Monday, October 27, 2008

"A Book of Silence" - Sara Maitland

When I first started this blog, on December 8th 2006, I intended for it to be primarily centered on contemplative awareness and drawing from the writings of Merton. The blog has tended to be mostly Merton, and still generates quite a bit of traffic – over 25,000 hits, about 1000 a month – even when I don’t add any new material.

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.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

'...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.'
With that, I’m thinking that I may turn a corner with this blog, and venture more into subjects of contemporary contemplativeness. [Hat tip to Jim Forest for the book review.]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election Benediction

"Let us hope that what we will see in the next few years will surprise us by being less bad than we fear, and that God may show His Face and His truth in our history, in spite of the pride of men. And that we may reach a period of peaceful development, if it be possible."

-Thomas Merton, "The Courage for Truth", page 207

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Merton in Asia

From October 15 - December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton was journeying in Asia.

Forty years later, Rob Pollock, a minister in the United Church of Canada, is accompanying Merton, day by day, with an e-pilgrimage blog: Merton in Asia.

I find this blog especially intriguing because Pollock includes other news of the day, giving a cultural backdrop for the world in which Merton lived in 1968. For example, on October 22, 1968, the Apollo 7 splashed down, showing the excitement surrounding the space race between Russian and the United States.

I look forward to accompanying Rob and Merton on this day-by-day e-pilgrimage: Merton in Asia.

I've been interested in Thomas Merton for a number of years. I thought I'd like to discover a little more about his life so am remembering him 40 years after his pilgrimage to Asia in 1968. I'll be reading "The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton" (AJTM), studying some of the background texts, looking at the historical events of Merton's time, and generally using the opportunity to discover more about Thomas Merton and his message for today. - Rob Pollack


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