calm, deep spirituality, and good humor. Since he lives so close to Cassidy Hall, it seemed natural for her to pay him a visit, and during her time at the monastery, to record the interview which we are now sharing with you as our 11th episode. Even though this is the third episode to feature an interview on the podcast, it is actually the first interview to have been recorded (back in October of last year). Fr. Stephanos tells his story, from his early yearning for liturgy and community, to discovering intentional silence through prayer, to eventually discerning his call to monastic life — which in turn took him to the threshold of silence. He reflects on how the wisdom of Saint Benedict has shaped the monastic experience of silence, and the relationship between silence and love. He goes on to talk about Mother Teresa — a modern saint who "suffered" the silence of God, whose voice fell into absence as she responded to her vocation to serve the poorest of the poor. He explores some of the "silent wisdom" of the Rule of Saint Benedict, such as can be found in Benedict's twelve steps of humility — which on the surface seems so counterintuitive to the values of our age, but actually points to treasures such as the spiritual beauty of silencing one's own ego, in response to the love of God. Fr. Stephanos also explores why the word "contemplation" never appears in the Rule of Saint Benedict, and also talks about the heart of lectio divina, the deeply contemplative monastic practice of meditative reading of scripture, and how silence has given him insight into the dynamics of his own personality — and into love. Monks are men of silence, but they are also men of many words... primarily the Psalms. — Fr. Stephanos Pedranos Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode: Thomas Merton, Essential Writings The Liturgy of the Hours The Rule of Saint Benedict Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light Michael Casey, Sacred Reading: the Ancient Art of Lectio Divina In the picture we see Cassidy and Fr. Stephanos enjoying a beer from the Almanac Beer Company, a California microbrewery. Episode 10: Silence in the Cloister: A Conversation with Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, OSB Hosted by: Cassidy Hall Introduced by: Kevin Johnson Guest: Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, OSB Date Recorded: October 25, 2017
For this episode, we felt drawn to reflect on a couple of "liturgical paradoxes" coming up now and in April: that the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday corresponds to Valentine's Day; and that Easter Sunday falls on All Fools' Day, April 1. Valentine's Day originated as a Christian memorial (for Saint Valentine), but in its secularized form it is a day for celebrating romantic love — complete with flowers, a nice dinner out, and of course, plenty of chocolate. But this flies in the face of the meaning and observance of Ash Wednesday — as the first day of the penitential season of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a solemn occasion for reflecting on our mortality ("remember that you are dust"), our sinfulness or woundedness, and — at least in some traditions — is a day for fasting — hardly conducive to indulging in sweets! Of course, even without the religious overlay, Valentine's Day can be paradoxical even on its own — as a day of sorrow for those who are lonely, or bereaved, or even navigating a relationship where love is absent. How do we hold these paradoxes together? Could silence be a key to finding a way to honor both the pleasures of love and the invitation to self-forgetfulness? "Paradox is paradoxical only to the linear, self-conscious mind," says Maggie Ross in her recently published book Silence: A User's Guide, Volume Two: Application. She goes on to consider an alternative to the limitations of the linear mind, which she calls "deep mind." "Deep mind is inclusive, what ancient writers refer to as the place of unity. Its ways of thinking are holistic, even holographic." “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” — attributed to Niels Bohr Put another way: perhaps paradox is itself a gift, a reminder that there's more to our minds (and our capacity to know and to understand) than the limitations imposed by language and linear thought. Perhaps when we try to make sense of how to hold a paradox like Valentine's Day falling on Ash Wednesday gently and authentically, we are invited into a place of deeper and higher knowing — and the portal to that place is not logic or language but simply silence. Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons Niels Bohr, Niels Bohr: His Life and Work Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings Marvin C. Shaw, The Paradox of Intention Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out Leonard Cohen, "Anthem" Pope Francis, The Hope of Lent T. S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday" Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism Another poem we didn't mention in the podcast, but that deserves a shout out here, is Walter Brueggemann's "Marked by Ashes" (from his book Prayers for a Privileged People). Also check out Thomas Merton's thoughts on paradox in The Sign of Jonas... Like the prophet Jonas, whom God ordered to go to Nineveh, I found myself with an almost uncontrollable desire to go in the opposite direction. God pointed one way and all my "ideals" pointed in the other. It was when Jonas was traveling as fast as he could away from Nineveh, toward Tharsis, that he was thrown overboard, and swallowed by a whale who took him where God wanted him to go...But I feel that my own life is especially sealed with this great sign, which baptism and monastic profession and priestly ordination have burned into the roots of my being, because like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox. — Thomas Merton
It's easy to see the connection between silence and spirituality — but how does silence support the quest for justice, for a world that moves beyond racism, sexism, or the other social barriers that divide us? Anyone familiar with the wisdom and words of the great American preacher and writer, Howard Thurman, knows that the silence of contemplation and the silence that empowers the struggle for justice is, in fact, one silence. God is always speaking, Spirit is always speaking to us. And we can only hear that in the silence. I think that’s a very difficult concept for people to understand because they think of hearing things as in words. But we can connect to things that are beyond words. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD Our guest this week is Professor Lerita Coleman Brown, professor emerita of psychology at Agnes Scott College and self-described "devotee" of Howard Thurman. A natural contemplative who recognized the importance of silence while still a child, Professor Brown's remarkable life as a distinguished scholar, heart and kidney transplant recipient, and spiritual director, has been shaped not only by her longstanding commitment to a interior growth and the love of quiet, but also by her own experience as woman of color. Like Thurman, she recognizes that silence and contemplation are not only essential practices for a meaningful spiritual life, but are also profound gifts to a truly effective and life-affirming struggle for nonviolent, sustainable social change. Our conversation explores a wide range of silence-related topics, from Professor Brown's childhood (encountering silence in the Santa Ana winds) to her first exploration of meditation in college, finding the value of silence in the midst of an academic career, the power of stillness even in the midst of a hospital stay, ultimately leading to her discovery of the towering genius of Howard Thurman, mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the most important (if under-appreciated) contemplatives of the twentieth century. I think that there are so many opportunities for silence that we often don’t take because we’re in our heads chattering about why we are uncomfortable about being in the situation we’re in. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD An important chapter of Dr. Brown's story is her journey with heart disease which led to receiving a heart transplant in her early 40s. The process of her discernment to receive the transplant (along with a key career decision she had made years earlier) all point to how the power of silence literally saved her life. Discovering Thurman while in formation as a spiritual director, Dr. Brown recognized one of the great (if under-appreciated) contemplatives of the twentieth century: grandson of a slave, child of the Jim Crow south, who went on to become a distinguished Baptist preacher, writer, speaker, and of course, inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and other key figures in the Civil Rights movement. But at the heart of Thurman's genius was his deep and lasting commitment to silence, where he recognized we find eternity and, indeed, the presence of the living God. But silence not only reveals God to us, but also reveals what Thurman calls the "inner authority" — that place within each of our hearts, where we discover who we are created to be, the strength and purpose that enables us to live the lives we are called to live — and, just possibly, to change the world in the meantime. And I tell people all the time that ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are the exact same letters just rearranged. So you cannot listen if you’re not silent, they’re just connected. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Sherry Bryant-Johnson (ed.), Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color
What role does silence play in human conflicts? This question recognizes that silence may have a positive role to play — in helping to prevent or resolve conflicts — but that it could also have a negative role to play, as one one or more parties to a conflict use silence as a "weapon" to prevent reconciliation. “When silence is done 'right,' silence can disarm us. Emotionally, physically, disarm us. It strips us of our ego. It takes us to that sacred center and allows us to try to learn how to love.” — Cassidy Hall This week Kevin, Cassidy and Carl reflect on how we have experienced silence in conflict, in both creative and challenging ways. From the old activist slogan "Silence = Death" to Audre Lorde's challenging declaration "your silence will not protect you," we examine how conflict reveals the different ways that we think about, or talk about, or use silence, especially when engaged in a struggle with another person or group. “If the silence is being used to punish… then that’s not really silence in the way I talk about encounter or beholding, that’s actually noise. Using silence as a word, as a ‘No’ to someone as opposed to the other silence which is an absolute ‘Yes.’”— Kevin Michael Johnson Should there be two words for silence? Is the "silence" that dominates or obstructs reconciliation really a type of psychic or spiritual "noise"? We look at how silence can sometimes provide a "buffer" in the midst of an escalating family conflict, or how extreme emotions seem to propel us to a place of silence — where, by grace, we might regain our center and thereby begin the process of reconciliation, or at least recognize that beneath the feelings of conflict (anger, and rage) might lurk even more unsettling feelings such as fear. “Silence is a democratic material. It allows everybody to have equal platform and equal voice, because if nobody’s talking, nobody is dominating.” — Helen Lees What is the relationship between silence and listening? Can silence invite us into a place where, separated by conflict, we can learn to be together again? If politics is about power, how does silence invite us into vulnerability? What is the relationship between silence and the stories we tell, to foster relationship and reconciliation? These, and other questions, shape our conversation and exploration in this episode. “Silence has something really creative to offer into a conflict situation. Whether it’s creating the space to listen, creating the space to cool-down or calm down, creating the space where we can invite all parties into a vulnerability.” — Carl McColman Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will Not Protect You Patrick Shen (dir.), In Pursuit of Silence Maggie Ross, Silence, Volume II: Application Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land Helen Lees, Silence in Schools Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom Episode 8: Silence in Conflict Hosted by: Carl McColman With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson Date Recorded: November 14, 2017 “If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words.” — Anonymous
With this episode, Encountering Silence features our first conversation with a special guest — Patrick Shen, the director of the luminous and thought-provoking documentary film In Pursuit of Silence, which he describes as "a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives." Incidentally, the three hosts of Encountering Silence first met each other through Maggie Ross as a result of her being interviewed for this film, so it's fair to say that the film is the raison d'être for this podcast. I'm just not that interested in making films anymore that add more to the noise. I'm interested in making films that point to this realm beyond the words, beyond the imagery. — Patrick Shen Patrick shares with us how he came to be inspired to create his movie, the unlikely role that heavy metal music played in his early life (helping push him to an appreciation of silence!), to the "existential curiosity" that propelled his creativity as a filmmaker. Our conversation explores the relationship between silence and death, the tension between the spirituality of the creative search and the work the creative process itself; how his relationship with silence is changing the way he works, and much more. We all get this idea that silence is this magical sort of space, this magical material; and we want it to be infused in our daily life, we want it to be infused with every breath that we take and every moment of our day, and so I've become really fascinated with this idea of work evolving from that place, rather than the work imitating or being a representation of that engagement. — Patrick Shen Patrick Shen's award-winning films, including Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality, The Philosopher Kings, and La Source, have been screened at over a hundred and twenty film festivals across the globe and broadcast in over twenty-five territories. He was the recipient of the 2009 Emerging Cinematic Vision Award from Camden International Film Festival. Since 2012 Patrick has been lecturing and teaching filmmaking workshops all over the globe as a film envoy for the U.S. State Department and the USC School of Cinematic Arts for their American Film Showcase. His latest film In Pursuit of Silence premiered to sold-out audiences in November 2015 at the Copenhagen International Film Festival. A companion book to the film, Notes from Silence, will be released in February 2018. Find Patrick Shen online at www.patrickshen.com or www.transcendentalmedia.com. A lot of us when we step into silence, at least initially, find our narratives or identity stripped away, and it's a lot like a little death of sorts, and it's terrifying. — Patrick Shen Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Patrick Shen, dir., Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality Patrick Shen, dir., The Philosopher Kings Patrick Shen, dir., La Source Patrick Shen, dir., In Pursuit of Silence Philip Gröning, dir., Into Great Silence John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings Nathaniel Dorsky, Devotional Cinema Megadeath, Greatest Hits Metallica, Metallica Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying Patrick Shen and Cassidy Hall, Notes from Silence Max Picard, The World of Silence Catherine Doherty, Poustinia Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings Monica Furlong, Contemplating Now Rumi, The Essential Rumi Maggie Ross, Writing the Icon of the Heart Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness Episode 7: Creating in Silence: A Conversation with Patrick Shen Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Who are your "silence heroes" — persons, living or dead, famous or obscure, who inspired or mentored or otherwise encouraged your encounter, and/or ongoing relationship, with silence? This is the question that the three co-hosts of this podcast explore in this episode. Cassidy, Carl and Kevin talk about the spiritual leaders, mystics, poets, writers, and other key figures who have helped us to "meet" silence more fully in our lives. When you really meet silence, when you really encounter silence, it reminds you that you're good enough, as is — whatever you're doing, whoever you are, it reminds you that you're good enough, because it is a place of love, it is a place of self-encounter, it is a place of the encounter of the Divine, of God. — Cassidy Hall We talk about how our silence heroes inspire us — how they encourage us to love, to embrace nature, to write and enjoy poetry, to be sacred nonconformists, to preserve stillness, teach us how to talk about silence (or how to be silent with silence!), give us both theoretical and practical approaches to silence — all the while using their lyrical and poetic voices to encourage us to be, likewise, the "poets of our own lives" — lives in which silence "allows our own selves to actually come forward and speak." We are all poets of our own lives and silence allows our own selves to actually come forward and speak. — Kevin Johnson Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land Elias Marechal, Tears of an Innocent God Maggie Ross, Silence, Volume 1: Process Maggie Ross, Silence, Volume 2: Application Maggie Ross, Seasons of Death and Life: A Wilderness Memoir Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes Desert Fathers and Mothers, The Wisdom of the Desert (edited by Thomas Merton) Thomas Merton, Love and Living Walt Whitman, The Complete Poems Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable Thomas Merton, The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton J. K. Rowling, The Harry Potter Collection At one point Carl mentions Martin Thornton when he's actually talking about Martin Laird, so in all fairness to his Freudian slip, here's a book worth reading from that author: Martin Thornton, Christian Proficiency Silence is the tomb of Christ — a place of infinite possibility. — A Monk of New Melleray Abbey Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut. Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta. For language to be sane, it needs to be suffused with silence; and for silence to be accessible, it needs to be held in language... to be a human being who wishes to enter deeply into the cave of silence, our sherpa will be language. — Carl McColman Episode 6: Our Silence Heroes Hosted by: Kevin Johnson With: Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman Date Recorded: November 13, 2017
What does it mean to encounter silence in the midst of our most intimate relationships? Unless you are an absolute hermit, other people factor in your life. From children and spouses, to nephews and neighbors, co-workers and companions, to be human is to be in relationship — and sometimes, relationships can be noisy places indeed. In this episode we explore some paradoxical approaches to silence — for example, Kevin speaks eloquently of finding the silence even in the midst of a baby's cry. He goes on to compare the challenges of balancing one's own needs with the needs of loved ones to the dance of attention in a meditation practice — between awareness of silence and the inevitable irruption of distracting thoughts. Keep the silence and stillness within. Because it's always there, right? It's always there. If you've met it once, if you've met it twice, if you've met it every day of your life, you know it's there, it's within. — Cassidy Hall But there's also the "inner relationship" — how we relate to our own self. Carl muses on how sometimes anxiety and depression come to call — and can make it challenging to remember that silence is always, already there. In all our relationships — whether internal or external — silence calls us out of a place of self-focus into a place where we can be concerned with loving others — or welcoming whatever arises in the context of our lives. Silence teaches us that silence is always present — even in the midst of a baby's cry, even in the midst of rage or fear or bitter loneliness. We look at the monastic notion of the "school of love," considering how silence is actually an instructor in the school of love — teaching us how to love others, as well as to love ourselves. But we also acknowledge that in relationships silence can sometimes be a way of avoiding intimacy — where "unheld conversations" can signify a kind of external silence which masks interior noise. Again, though, silence can be the doorway through which we move to find reconciliation or greater intimacy — even if it means moving through "the fire" of conflict or challenging conversations. Our conversation includes some thoughts on the sometimes contentious relationship between silence and language, and how poetry represents a way to bridge that particular gap. What is a poem? A poem is just a useless spray of language. And yet, in that useless spray of language we find beauty, we find meaning, we find insight, we find connection, we find ourselves.— Carl McColman Among the resources and authors we mention in this episode were poems by Rumi and Thomas Merton, and mention of the work of Cynthia Bourgeault as well as the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers, particularly in regard to the deadly or afflictive thoughts. The following resources can help you learn more: Coleman Barks, tr., The Essential Rumi (includes "The Guest House") Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening Thomas Merton's poem "Love Winter When the Plant Said Nothing" can be found in several books, including: Collected Poems of Thomas Merton In the Dark Before Dawn Emblems of a Season of Fury To learn more about the desert tradition of non-attachment to afflictive thoughts: Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter John Cassian, Conferences Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer What's the connection between words and silence is that they're so interpenetrated that you need to have them both. You actually can speak yourself into the silence... The only problem with words is that we get trapped in them. — Kevin Johnson Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.
Continuing the conversation that began with Episodes 1 and 2, we now turn to the question of how our relationship to silence can evolve over time. We take a closer look at how encountering silence has nurtured our faith in God — and how monasteries, churches, museums, the wilderness, and even a documentary film has played a role in our lives as each of us has "pursued" silence (or, perhaps we should say, how silence has pursued us). We explore how silence has been a teacher to each of us, teaching us the ways of silence, teaching us to simply "let silence be" and approach it in a spirit of humility and openness. We discuss the limitations of academic scholarship (at least in terms of relating to silence), the challenge of moving beyond dualisting thinking when relating to silence, and how essential art and poetry have been to us when it comes to our evolving relationship with silence — and our shared recognition that there is a deep intimacy between silence and beauty. We also look at silence as the center around which aesthetics, theology, and liturgy all revolve — each points back to the silence, which in turn "hosts" each of these ways of human knowing and expression. Silence for me has always been wrapped up with the question of the Divine. — Kevin Johnson It's so interesting to engage with a material that is not a material. It's like clothing a bodiless body. you can't do it, but we're forever trying. That's why this keeps constantly pointing me back to God because it's another aspect of my life that certainty always fails me. It's in the unknowing that I know. It's in my extreme amount of doubt that my faith is. It's the tension pieces, the paradox pieces. — Cassidy Hall Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Patrick Shen (director), In Pursuit of Silence (Documentary Film) Tilden Edwards, Embracing the Call to Spiritual Depth Gerald G. May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation Elias Marechal, Tears of An Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer Alex Lu, Soundtrack for In Pursuit of Silence Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1892-1910 Hans Urs Von Balthazar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics Karl Rahner, Encounters with Silence Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer Christian Bobin, The Eighth Day: Selected Writings Carl quotes Acts 17:28: "In Him we live and move and have our being" — which comes from a sermon of Saint Paul, who in turn is quoting the pagan poet Epimenides. The words are printed on the page just as the space between the ink is the page. It's all the page. There is a real presence of silence in the most ear-splitting noise. — Carl McColman Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut. Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta. Episode 4: Encountering Silence As Adults Hosted by: Carl McColman With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson Date Recorded: October 23, 2017
The Holiday Season can be joyful and/or stressful, which means this is a time when silence remains as important as ever. Join us for this special episode where Cassidy, Kevin and Carl talk about how we nurture a contemplative dimension to our holiday experience, without getting moralistic or legalistic about silence, but also retaining a sense of just how vital silence is to us at this time of the year. In this episode, we explore how silence is devalued in our culture (and why we need to resist that cultural prejudice), the relationship between silence and intentionality, how "letting go" is a portal into silence, the danger of "the materialism of information," how the spiritual concept of incarnation takes us outside of our comfort zone, how the body is our best friend for surviving the holidays, and much more. When we name silence, we lose it... As soon as we touch the word urgency to the lips of silence, we lose a sincere intimacy. So how do we maintain silence as urgent and important in our lives without making it legalistic, or precisely what it isn't? — Cassidy Hall Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Marvin C. Shaw, The Paradox of Intention Thomas Merton, Literary Essays Ernest Wood, A Zen Dictionary Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness Gerald May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works The Zen Proverb ("Quit Trying; Quit Trying Not to Try; Quit Quitting") shows up in: Carl McColman, Answering the Contemplative Call And one more book that this episode makes us think of: David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss You actually have to stop trying... if you attempt to be silent, if you make it an urgent goal, well then you never get there, silence never actually comes, there has to be kind of a letting go. — Kevin Johnson Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut. Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta. Episode 3: Encountering Silence During the Holidays Hosted by: Cassidy Hall With: Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman Date Recorded: December 19, 2017 Note: our next episode will be released on or about January 3, 2018. In the meantime, we wish you a merry Christmas (or the joyful observance of the holiday of your tradition) and a very happy new year.
How do we encounter silence in our teen years? Alone, or with others? In the woods, or at a church? With a sense of ecstasy, or perhaps even a healthy dose of "adolescent angst"? In this episode we continue the conversation about "meeting" silence in the days of our youth, this week focusing on our adolescence. Like in the previous episode, such encounters carry a variety of meanings and invitations into deeper reflection, including: The relationship between silence, nature, solitude, and spirit (Spirit); How silence can emerge out of even a noisy time in one's life; How silence transcends religion and spirituality to be a universal gift; How silence can meet us even in unintended ways and settings; The surprising way silence comes to us in mystical ways — and how even the most exalted mystical "experience" seems to carry its own challenges or difficulties; Pondering the relationship between silence and questions. I was immediately filled with questions, and I was immediately filled with, 'Why? What did I just do? Why did I do it?' and looking back upon that, to me, that was God in that experience — the questions; because I've always been a curious person, because God was in that mystery and the silence and the loneliness of that moment. — Cassidy Hall Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode: Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine Carl McColman, The Aspiring Mystic: Practical Steps for Spiritual Seekers Some of the albums Carl loved as a teenager include: Elton John, Greatest Hits Emerson Lake & Palmer, Self-Titled Genesis, Foxtrot Renaissance, Ashes Are Burning Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans And while we didn't mention them in this episode, our favorite monastic author and favorite documentary on silence always deserve a shout out: Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence Patrick Shen (director), In Pursuit of Silence It's beyond words, there's no way to describe this, but it really did make me feel that the world was a lot weirder than I thought it was, for the very first time, and I realized that my categories didn't make sense... — Kevin Johnson Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut. Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta. Episode 2: Encountering Silence In Adolescence Hosted by: Kevin Johnson With: Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman Date Recorded: October 10, 2017