Occasionally I come across contemporary material that echoes the contemplative awareness that I first recognized in Merton. Such was this review of a book, “A Book of Silence”, by author Sara Maitland (“a very unlikely modern hermit”).
I am intrigued with the book, the review, and the author, herself. For one thing, she is exactly the same age as I am. She’s written several novels and has this to say about the tension between narrative and silence:
"Before I was deep into this stuff about silence," she recalls, "I was already having the doubts of my life as to whether narrative could carry meaning in a fragmented book. That didn't mean I couldn't write the books. But now I am at a point where it is phenomenally hard to think I'm ever going to write another one."
Her new lifestyle, which at first seemed to hold out the promise of relocating her muse, now seems to have set up a fresh obstacle to novel-writing. "There is a tension between silence and narrative. I've identified it in this book, but I haven't resolved it." It is not so much to do with the power of words – even when written not spoken – as breaking silence.
'...Silence is a lack, an absence, a void – silence is the negation of speech, and therefore of meaning and freedom. In the beginning was the word. I go on being certain that this is wrong, but I cannot pin down quite why it is wrong. I have been ... experiencing so many strongly positive instances of silence.'