from “Small, Silent, Still” – Fr Paul D Scalia

Full piece here. An interesting interview with Fr Scalia – son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – here

 We require that God be as we want Him: big, loud, efficient. Big and obvious, so that we can see Him and not have to walk by faith. Loud, so that we can hear Him and not be taxed by silence.  Efficient, lest we have to endure any waiting.  Our worship and culture follow suit.  Indeed, few things are more obvious than our culture’s addiction to spectacles, noise, and instant gratification.

In contrast, our Lord gives us two parables about the Kingdom of God: the seed sown in the ground and the mustard seed. (Mk 4:26-34)  These hit us where we live.  They require us to detach from the big, loud, and efficient and to accustom ourselves to the hidden, silent, and slow.

The Kingdom has, first, a silent and hidden growth.  It is like that seed scattered on the land that sprouts and grows of its own accord, and the sower knows not how.  The growth is unheard and unseen, beyond our reach and control.  It requires faith that He is indeed at work and trust that, in Romano Guardini’s words, “The silent forces are the strong forces.”

This Kingdom grows at its own pace, not the sower’s.  It calls for patience.  We cannot command it or set its schedule.  Indeed, our schedule must yield to its pace.  Further, the Kingdom is small – like that smallest of seeds that when sown, “springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”  We prefer something more certain, something big and clearly powerful.  But here we must trust in the fruitfulness of what appears entirely insufficient.

 

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Learning How To See Again, Josef Pieper

Learning How To See Again, Josef Pieper

LEARNING HOW TO SEE AGAIN
By Josef Pieper (translated by Lothar Krauk)

from Only The Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation 

 

Man’s ability to see is in decline. Those who nowadays concern

themselves with culture and education will experience this fact again and
again. We do not mean here, of course, the physiological
sensitivity of the human eye. We mean
the spiritual capacity to perceive the visible reality
as it truly is.
To be sure, no human being has ever really seen
everything that lies visibly in front of his eyes.
The world, including its tangible side, is unfathomable.
Who. would ever have perfectly perceived
the countless shapes and shades of just one

wave swelling and ebbing in the ocean! And yet,
there are degrees of perception. Going below a
certain bottom line quite obviously will endanger
the integrity of man as a spiritual being. It seems
that nowadays we have arrived at this bottom
line.
I am writing this on my return from Canada,
aboard a ship sailing from New York to Rotterdam.
Most of the other passengers have spent
quite some time in the United States, many for
one reason only: to visit and see the New World
with their own eyes. With their own eyes: in this lies
the difficulty.

During the various conversations on deck and
at the dinner table I am always amazed at hearing
almost without exception rather generalized statements
and pronouncements that are plainly the
common fare of travel guides. It turns out that
hardly anybody has noticed those frequent small
signs in the streets of New York that indicate
public fallout shelters. And visiting New York
University, who would have noticed those stonehewn
chess tables in front of it, placed in Washington
Square by a caring city administration for
the Italian chess enthusiasts of that area?!
Or again, at table I had mentioned those magnificent
fluorescent sea creatures whirled up to the
surface by the hundreds in our ship’s bow wake.
The next day it was casually mentioned that “last
night there was nothing to be seen”. Indeed, for
nobody had the patience to let the eyes adapt to
the darkness. To repeat, then: man’s ability to see
is in decline.
Searching for the reasons, we could point to
various things: modern man’s restlessness and
stress, quite sufficiently denounced by now, or his
total absorption and enslavement by practical
goals and purposes. Yet one reason must not be
overlooked either: the average person of our time
loses the ability to see because there is too much to
see!

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There does exist something like “visual noise”,
which just like the acoustical counterpart, makes
clear perception impossible. One might perhaps
presume that TV watchers, tabloid readers, and
movie goers exercise and sharpen their eyes. But
the opposite is true. The ancient sages knew exactly
why they called the “concupiscence of the
eyes” a “destroyer”. The restoration of man’s inner
eyes can hardly be expected in this day and
age-unless, first of all, one were willing and determined
simply to exclude from one’s realm of
life all those inane and contrived but titillating illusions
incessantly generated by the entertainment
industry.

You may argue, perhaps: true, our capacity to
see has diminished, but such loss is merely the
price all higher cultures have to pay. We have lost,
no doubt, the American Indian’s keen sense of
smell, but we also no longer need it since we have
binoculars, compass, and radar. Let me repeat: in
this obviously continuing process there exists a
limit below which human nature itself is threatened,
and the very integrity of human existence is
directly endangered. Therefore, such ultimate
danger can no longer be averted with technology
alone. At stake here is this: How can man be saved
from becoming a totally passive consumer of
mass-produced goods and a subservient follower
beholden to every slogan the managers may proclaim?
The question really is: How can man preserve
and safeguard the foundation of his spiritual
dimension and an uncorrupted relationship to reality?

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The capacity to perceive the visible world
“with our own eyes” is indeed an essential constituent
of human nature. We are talking here about
man’s essential inner richness-or, should the
threat prevail, man’s most abject inner poverty.
And why so? To see things is the first step toward
that primordial and basic mental grasping of reality,
which constitutes the essence of man as a spiritual
being.
I am well aware that there are realities we can
come to know through “hearing” alone. All the
same, it remains a fact that only through seeing,
indeed through seeing with our own eyes, is our
inner autonomy established. Those no longer able
to see reality with their own eyes are equally unable
to hear correctly. It is specifically the man
thus impoverished who inevitably falls prey to the
demagogical spells of any powers that be. “Inevitably”,
because such a person is utterly deprived
even of the potential to keep a critical distance
(and here we recognize the direct political relevance
of our topic).

The diagnosis is indispensable yet only a first
step. What, then, may be proposed; what can be
done?
We already mentioned simple abstention, a regimen
of fasting and abstinence, by which we
would try to keep the visual noise of daily inanities
at a distance. Such an approach seems to me
indeed an indispensable first step but, all the same,
no more than the removal, say, of a roadblock.
A better and more immediately effective remedy
is this: to be active oneself in artistic creation, producing
shapes and forms for the eye to see.
Nobody has to observe and study the visible
mystery of a human face more than the one who
sets out to sculpt it in a tangible medium. And this
holds true not only for a manually formed image.
The verbal “image” as well can thrive only when
it springs from a higher level of visual perception.
We sense the intensity of observation required
simply to say, “The girl’s eyes were gleaming like
wet currants” (Tolstoy).
Before you can express anything in tangible
form, you first need eyes to see. The mere attempt,
therefore, to create an artistic form compels
the artist to take a fresh look at the visible
reality; it requires authentic and personal observation.
Long before a creation is completed, the artO
ist has gained for himself another and more intimate
achievement: a deeper and more receptive
vision, a more intense awareness, a sharper and
more discerning understanding, a more patient
openness for all things quiet and inconspicuous,
an eye for things previously overlooked. In short:
the artist will be able to perceive with new eyes the
abundant wealth of all visible reality, and, thus
challenged, additionally acquires the inner capacity
to absorb into his mind such an exceedingly
rich harvest. The capacity to see increases.

Robert Sardello on the many types of Silence

from “Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness” by Robert Sardello:

Everything, it seems, has its own quality of silence. It is a unified but many-qualitied phenomenon. The Silence of high, rocky mountains can be felt as an immensity of Silence that contacts us in such a way that we feel ourselves as one with its immensity, its immovability, and its vastness. In such moments, these spiritual qualities are alive and animated. A dense forest has another kind of Silence. It’s darker, deeper, and more inward; we feel our experience much more from within our body. There are also the happy silences of the wandering stream, the radiant but oppressive silence of the pyramids, the magical silence of the stars casting spells over the whole of the earth, the vast interior silence of the cathedral whose walls seem built around the silence, and the silence of a leaf falling into the Silence that enfolds it. We can imagine assembling a vast catalogue of such qualities of Silence. The great Silence of the sky stretches over all silences; beneath all silences lies the great Silence of the earth.

Magheragallon Poem #1

Here, the edge of the edge of Europa,
Ocean winds shoot through me, around me.
Here, the edge of a brief archipelago,
Stones stretching into the Atlantic,
Here, at the edge of a great renunciation –
No, the greatest renunciation.

What is it that is renounced?
What is it that is not rejected?
What is it that is accepted?

An island in name only.
A tree blind to its forest.

A forest everywhere, invisible, Nowhere.

The panorama of jagged Errigal, softer hills,
White houses, marram, bogland, the sea, the sea.
And closer to – a panorama of memorial, of invocations, of supplications.

A landscape drawn by lines of silence.

You,
The big other, inescapable.
Closer than close, far away.

Walls of heaped stone enclose
That undiscovered country
You have discovered.
The sky above boundless, free.

Our ending is everywhere, nowhere, invisible, inescapable,

Drawn by lines of silence.

Denise Levertov, “Conversion of Brother Lawrence”

I particularly love the lines “your way was not to exalt nor avoid
the Adamic legacy, you simply made it irrelevant” – which neatly summarises Brother Lawrence’s way of deceptive simplicity.

Let us enter into ourselves, Time presses.’

Brother Lawrence 1611-1691

1.

What leafless tree plunging
into what pent sky was it
convinced you Spring, bound to return i
n all its unlikelihood, was a word
of God, a Divine message?
Custom, natural reason, are everyone’s assurance;
we take the daylight for granted, the moon,
the measured tides. A particular tree, though,
one day in your eighteenth winter,
said more, an oracle. Clumsy footman,
apt to drop the ornate objects handed to you,
cursed and cuffed by butlers and grooms,
your inner life unsuspected,
you heard, that day, a more-than-green
voice from the stripped branches.
Wooden lace, a celestial geometry,
uttered more than familiar rhythms of growth.
It said By the Grace of God.
Midsummer rustled around you that wintry moment.
Was it elm, ash, poplar, a fruit-tree, your rooted
twig-angel of annunciation?

2

Out from the chateau park it sent you
(by some back lane, no doubt,
not through the wide gates of curled iron),
by ways untold, by soldier’s marches,
to the obscure clatter and heat of a monastery kitchen,
a broom’s rhythmic whisper for music,
your torment the drudgery of household ledgers. Destiny
without visible glory. ‘Time pressed.’ Among pots and pans,
heart-still through the bustle of chores,
your labors, hard as the pain in your lame leg,
grew slowly easier over the years, the years
when, though your soul felt darkened, heavy, worthless,
yet God, you discovered, never abandoned you but walked
at your side keeping pace as comrades had
on the long hard roads of war. You entered then
the unending ‘silent secret conversation,’
the life of steadfast attention.
Not work transformed you; work, even drudgery
was transformed: that discourse
pierced through its monotones, infused them w
ith streams of sparkling color.
What needed doing, you did; journeying if need be
on rocking boats, lame though you were,
to the vineyard country to purchase the year’s wine
for a hundred Brothers, laughably rolling yourself
over the deck-stacked barrels when you couldn’t
keep your footing; and managed deals with the vintners
to your own surprise, though business was nothing to you.
Your secret was not the craftsman’s delight in process,
which doesn’t distinguish work from pleasure—
your way was not to exalt nor avoid
the Adamic legacy, you simply made it irrelevant:
everything faded, thinned to nothing, beside
the light which bathed and warmed, the Presence
your being had opened to. Where it shone,
there life was, and abundantly; it touched
your dullest task, and the task was easy.
Joyful, absorbed,
you ‘practiced the presence of God’ as a musician
practices hour after hour his art:
‘A stone before the carver,’
you‘entered into yourself.

First Conversation, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, Brother Lawrence

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More on this book.

The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the third of August, in the year 1666. He told me God had done him a great favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen. That winter, he saw a tree stripped of its leaves and that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and soon the flowers and fruit would appear again. Brother Lawrence received such an impression of the providence of God from this image, that his soul never forgot. This vision set him loose from the world so perfectly, and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased at all in the forty years since.

Previously Brother Lawrence had been footman to Mr. Fieubert, the treasurer. While working for Mr. Fieubert, Brother Lawrence considered himself a great awkward fellow who broke everything. So Brother Lawrence desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that there he would be made to suffer for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit.

He concluded he should sacrifice his life to God, along with its pleasures. But God disappointed this wish to give up pleasure, for Brother Lawrence soon found nothing but satisfaction in this state. According to Brother Lawrence, we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually speaking with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, and to think of trifles and fooleries. Instead, we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which yield us great joy.

We ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It is sad that we have so little faith. Instead of taking faith for the rule of conduct, we amuse ourselves with trivial devotions which change daily. The way of faith is the spirit of the Church, and it is sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God, with regard both to things temporal and spiritual. We ought to seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will, whether He leads us by suffering or by peace, for these are no different to a soul truly following Him.

We must be faithful in times of dryness or insensibility or irksomenesses in prayer, by which God tries our love of Him. Then is the time for us to make good acts of our trust in Him, whereby often a single one alone would promote our spiritual advancement.

As for the miseries and sins heard of in the world, Brother Lawrence was so far from being surprised at them, that on the contrary, he wondered why there were not more, considering the darkness sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them. And knowing that God could remedy the sins committed when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.

To arrive at the abandon that God requires, we should watch attentively over all the passions which mingle in spiritual things. God will give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.

Brother Lawrence welcomed me saying that if it was my sincere intention to serve God, I might come to visit with him as often as I pleased, without any fear of troubling him. But if not, I ought to visit him no more.

from Riven Press edition, translated Ryan Moore and Josh Jeter.

“Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian”

From “Lieber’s Lament”, Chapter 6, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., George Steiner:

As it is written in the learned Nathaniel of Mainz: there shall come upon the earth in the time of night a man surpassing eloquent. All that is God’s, hallowed be His name, must have its counterpart, its backside of evil and negation. So it is with the Word, with the gift of speech that is the glory of man and distinguishes him everlastingly from the silence or animal noises of creation. When he made the Word, God made possible also its contrary. Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian. No, He created on the night-side a language a speech for hell. Whose words mean hatred and vomit of life