Silence, Broken Empty
What ever-present resource cannot be
Light green leaves waver in breeze this
June morning. Squirrel chatter berates presumption black charcoal
stove lid will dissuade ascent or descent to green bird feeder near
chapel/zendo. His diatribe is not praising my efforts to reserve
feeder for birds. There is no resource without theft and misappropriation.
Squirrels have to be factored. Hence we have payoff, pork, and protection
rackets from back alleys of Mott Street to corporation lobbyists
in halls of congress.
Meetingbrook settles into itself. Late
spring drives to Cape Breton and Lincolnville Beach Duck Trap River
gave looks at properties imagined for Retreat/Laura/Schola. Is it
just another attempt to see if seed-place might be an attractive
potential within our grasp? Are we squirrel or bird? For whom is
Cape Breton is lovely. Canada continues
to beckon. In these uncertain and disturbing times Canada remains
a refuge from new arrogance and messianic impulse descending on
Middle East territories. Occupiers or liberators? A shell game
question. Jargon replaces discourse. The language of economics and
shareholder benefit threatens to turn all rhetoric into profit and
loss bottom line bank statements.
In Lincolnville along Duck trap River
a Retreat Estate part of credit card bank's vast holdings is on
the market. It would make a lovely lay monastic hermitage retreat.
Would the CEO and bank donate it to Meetingbrook? Would it be a
place of silence and sanctuary? Or does other noise arrive to counter
dream? Squirrel comes chattering back for another attempt. I move
the resource. Squirrel scampers off.
For Meetingbrook the dream moves outside
to inside. Saskia "saw" the retreat property in dream,
a slumbering watchfulness the night before we happened upon the
place. Her dream was vivid, specific, and invitatory. A man at building
and water beckons. She wades in. Welcoming. It is wondrous how prolepsis
anticipation arrives at unknowing awareness.
In Laura Soul Friend Conversation Nan
speaks of her practice and how Meher Baba used the phrase something
to the effect, “ unknowing awareness, hollowing out.”
Squirrel maneuvers, scouts, plots and
scampers to feeding trough. I clap hands. Twice he exits. I am not
applauding. I am discouraging. He is maddened. Nuthatch returns.
Female cardinal comes and goes without seed. Squirrel falls three
times, four times.
We fall a lot. We madden friends with
our approach, assessment, and failures. What is this call
we respond to? And why are we so dense? Squirrel will not be dissuaded.
If the seed is there, it is there for him. Despite his unrelenting
passion to hoard resource for himself, he probably has a reasonable
right to share the seeds.
It is June. This June begins Meetingbrook
Hermitage's eighth year in town with its bookshop/bakery. Conversations,
hospitality, ordinary prayer and reflective meditation -- without
nametag or fanfare -- in marketplace by the harbor. It is a lovely
anniversary. Sitting on porch of cabin with sound of brook and birdsong
after silent sitting and chant this Tuesday morning is seed, is
Canon lawyer visited Meetingbrook from
Catholic diocese. She said she is confident the Bishop wishes to
write approval and encourage what Meetingbrook has become and continues
to be. It is always a matter of not interfering with the Spirit
drawing all into itself. Inclusion. Seed draws songbird and chattering
squirrel at same time to itself.
God is itself.
We become what and who we are in the
presence of itself. For anyone to dwell in the presence of itself
is to live a life of prayerful meditative association nearing God.
If Meetingbrook were capable of articulating
its goal it would be this -- to near God.
Where is God?
Near. And nearing.
No one can say with certainty where God
is not. God is not either side of the myriad dualisms. The myriad
dualisms serve our current mental state of consciousness. They serve
the mental ego’s function making distinctions, cultivating notions
of ‘other,’ and protecting the ego’s construct of a separate, isolated
self. They form a context of thought suggesting God might be in
a "place" somewhere we can recognize. The construct placing
God calls that place ‘good,’ and those at that place ‘good.’
Yet, can we say
anything of God that nears God? Or is the apophatic* tradition one
we might look to? Does nearing God require an unsaying, a silence
that does not feed the clamoring mind with discursive squirrel frenetic
racing to ‘there’ from ‘here’ and the good/bad, right/wrong, mine/yours
chattering of everyday mental activity and commerce?
* While Christianity and Hellenic
thought have quite different conceptions of the nature and function
of God, they are fully in agreement about His ineffability. As Raoul
Mortley said, "the via negativa... is the most remarkable feature
of the philosophical life of late antiquity, Greek and Christian."
(quoted in Pelikan 197) The use of this so-called negative, or apophatic,
(from Greek "to deny," or "to say no") theology
tends to take two forms. One form is a philosophical ana-lysis,
the "breaking apart" (from Greek "to undo" (Am.
Heritage Dic.)) of all qualities seemingly attributable to the divine
to arrive at an understanding of His underlying nonqualified nature
by knowing what that nature isn't. St. Macrina explained this method
in this manner: "In the very act of saying that a thing is
`not so and so,' we by implication interpret the very nature of
the thing in question." (Pelikan 205) This form of apophaticism
is more pervasive than might be realized. Words such as "infinite"
and "ineffable" are obviously negative. Less apparent
is the negation hidden in words like "individual" or "immense"
(not measurable). Finally there is apophaticism hidden even in positive
terms. For example, one defines God as "free" in order
to show that He lacks the contrarieties found in finite creatures,
and one calls Him "alive" merely to discriminate His nature
from that of the lifeless. (James 431)
The other form of apophaticism
is a more contemplative awareness of ineffability, a perception
of just how transcendent and thus incomprehensible God's nature
is. Armstrong says that, by this perception, "we mean that,
however dimly, we are aware in all things which we apprehend of
the presence of something or someone which exceeds them, and on
which their total existence depends, so that there is nothing in
them which is not there because of that presence, which... makes
them exist." (Armstrong 1979, essay XXIV, 177) This perception
affirms the incomprehensibility of God, who "exceeds"
all things. Contemplation of the created world points to its underlying
essence which is unattainable, for that which proceeds from the
Principle does not necessarily provide any clue as to the essence
of that Principle. An example is that a machine is produced by,
or proceeds from, a human maker, but an examination of the machine
would not necessarily provide any clues as to the essence of the
human. It may provide clues about the function of the maker, as,
for example, an umbrella handle implies the shape of the human hand.
Functionally, then, one could say that God's act of creating, for
example, which is self-evident, evidences His function as a Creator.
Such knowledge is indirect; it is not the same as "quidditative,"
or essential, knowledge. Even scripture can not provide a real description
of God's nature. "Who in the heaven can be compared unto the
Lord?" asks the Psalmist. (Ps 89:6)
It must be pointed out at the
beginning of this discussion that negative theology is not "negative"
in that word's usual sense. Part of the reason that the term `apophatic'
is pressed into service, says historian of Christianity Jaroslav
Pelikan, is because "speaking about a negative theology sounds--how
should one put it?--too negative." (Pelikan 1988, 6) Apophatic
theology is not to be understood as a form of skepticism or, far
less, atheism. Atheism is an active disbelief in or denial of divinity.
(Am. Heritage Dic.) As such, it is not so much the opposite of belief
as it is its dialectical component. That is, atheism shares the
same concerns as religion, i.e. the search for an absolute, but
differs only in that it arrives at a diametrically opposed answer.
While (most) religions emphatically posit an Absolute, atheism wholly
denies it; "There is no God," the atheist avows. (Pelikan
1993, 8) The antithesis of religious belief, then, would be skepticism,
a state of agnosticism or active doubt. Skepticism is to be distinguished
from apophaticism because it often takes the form of refraining
from making any statements and taking any stance, positive or negative.
The via negativa, however, is quite active; it is a way, or via,
of philosophizing. The genuine pursuer of the way of negation, writes
Armstrong, "spends his time destroying his God-concepts and
perhaps (if he is as radical as his principles require) undermining
his whole system of thought till it falls in ruins. Then he picks
himself up quite cheerfully and begins again." (Armstrong 1979,
essay XXIV, 178)
(in Saying Nothing about No-Thing: Apophatic Theology in
the Classical World, by Jonah Winters)
This “place,” (if that which is between
everything and among everyone can be designated as a “place”) is
an integrative, contiguous, interpenetrative, and undifferentiating
suchness. It is when, how, and where each is, and continually becomes,
itself. Mental formulations are not God. God is God.
The Celtic designation of "The Thin
Place" tries to help. It offers a view beyond the either/or
dichotomy. George MacLeod, founder of The Iona Community
called The Thin Place …“between prayer & politics, work &
worship, secular & sacred” … where we seek the “rebuilding of
the common life.”
What is common is what all shares. What
is common is what is shared by each and all. It is neither yours
nor mine, but ours. This “common life” is much misunderstood and
often feared. It is seldom tried and, with few exceptions, unsuccessful.
The "neither/nor" template
of inquiry has helped loosen the dualistic grip with which we inventory
most things. To wit, God is -- neither close nor far, neither in
nor out, neither full nor empty, male nor female, good nor evil,
Christian nor Jew, Muslim nor Hindu, Taoist nor Pagan, Orthodox
nor Liberal, Buddhist nor Unitarian, American nor Iraqi.
Dwelling near or nearing The Thin Place
is akin to removing the divisions and finding oneself at center
of contradiction. There, at center of contradiction, in the still
place where all contrary ways of saying what-is-there have enfolded
themselves into simple silence. At center of contradiction is unknowing
peace, or, as some have said, peace that surpasses understanding.
Bright red Cardinal arrives with sharp
chirp at feeder. Squirrel forages ground.
Is it time to remove the resource? The
aggressive bickering on the part of many squirrels keep far away
those for whom the seed is intended.
Is God near? Is God nearing?
Nearing God is not different from nearing
life or nearing death. Touch one, touch all three. And touch what
is at center of all three.
After seven years in town at the harbor
and eleven years at the foot of the mountain we approach silence.
We near seed. Like squirrel clamoring for what is near we try and
fall, leap and miss, speak and are wrong, seek and do not find.
Nor do we not find, nor are we wrong, nor do we remain fallen, nor
will we cease from inquiring into the now nearness of what is our
ground of being.
Ours is no other place, no other God,
and no other life. We are asked to empty our minds of distracting
dichotomies and center our hearts within empty openness. This Thin
Place, this between, this centering openness -- this is the practice
of no other. Neither mind nor heart knows what to make of the practice.
So, don't "make." Just visit, stay a while, dwell a moment
in this unmade place.
Squirrel looks at me on porch. We've
exhausted early morning. What do we do with our mind's frantic search,
our heart's clinging desire?
Come and go.
Come eat seed. Then go away. Stay near.
We do not have here, nor anywhere, any
permanent abode. We are visitors. Wanderers. Passing pilgrims. Transients
in a transitory time.
We look in on each other. We inquire
after each other. We share details and data about our efforts in
the world. We take to each other. We enter into, sometimes kindly
sometimes unkindly, one another’s lives. We counter kindness with
kindness, hurt with hurt, -- and sometimes -- hurt with kindness
and kindness with hurt. We do the best we can most the time. It
might not always be the best thing that can be done for the situation
-- but, well, there we are. Perhaps we’ll learn.
Red squirrel scares off chipmunk and
in turn has to move over for gray squirrel. Morning doves fly off.
Finch and chickadee, nuthatch and sparrow find feeder I moved to
distant temporary placement nearer barn. The ongoing competition
The seed of nearness, the dwelling reality
of absolute nearside, unsaying devotional silence in the presence
of each being – are these an ever-present resource that cannot be
Is this what we refer to as God? Is this
what we refer to as Original Oneness? True Reality? The face we
had before our mothers and fathers were born? Buddha-nature? Christ-nature?
Holy Spirit? Now?
The green canopy of late spring leaf
sways in soft breeze shading chapel/zendo near washing brook sounding
down Ragged Mountain.
Rhythmic chant song of squirrel and bird
fill morning with God's praising liturgy.
Meetingbrook returns to silence.
Seed resource. Broken empty.
, Sando , Cesco , Mu-ge
, and all who grace Meetingbrook,