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Silence: A User's Guide - Volume 1: Process Paperback – September 10, 2014
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''Today we are bombarded by so much noise--the blare of loudspeakers in our shopping malls, the roar of motorbikes, the screeching of cars on our highways, the banging of doors, a veritable cacophony of noise, all a mad turbulent rush. But sometimes we have the joy of silence--when we have been quiet and discovered how it all helped us to be creative, to think deeply. Two people in love often discover they have communicated wordlessly and deeply as they sat quietly and their spirits have embraced and kissed in the pregnant silence. Maggie writes out of a long and deep experience of silence. . . . She is a sure guide, authoritative and scholarly--her bibliography is formidable. What a splendid gift to God's children everywhere.''
--Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa
''Maggie Ross brings an extraordinary combination of practicality, scholarship, and prayerful reflection to this remarkable book. Readers cannot fail to profit from its many explorations, which lead to a passionate, iconoclastic, and cheering affirmation of the centrality of silence in our meetings with God.''
--Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
''Silence: A User's Guide is about silence--and also about words: about words that drown out silence, about poetic words that lead us deeper into silence and the community to be found in silence, about the mistranslated words that confuse the texts that speak most eloquently of silence, and about restoring the power of those great elementary words such as 'lo,' 'see,' 'yea,' and 'behold' that bring us closest to the truth of silence.''
--George Pattison, Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
''There could scarcely be a more urgently needed theological project than Maggie Ross's, to try and bring a bit of renewed clarity to the church's all too often somewhat mangled tradition of thinking about contemplative prayer. And it is a task she undertakes with delightful verve and acerbity.''
--Andrew Shanks, Canon Professor of Theology emeritus, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester, UK --Wipf and Stock Publishers
About the Author
Maggie Ross is an Anglican solitary. She lives in Oxford, England.
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The issues - like in any Zen Koan - lie deeper than that surface observation and are entwined and entangled with everything that is. This is precisely what make's Maggie Ross's book "Silence: A User's Guide" so very auspicious. Like the sword that cut the Gordian knot, she has taken us swiftly to the heart of the matter.
Not only does she help us see the vast landscape of inner processes and aggregates, she gives us new ways to hold onto previous knowledge we bring to the subject. Left brain and right brain are brought into our conversation early on. Self-consciousness and deep mind are added to the mix. Maggie paints for us - just this side of poetry - a vista of simple complexity that opens the mind to the wonder in a grain of sand. The one that is in the very far corner of this landscape she has given us. She focuses us again and again in a way that keeps us from plunging down any one rabbit hole for the answer and reminds us that answers are always beyond the beyond.
But, you get the sense from this work that you can really plunge into the stillness of silence and still define its edges while not stepping past them. You can hallow its precincts with words that are so very light they are transparent and do not block nor encumber the view.
If you will partner with her in the journey, she will give you space to figure out the vastness of the topic. For, is not silence as expansive as the universe is wide. While we may have a low-grade hum that is itself ever present in time and space as – I believe she says – a “b-flat”; is not the very constant presence of that thing itself a stillness and a platform upon which all silence is itself silent. And, there is the thing. Maggie walks us into riddles and lets us know that there is no one answer that defines “suchness”. Conundrum is closer to truth than matter.
I have seen the reviews that others have given Maggie's piece and I believe their words speak outside of the framework from within which Maggie is herself speaking. The richness of her understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the conversations concerning silence, and the patristic pronouncements of formation and direction that she eschews from the desert fathers and mothers, start in medias res and move forward at a rather fair clip. While anyone can grab hold of the book and join the conversation about silence, you better be prepared to do your homework on areas she inclines to point you toward going in her faced paced conversation.
I love that she spends a whole section of the book talking about the language or words we use in our conversations about silence. While she does grab hold of a whole lexicon worth our review, there are a few terms I wish she would add. Theoria and perhaps diakrisis and nepsis could be added. She leans into the deep headwaters of the Eastern Christian Tradition on silence and I think these words could help sustain some hunger in people for obtaining more in days ahead. But, all in all, this is a masterful guidebook on the issues.
The true work of silence is really the eternal recreation of creation; the becoming new of the person (and of course the cosmos as well). Transformation and transfiguration reveal the presence of the depth work that silence avails. And, clearly this is where silence is apt to take us when we have encountered it as either neophyte or awakened-one; to the path of wholeness.
Pushing silence out of our lives has fragmented human existence, experience, and rent our being asunder. Some find Maggie’s conversation about the damaging influences of the modern age upon our psyche and our soul to be harsh. For me, it sits quite nicely where it belongs – a truth hard to hear.
Maggie's conversation about deep-mind is an extension of - for me - the conversation about deep-imagery in poetry. It resonates with thinkers used to integrating the presence of the neo-cortex into the life of humanity. In this instance it is the value of the neo-cortex in humans to help us integrate the nature, and process of silence into all our life. It is a higher function of human beings – an executive function. Higher than reptilian "reaction" to life and threats; higher also than mammalian "nurturing" of intimacy and bonding.
Silence is the ground upon which we stand to gain a vantage point on existence; and from within which we move and have our being. But, that being said, it is not just an organ of discrimination and healing, it is the very place where our highest functioning as humans with a neo-cortex let go into the world of the spirit. The place of taking a leap – the place of pure AWARENESS.
This is why Maggie's conversation draws reference on many occasions to Jane Hirshfield's Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. It is about mind. It is about heart. It is about spirit. And, it is about the place where these all converge and conjoin.
Get the book and read it. You will not be disappointed.
But the frustration enters when the author takes it upon herself, in the name of her own "deep mind" interpretations and her idiosyncratique readings of the Bible, history and dogma, to bash creeds, hierarchy and just about anything else resembling a stable, historical, biblical and evangelical (read all that as "orthodox") Christianity. In the end, she paradoxically, while railing against the stable forms of the historical Faith, pontificates her own opinions on exegetical, doctrinal, and social and ethical concerns. In the end, she comes across as a new pope, as it were, announcing the assured results of her own subjective gnosis as what will commonly be the conclusions of us all if we will dare turn our attention to the deep mind. But, in fact, so many of her assertions merely reflect the current social and religious consciousness, the trends of a wayward and declining form of a nominal Christianity. As an aside: Her interpretation of the Reformation (as well as a quick swat at Jansenism) is woefully lacking in a fundamental grasp of what it was all about.The author could use a good and very big dose of Luther's insights as to the nature of revelation, and concomitantly, how one knows one has the true God rather than one's own idol etched out in the darkness of one's own inner consciousness.
In summary, what does the author present? It appears to be nothing but a very modern and individualistic (if not arrogant and preposterous) form of the ancient heresy of gnosticm, a neo-gnosticism if you will, all baptized in some borrowed language and images from the Bible and the historical spiritual tradition. The fact that a recognized theologian and former archbishop of Canterbury (who ought to know better) wrote a commending preface is rather unforgiving, if not frightening.
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