Friday, August 24, 2012

words that divide

A conversation with a noted theological teacher and writer focusses around God language. The question that comes to many is that how do we use words that seem to be fused to a set definition. Buber somewhere laments that the word 'God' has become so overlaid with a set meaning that the many want to jettison words that seem to lock us into dualism or images that seem to suck the life out of spiritual seekers. He calls on us not to give up on the word but to work with the images. We are indeed the victim of literalism in our spiritual lives transposing the requirement for precision in science to the language of faith which is always poetic, metaphorical and multi layered through which through paradox and prayer we catch a glimpse of a wisdom where we catch our breath in wonder. Like an high board diver we climb the rungs, stand on the board and let go diving into the water in the interplay of words and silence in prayer and spiritual expression. How can faith communities give up clutching at words making space for the divine Logos, the whole whole ness drawing us to the One and animating poor words with the sparkle of love and hope, transformation and resurrection. Yes let us unfurl the banner of traditional languaging but not to fight a battle but to call to a careful confidence. When we allow ourselves to be silenced other than for reasons of love and magnanimity we are colluded with a binary definition of word and silence that handcuffs the spiritual community and the soul seeker.

The enchantment of words and voice

Pierre Lacout, wrote in 'God is Silence', "words divide, silence unites" setting this in an extended meditation on the power of silence in the spiritual life. Words have an enchanting power to unite, one hopes for a good and life giving purpose. During the winter month of July I have been leading four hour meditation sessions at the Oasis, the interfaith chaplaincy centre at Flinders University. Despite the cold cutting wind cutting through the breezeways at the University set on a hill overlooking the wider metropolitan city of Adelaide the warmth at the Oasis was warm and inviting. Taking the journey into silence with faculty and students generated a powerful healing energy for me as I 'took the wheel' so to speak as the facilitator standing in for one of the chaplains away on maternity leave. I have been left with a beautiful momento in the shape of a box with feathers and a stone or two and a card. It will be a reminder of four epic journeys into silence, space, healing and discovery

One of the insights generated by Neuro Lingustic Programming as it tracked 'wizards' of communicating genius is the sheer power of language spoken internally and externally in shaping our experience of being in the world. Coupled with research into hypnosis, through the genius of people like Milton Erikson stories and phrases that generate trance offers an individual room to explore their internal world. At Flinders University I used some traditional myths to invite those present in the room the ability to generate visualisations and internal sensory representations that served their wellness and flourishing in the world. I did some preparation before but for me the meditations seemed to just unfold at their own pace and in their own way. It's like presenting a reflection with a congregation that you feel to be on the same wave length or a deeply gathered Quaker meeting where words and images come clearly into awareness. There is kind of spirit guiding those words that seem to arise from beyond the ability of the leader. There is a greater guidance and I feel the pulse of energy flowing in the room.

Strangely silence is created by the spoken word, the cadence of the spoken phrases, the connection between the ideas presented and there is a strangeness about this experience since the wording is unlike normal discourse. Fluffy phrases, vagueness, evocative, words that double back on themselves or that have a range of possible meanings, far from confusing open a deeper consciousness within the room provided that the hearer feels they have choices to participate and trust the leader.

Silence in this human experience is framed by words and ideas where the soul seems to drop way beyond the words into a deeper and deeper relaxation where the Great Spirit can work. 'Yes' words can unite and that is indeed their danger. Choose your enchantment carefully.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Edith Stein

Seventy years ago on this day, the 9th August, Edith Stein died at Auschwitz alongside many Jewish people. One theologian said after the war that talk of God is impossible after the death camps. I suggest that another way of reflecting is to ensure that philosophical and theological conversation occurs always with an understanding of the cheapness of human life and the efficient ways human beings have developed to kill others. It's also to remember that behind genocide lie a series of ideas that grow into beliefs. Edith Stein was a brilliant phenomenologist who worked with  Husserl and is still highly regarded today although phenomenology has become more the investigation of lived experience as it has met post modern trends of thinking. Edith converted to the Catholic faith, entered Carmel and took the name Benedicta of the Cross. The embrace of the cross was an embrace of a vocation to be a bridge builder with the Jewish people and as part of offering her life  in solidarity with the suffering. Before her conversion while she was searching she visited a Cathedral.

"we went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue as in the Protestant Churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was somebody coming into the empty church in the middle of a days work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that" (page 63 Edith Stein by Waltraud Herbstrith)

As a Carmelite nun she was encouraged to continue her work as a philosopher while living a life of prayer, worship and work. She wrote of God; 'You are the space embracing all my being, hidden in it. Loosened from you I fall into the abyss'  She died in the abyss but for her as for many others this was precisely the abyss where the love of God was present since she brought always a hope into every conversation which went beyond shallow optimism and pessimism. Living at a time when shallow optimism is almost an expectation of all right thinking people so called Edith Stein shines still as a star of faith, hope and love. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on this anniversary of your death when like the grain of wheat you died may new hope spring up where silence is a place of listening and hope and not the silence of paralysis.

City streets

This morning waiting in central Adelaide I listened to the soundscape and it came to me that there is an almost universal experience of the mixture of sounds. With a city scape dominated by tall buildings and narrow streets sounds echo. Somewhere there is jackhammer since buildings are always being constructed or new services laid in the streets. There is the wail of an emergency vehicle, the sound of heels clicking across footpaths and a range of sounds as large packages cling wrapped in plastic are offloaded from a van with the whine of an electrical lift. The city has its own weather as winter winds howl between tall buildings to chill the heart funneling through the maze of streets and in summer the heat is held in all the concrete. Yet winter or summer that characteristic echo of delivery, building, building alarm, police car is present in differing volumes. Yet I could hear much the same in New York or Sydney, or London since every tall building CBD tends to create this soundscape. It's not a very friendly place for humans. These streets must shield the occasional al fresco seating from the weather but most endure and go indoors when they can do so, shadows into shadows. At least in Adelaide open squares are not far away

Monday, August 6, 2012

Winter night

The light has faded and the lemon scented gum vague shadow of branches moving in the wind. Skeins of raindrops scatter across this iron roof. A possum runs a tangent course urgently seeking something as nearby a Boobok calls and is answered. On a Sunday night traffic noise fades, a train horn sounds from a distance and a girl laughs to her friend on the footpath as they make their way home through the dark mist that descends at night to enclose this house as if it were magically floating in a cloud.

The wearing

The sound of car tyres on road could be a gust of wind across long grass but it is not! It could be the movement of air as a skein of pelicans flies overhead, gaining hight to take a journey working hard to discover the thermals to bear them aloft. Car and truck tyres passing in the far distance can provide a kind of sonic cairn that civilization, the possibility of travel, of movement a sense of comfort at being rooted in this spot in space and time. The constant fading and resumption of this noise, sometimes with a discordant rhythmic quality in rush hour then add water and the sound is different but still deeply wearing cutting sonic tracks across my thinking and breathing as I walk along the footpath. Drivers enclosed listening to music as the world passes by are immune to this wearing sound of tyre on road. I too contribute to this wearing pollution that must for so many living creatures be a stressful burden to constantly bear. When out with the dog I wear earplugs until turning off the road, the sound fades and I remove the earplugs to be refreshed by the song of birds, the movement of the air through trees, the distant cry of children and a violin being practiced in a nearby residence. Tyre noise the monoculture of a restless capitalism and a disconnected world from the landscape of a rich diversity of sounds.

Turning off the tap

I love the antiphonal singing of the black and white magpie lark, a dance of harmonies intermingled evoking a sense of place and of connection. One has decided that the mirror of my car poses a threat perching awkwardly this bird attacks his own image with persistence and energy determined no doubt to see off a threat so perfectly matched to his own. There is a philosophical moment of reflection about the uselessness of some of the ways I project energy when in a more reasoned moment I am engaging with an image I have created, assuming a stance and losing a wider more nuanced perspective. I want to turn off the tap of this bird. Something in me imagines the spine jarring crash of slender bill against toughened mirror glass with a sense of empathy that shakes me with discomfort. There is the concern over mirrors so expensive to replace and the need to remove the bird droppings that accumulate below the smeary mirror. I take care to remember to fold in the drivers mirror on leaving the car and closing the door. When I forget, the moment of guilt as the tap continues unabated.  This tap could be anything, a branch blowing against the porch, a mechanical tap of some domestic machine that serves a useful purpose, the drum of fingers against a table to aid immersion in a book or the tap of a hot engine cooling after the assault on the winding climbing road from the plain. A tap of gentle rain is welcome, somehow enclosing the listener in a sense of security. The wild tap of the magpie lark is dispiriting, grating into the inner being with a sense of uselessness, pain, discomfort and anxiety. Tap tap tap, this enemy in the mirror will not be defeated, this is a dual to the death unless somehow the image is so smeared in pain that the contest is too obscured to continue. Tap tap tap. Dear bird resume your wild, melodic antiphonal singing that calls forth my gratitude. Bird fly away, please!