I came across the above quote from Thomas Hardy’s notebooks via the latest post on Stephen Pentz’s blog First Known When Lost
Pentz highlights a poem by F T Prince inspired by this aphorism:
Stand at the grave’s head
Of any common
Man or woman,
Thomas Hardy said,
And in the silence
What they were,
Their life, becomes a poem.
And so with my dead,
As I know them
Now, in his
And wait for, yet a while hence,
My own silence.
F. T. Prince (1912-2003), Collected Poems: 1935-1992 (The Sheep Meadow Press 1993).
Pentz remarks on Prince’s twist on Hardy’ “prosaic”, changed to “common.” Perhaps for metrical or musical reasons? Hardy’s observation captures exactly a feeling I have long had, as some of my graveyard focused posts might suggest.
So here are some gravestones… as you do.
Continuing posts on heschyia (or heschuia) here is a passage from “The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty” by Paul Evdokimov
“It is very important to understand that apophatic theology, unlike agnosticism, is a particular way of “knowing through nonknowing.” It is the divine darkness conceived as a positive experience of God as the Existing One. Radical metanoia, the turning of the intellect up-side-down, the apophatic way limits nothing, for it goes beyond every limit toward the fullness of mystical union. Contemplation is therefore placed beyond discourse. The suspension of all cognitive, cataphatic activity culminates in hesychia, that is, the silent inner concentration, the gathering together of one’s inner forces where “peace goes beyond all peace“
I previously posted an extract from Alasdair McIntyre’s After Virtue on “hesuchia” – the rest that follows striving. I came across this from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart
The literal translation of the words “pray always” is “come to rest.” The Greek word for rest is hesychia, and hesychasm is the term which refers to the spirituality of the desert. A hesychast is a man or a woman who seeks solitude and silence as the ways to unceasing prayer. The prayer of the hesychasts is a prayer of rest. This rest, however, has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle. Abba Anthony even says to a fellow monk that it belongs “to the great work of a man . . . to expect temptations to his last breath.” Hesychia, the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world alluring, and the demons noisy. Mother Theodora, one of the Desert Mothers, makes this very clear: “. . . you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie [sense of boredom], faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away
From Henri Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
These examples of silence in preaching, counseling, and organizing are meant to illustrate how silence can help to determine the practical shape of our ministry. But let us not be too literal about silence.
After all, silence of the heart is much more important than silence of the mouth. Abba Poemen said: “A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent.”9 Silence is primarily a quality of the heart that leads to ever-growing charity.
Once a visitor said to a hermit, “Sorry for making you break your rule.” But the monk answered, “My rule is to practice the virtue of hospitality towards those who come to see me and send them home in peace.”10
Charity, not silence, is the purpose of the spiritual life and of ministry. About this all the Desert Fathers are unanimous.
Today is St Cuthbert’s Day. I must admit he wasn’t a saint I’d heard of before coming across Chris Watson’s work.
Watson has had an interesting and highly varied career. Formerly a member of the post punk group Cabaret Voltaire, he turned to recording the natural world. Many of the bird songs on the RSPB website are recorded by him. He also has created soundscape recordings. Like Gordon Hempton his work both documents vulnerable soundscapes and draws our attention to what we are losing.
A few years back he released In St Cuthbert’s Time, an attempt at sonic archaeology to reconstruct what the Holy Island of Lindisfarne might have sounded like at the time of St Cuthbert. From Boomkat.com:
Celebrating the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, Chris Watson has researched the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St Cuthbert in 700 A.D. ‘The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels’ manifests a remarkable tapestry of location recordings made on and around the small island off the Northumbrian coast – a place of pilgrimage for Christians and familiar to busloads of schoolkids across the North East – where Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne wrote and illustrated the titular Gospels during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. Each part reflects a particular season – ‘Winter’ is defined by cold, hard, constant North Sea winds and the sound of migratory flocks; ‘Lechten’ by busy bird calls and a strange unidentified, almost human-like woop and sploshing waters; ‘Sumor’ is a panorama of crickets, deep moos, bees, and cuckoos surrounded by water; ‘Haefest’ again by cornucopia of bird calls, and swooshing, almost industrial/industrious textures. You’ll have to use your imagination, but we’d reckon he’s vividly succeeded his aim to “reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity”. It’s a blissful, evocative, thought-provoking listen – so typical of Watson at his very best
From Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
Here we reach the point where ministry and spirituality touch each other. It is compassion. Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.
Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. It is in solitude that this compassionate solidarity grows.
In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart. In solitude our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people in a gesture of solidarity. If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, “Because it makes us die to our neighbor.”
At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other
From “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Nicolas Diat:
Mankind must join a sort of resistance movement. What will become of our world if it does not look for intervals of silence? Interior rest and harmony can flow only from silence. Without it, life does not exist. The greatest mysteries of the world are born and unfold in silence. How does nature develop? In the greatest silence. A tree grows in silence, and springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground. The sun that rises over the earth in its splendor and grandeur warms us in silence. What is extraordinary is always silent. In his mother’s womb, an infant grows in silence. When a newborn is sleeping in his crib, his parents love to gaze at him in silence, so as not to awaken him; this spectacle can be contemplated only in silence, in wonder at the mystery of man in his original purity.”