Monday, January 21, 2013

Word and world

I have mentioned here before my friend Douglas Christie's fine book The Word in the Desert, a study of early Christian monasticism. Doug has a new book out, his magnum opus, published by Oxford University Press, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes For a Contemplative Ecology. Again he draws on the Christian monastic tradition, but contemporary secular resources too. If I can dare to summarize: How to live with hope in a broken world, and why it matters.

I'll have more to say in the next few days. But this morning I'm smiling and musing about the two epigraphs with which Doug begins one of his sections: "Perfect silence alone proclaims God," and "Seee sitli-sitli te-te-te-te-te-zrrrr."

The first is attributed to an early Christian theologian named Maximus the Confessor. The second to the White-crowned Sparrow.

The first has the quality of a Buddhist koan: a bit of contradiction masquerading as wisdom. And maybe there is wisdom there. If there is an agency worthy of our worship -- an agency sufficient to have created this universe of hundreds of billions (perhaps an infinite number) of galaxies -- surely it escapes the parochial categories of human language. I'm always astonished when I hear preachers or theologians going on and on about the attributes of God, as if they had just come back from having tea with the Deity. Better silence. Better to cultivate silence, and if God has anything to say, perhaps we will hear it.

Which brings us to the White-crowned Sparrow.

"Seee sitli-sitli te-te-te-te-te-zrrrr." It is revelation enough. The sheer is-ness of existence, whose ultimate source and meaning (if there is one) is forever mysterious, forever slipping though human or avian vocabulary like water through a sieve.

Even my agnostic reflections here, forgoing the existence of a knowable God, are saying too much. Better silence. And listening.

"Seee sitli-sitli te-te-te-te-te-zrrrr."

(Don't miss this evening's splendid conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. An occultation in much of South America.)