Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

When silence means confronting reality

Not all tests of truth involve formal logic, or a science lab. Some require existential testing, much like a marriage or a doctor’s prescription.


Nigel Pocock


Gordon Brown promised more consumption in order to escape the banking crisis; more consumption drives wage demands, in a never ending circle, unless people find a means to get off.

The discipline (for that is what the monastic tradition is) offers one solution.

But couldn’t this, in itself, be yet another symptom of the narcissism endemic in western culture, part of the problem, and not a part of a cure?

I want to suggest that it is not, at least, if practiced as a discipline, and not as an indulgent ‘therapeutic’ reverie.

Paradoxical as it may seem to some, far from being a running away from reality, disciplined silence involves a resolute facing of reality.

In the Christian tradition, this involves listening prayer, and reflecting on what God has to say about a person’s life situation: a challenge. This is not self-pitying fantasy, but a working towards resolution and healing.

What then of the ‘discipline’ that prevents the practice of silence from being mere narcissism and self-indulgence, of the sort that created the problem in the first place?

For Christians, this lies in the structure and teaching, primarily of Jesus, itself sitting firmly on the Hebrew [Old] Testament, and developed by the apostle [‘messenger’] Paul.

For example, Jesus once had an encounter with two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is frantically busy, and complains about her sister who is sitting silently, listening to Jesus.

Yet, while Jesus recognises that Martha is troubled and anxious about her work, he congratulates Mary for taking time off to stop and listen, as having taken the better portion.

How are we to understand this? An extraordinary arrogance, egocentric, and narcissistic fantasy on the part of Jesus, that he should be privileged in this kind of way?

Perhaps the answer lies in Jesus’ own story about the good father: who, when asked by his child for a fish, gives him one, and not a poisonous snake, or when asked for an egg, gives him one, and not a poisonous scorpion?

God is like a good father, who wants his children to ask, and to receive, his good gifts (Luke, 10.38-41, 11.5-13).

Could this, instead, be a supreme example of a self-acceptance of a vocation that reaches out and empowers others, rather than the reverse?

If this is the case, then starting with listening, rather than importunity, makes all the sense in the world, quite literally.

Can atheists and agnostics experience prayerful silence? Not all tests of truth involve formal logic, or a science lab. Some require existential testing, much like a marriage or a doctor’s prescription.

A half-hearted commitment does not constitute a valid test of the truth of the claims made for either a marriage or a medical prescription.

If an atheist or agnostic can reflect on their ideals in a way that benefits not just them (= narcissism) but releases them to a universal good, then, for them, too, this discipline can only be for the healing of the nations. Blessed are the peacemakers!

(Photo: Pixabay)



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