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The Power of Silence > Introduction & Chapter I

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message 1: by Manny (last edited May 29, 2018 07:24AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
The form of Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise is rather odd, or at least different. The book is facilitated by Nicolas Diat, and apparently the two combined in Cardinal Sarh’s other book, God or Nothing, which I have to admit I have not read. Nicolas Diat is a French author and journalist who writes of Catholic issues, and Robert Cardinal Sarah, born in French Guinea (known today simply as Guinea) is one of the leading Cardinals in the College of Cardinals. I believe he was on the short list for the Papacy. In a way he stands as the intellectual heir to Pope Benedict XVI, which is saying quite a lot to Cardinal Sarah’s acumen. What makes the form of this book different is that though it’s a book of non-fiction it is not shaped as an evolving argument.

The form is that of an extended interview. Diat will ask a question and Cardinal Sarah addresses the question in a discourse, either in a short paragraph or in a lengthy treatise. Obviously this wasn’t developed as an actual oral interview, but some means of written composition. At least that’s how it seems to me. What you get is a non-linear form of argumentation. It’s almost circular to me. I don’t mean that as a circular argument, but of circling around a central point. The central thesis of the book is answered right up front in the very first paragraph of chapter one. Diat asks the Cardinal how are we to understand silence, and Sarah responds with:

There is one great question: how can man really be in the image of God? He must enter into silence.

When he drapes himself in silence, as God himself dwells in a great silence, man is close to heaven, or, rather, he allows God to manifest himself in him. (p.21)


From that central thesis, Diat and Sarah circle around the theme to fully expound all the ramifications, all the nuances, all the richness of the thought, and, indeed, all implications. So, Diat and Sarah don’t build linearly to a conclusion but circle the heart of the thesis until one is left knowing everything there is to know about the transformative wonder of silence.

The “Introduction” stands outside that interview structure. Diat sets up what inspired the book, and that was a relationship that had developed between Cardinal Sarah and Carthusian monk Brother Vincent. Not only are Carthusian monks under the practice of limited sppech but Brother Vincent had some incurable disease that prevented him from speaking altogether. So this was a very intense and out of the ordinary friendship, even beyond Brother Vincent’s death.

The friendship was born in silence, it grew in silence, and it continues to exist in silence.

The meetings with Brother Vincent were a fragment of eternity. We never doubted the importance of each of the minutes spent with him. Silence made it possible to raise every sentiment toward the most perfect state. When it was necessary to leave the abbey, we knew that Vincent’s silence would make us stronger to confront the world’s noises. (p. 10)


Diat goes on to tell that this book could never have been written without Brother Vincent.

He showed us that the silence into which illness had plunged him allowed him to enter ever more deeply into the truth of things. God’s reasons are often mysterious. Why did he decide to try so severely a young man who was asking for nothing? Why such a cruel, violent, and painful sickness? Why this sublime meeting between a cardinal who had arrived at the summit of the Church and a sick person confined to a room? Silence was the salt that seasoned this story. Silence was the elevator to heaven. (p. 11)


I have to say, that ever since reading that introduction and the first chapter, "Silence versus the World's Noise." I have looked for moments of complete silence. It’s actually very difficult to find. There is always some noise occurring in the background, and that is actually frustrating. But on those moments of pure silence, which probably don’t last more than a minute except perhaps in the middle of night, I have found that silence to be immensely pleasurable. It is utterly soothing. There is something to its power. Cardinal Sarah is on to something.


message 2: by Galicius (last edited May 28, 2018 04:52PM) (new)

Galicius | 469 comments Seven ways I respond to this reading (thus far):

Take its message at its word, say nothing at all, and try contemplation in silence as the “most profound life of all and the truest.” (p. 72)

Sell, give away all earthly possessions, and follow Jesus.

Apply for admission to a monastery as it provides the “best earthly setting for the person who wants to ascend toward the One who awaits him.” (p. 72)

Escape to the desert.

I thought I would hear something about the active and growing Catholic Church in Africa, as described by John Allen in “The Future Church” which we read here not long ago, as this is a book by an African prelate but alas this book sounds entirely European—a compendium of writings by mostly European and Bible land mystics and saints on escaping the world into contemplation and silence. Is it true that Cardinal Sarah left Africa in 2001 and is out of touch with what goes on in the active and growing Catholic Church in Africa?

I have conflicting feelings as I am also reading a forgotten work “Kindness” by a 19th Century Churchman Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). He writes: A kind man is never self-occupied. Kindness is a great part of spiritual life but he sees that devout people as a class are “the least kind of all classes.” Faber writes that this is a scandalous thing to say but this is a fact. “Religious people are an unkindly lot. Poor human nature cannot do everything; and kindness is too often left uncultivated because men do not sufficiently understand its value.” (p. 43)


message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Galicius, what made you think this would be about Africa? None of the book descriptions even remotely suggested it. Cardinal Sarah is way more than just an African Cardinal. He was on the short list for the Papacy, and I hold out hope that he may be the next Pope, though he is already 72. Cardinal Sarah has obviously absorbed the entire Catholic tradition.

Is the book European? The book is Catholic, and I don't think African Catholicism is any different, especially in its intellectual foundation. If anything African Catholicism is more traditional Catholic than what European Catholicism has evolved to. This book is of the contemplative tradition, which goes back to the Desert Fathers. However, the book it reminds me the most is Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. If you get a chance, compare the two. I should dig out my copy and compare as well.


message 4: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Manny wrote: "However, the book it reminds me the most is Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ."

That's an interesting commentary. I would not have thought of it.

But here is a bit of trivia: This year marks the 600th anniversary of Kempis's publication. I've already been thinking we might want to read it later in the year ...if everyone wants to :)


message 5: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
The description in the introduction when Cardinal Sarah arrives at Grande Chartreuse and it is snowing is just perfect,

"Thick clumps of snowflakes fell, the wind rushed into the fir trees, but the silence already enveloped our hearts."

Here we have a very adept metaphor, where the outer silence mirrors the inner silence sought.
Whenever it snows, the world is hushed. The falling flakes and the accumulation absorb all noise.


message 6: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Wikipedia entry on Grande Chartreuse
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grande_...

The setting of the monastery is incredible. When you google it click on "images", and you will see at least in some of the pictures the majestic mountain setting. Me, I just want to jump into the picture and start hiking :) There are very few landscapes that envelop you in such majesty and yet in utter silence if you are lucky enough to find yourself in solitude.
There are other such places in the Alps I am familiar with, but I think this one is hard to beat.


message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Yikes, I made a mistake in the summary above. The first chapter is not called “God Does Not Speak, but His Voice is Quite Clear," that's the second chapter. The first chapter is called "Silence versus the World's Noise." I'll correct that.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "Manny wrote: "However, the book it reminds me the most is Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ."

That's an interesting commentary. I would not have thought of it.

But here is a bit of trivia..."


This is the 600th year? Someone should nominate it. It's one of those books all Catholics should read at some point.

Those were lovely pictures of the monastery.


message 9: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
It would be an inexpensive read - there is no doubt Kempis is in the public domain :) , which will come up after "Purgatorio" in the rotation.


message 10: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "It would be an inexpensive read - there is no doubt Kempis is in the public domain :) , which will come up after "Purgatorio" in the rotation."

Sounds ideal. Let's see how it works out.


message 11: by Friar Stebin (new)

Friar Stebin John Capuchin (capfriar) | 38 comments This book is really a challenge to me. To create a silence of the heart. We in the community keep the silence at certain times but how to shut the heart it is really challenging. I know unless keeping the heart and mind in silence we cannot be a prayerful person. We will be like chatterboxes in our prayers and masses.


message 12: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 469 comments This collection of writing from some one hundred sources by saints, doctors of the church, theologians presents to me a beginner to better my spiritual life a goal that is way too far and high for me. If I was seriously attracted to these aims my spiritual life would become a selfish delusion and dishonest. I will never get very far in the spiritual life if I am like everyone else if I think I can reach the state of contemplation described by the majority of what I am reading here.

My interest in Cardinal Sarah’s roots as a native African prelate is real. His coming from a Moslem country of some fourteen million people of whom only slightly more than a million are Christian I was hoping I would hear how this minority fares in such an environment. I am looking out for any mention of his country and his earlier life in it.

His first mention is on page 37 where he writes about how the Western media tempts with “glowing screens” to “distract mankind and destroy consciences” in the Third World of Africa and Asia. He mentions it again on page 64 when as Archbishop of Conakry he escaped to the solitude of the desert.
The third reference is on page 96 describing how his predecessor in Conakry, Archbishop Tchidimbo remained for almost nine years in a “sordid prison”. The next mention of Africa is about a hymn to Mary that is sung “at the end of the daily rosary: May your sweet presence enlighten us forever, O Virgin of silence. Give us your great peace.” (p. 117) I am less than half-way through the book, perhaps there will be more.


message 13: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 170 comments Galicius wrote: "This collection of writing from some one hundred sources by saints, doctors of the church, theologians presents to me a beginner to better my spiritual life a goal that is way too far and high for ..."

He spends the first three chapters or so of his first book, God or Nothing, talking about growing up in Guinea, his village, the political background to his time in school, etc. It's well worth checking out on its own, but given your interest in his experience as an African definitely find a copy.


message 14: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Galicius wrote: "This collection of writing from some one hundred sources by saints, doctors of the church, theologians presents to me a beginner to better my spiritual life a goal that is way too far and high for me."

I can see where this gets overwhelming. 2,000 years of Christian spirituality, theology, and history can only be absorbed in bite-size pieces :) Me, even as I am thoroughly enjoying this read, marveling how Cardinal Sarah is able to pull together all this knowledge, have no illusion that I will remember all that I ought.


message 15: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Manny wrote: "I have to say, that ever since reading that introduction and the first chapter, "Silence versus the World's Noise." I have looked for moments of complete silence. It’s actually very difficult to find. There is always some noise occurring in the background, and that is actually frustrating. But on those moments of pure silence, which probably don’t last more than a minute except perhaps in the middle of night, I have found that silence to be immensely pleasurable. It is utterly soothing. There is something to its power. Cardinal Sarah is on to something."

Silence is really a necessity for me to function. I have very sensitive hearing, and too much noise over-load gives me migraines. I am always astounded how loud other folks run their TVs, radios, etc. A big part of the attraction of living out in the country is the silence.


message 16: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 469 comments I didn’t need to hear how valuable silence is in our lives. My family was fortunate to escape life in the city to one that can be described as almost in the “country”. We were born in the country and were suddenly thrust into a city for the next twenty some years without a choice for the younger generation which included me. The twenty years was enough of the noise and stress and longing to return to the fields and woods away from all that. What is very curious to us though is that most of the next generation—our children—are returning or have returned already to live in big cities. The children who left to go to college usually far away in or near cities have stayed there and are not coming back. The reason: there is “nothing happening” back home.

I know this comment is not about the “silence” that the book is mostly dealing with but I thought it’s a part of it.


message 17: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
I apologize for being absent lately. I've been personally busy.

Br Stabin wrote: "This book is really a challenge to me. To create a silence of the heart. We in the community keep the silence at certain times but how to shut the heart it is really challenging. I know unless keep..."

Stabin, what do you mean by silence of the heart? My loquacity is in my brain. I think it was one of the church fathers that compared the brain to a chattering monkey and the need to quiet it down. But I don't know what you mean by silencing the heart.


message 18: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "Manny wrote: "I have to say, that ever since reading that introduction and the first chapter, "Silence versus the World's Noise." I have looked for moments of complete silence. It’s actually very d..."

My wife and mother-in-law both are sensitive to noise. It's an actual medical condition, misophonia. You can read about it here:
https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/w...

I don't think my wife and her mother have it so bad that they have a "desire to kill or stop whatever is making the noise," but my life has been in danger a few times...lol.

The older I get, the more I'm sensitive to noise as well. I did grow up in a noisy Italian family, but time has worn that away. I absolutely detest lawn mowers and even more so the leaf blowers. And overly chatty people can drive me nuts. Unfortunately my son is growing into a very chatty little boy. He feels the need to talk all the time, no matter what comes to his mind.


message 19: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Nadine wrote: "This book has encouraged me a lot in noise putting so much pressure and weight on our souls that we cannot hear God. i deleted my social media apps for the time being, so much stress and anxiety ha..."

This book has also encouraged me to seek moments of silence as well. Silence really is therapeutic.


message 20: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Galicius wrote: "I didn’t need to hear how valuable silence is in our lives. My family was fortunate to escape life in the city to one that can be described as almost in the “country”. We were born in the country a..."

Being a city dweller all my life - and New York City, at that - I'm numb to the noise. Whenever I get away, it really is a pleasure. I envy you living in the country.


message 21: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Manny wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "Manny wrote: "I have to say, that ever since reading that introduction and the first chapter, "Silence versus the World's Noise." I have looked for moments of complete silence. It’s..."

Is that what its called, misophonia? Though I didn't really see what I experience. I'll have to look into it more deeply. Say, there are several background noises and I want to carry on a conversation, I have a hard time actually distinguishing the voice of the speaker from the rest of the noise, I can't shut the noise out. I do know this has something to do with how my brain processes sounds. I've had it all my life, so I know how to cope. Ear plugs are a great invention :)

Oh, I've been in bliss since we've escaped suburbia! Though even then we've always found a house that provided lots of privacy. I would have been in misery directly looking into somebody elses's backyard.


message 22: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin, not distinguishing sounds or the sounds appearing cluttered might be an issue with your hearing. Hearing has a frequencing range, and it could be you're losing sections in that range. You might want to mention it to a doctor.


message 23: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I was struck by the author insisting that quiet is not the same as silence. I am trying to figure out what he means. By the end of chapter 1, I assume that this distinction has something to do with external noise and internal noise, that we might be able to remove external sounds from our environment, but still not have an internal silence. I tried, not very hard, to experience that internal silence when I was on retreat earlier this week, but could not achieve it. I have tried to find that inner stillness many times in the past, but can't. I hope we will hear more about how to gain that inner silence.


message 24: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
@Irene, I'm not sure this is a "how-to" book. It's more of a "Why-it's-important" book.


message 25: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I need to have someone help me get to where I need to be. Just telling me where I should be leaves me feeling lost. But you are probably right that this book won't give me that since it is not designed to do so.


message 26: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "I need to have someone help me get to where I need to be. Just telling me where I should be leaves me feeling lost. But you are probably right that this book won't give me that since it is not desi..."

Maybe it's as easy as "seek quiet time in a quiet place." ;)

I know; easier said than done.


message 27: by Kerstin (last edited Jun 07, 2018 11:56AM) (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Here is what I learned:

Ideally, we should end our prayer time with simply resting in the presence of God, where we focus only on him - as best as it is possible. We'll never stop our mind from engaging in errand thoughts, but we are not to dwell on them, and gently refocus.

When Cardinal Sarah speaks of silence in its many forms as it pertains to prayer, I take it this is what he means.


message 28: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Br Stabin wrote: "This book is really a challenge to me. To create a silence of the heart. We in the community keep the silence at certain times but how to shut the heart it is really challenging. I know unless keep..."

John I found what you were referring to, paragraphs 48 through 52.

Silence of the heart consists of quieting little by little our miserable human sentiments so as to become capable of having the same sentiments as those of Jesus. (P. 52)


I see what you mean. That is a challenge that I can't imagine I could do.


message 29: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Me either. I think Sarah is calling us to an internal stillness, a silence before the grandure and mercy of God that is far more profound than simply shutting our mouths and silencing our divises. The first step seems to find the time and space to be in quiet for a period of time regularly, but that has not yet brought me to the place that I think Sarah is describing.


message 30: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Of what I know of Cardinal Sarah, he is an extraordinarily holy man. He is a man of deep prayer and reflection, and when he has to make a big decision, he will seek solitude for several days to fast and pray. He describes moments like this in his other book, God or Nothing. So the insights he gives us here are the culmination of these experiences. I am not so sure those of us who are not called to a religious vocation can reach these depths. There are too many daily obligations pulling us away. The inspiration I am taking away so far is to cultivate silence, incorporate it into my daily life whenever I think of it. I am already finding that I am much more calm going about my daily tasks. In the long run I am hoping this will bear spiritual fruits.


message 31: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
Kerstin, the daily obligations for a cardinal of his rank must, I think, be on a larger scale than even ours. Perhaps because he doesn’t have a spouse and children might make it a little easier. But I bet he has a lot of professional issues he needs to deal with in a daily basis.


message 32: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Manny wrote: "Kerstin, the daily obligations for a cardinal of his rank must, I think, be on a larger scale than even ours. Perhaps because he doesn’t have a spouse and children might make it a little easier. Bu..."

I may not have expressed it very well. I have no doubt he is a very busy man. I was referring to him being single and having chosen the vocation of a priest. His daily routine must differ quite considerably from most of ours.

Maybe for most of us raising or having raised a family the spiritual life is more of a sequential effort rather than a parallel one. Cultivating a deeper prayer life is easier once the kids are out of the house and living their own lives. The relative freedom that comes with this is an opportunity to re-focus on the spiritual life with renewed effort.


message 33: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 4207 comments Mod
I agree. Here I am in my mid fifties and I have an eight year old. I’ll never have that time for deep prayer time. I would love to get away for a retreat. But just not possible for now.


message 34: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1557 comments Mod
Looking at it from the perspective of a vocation, whether religious (monastic and/or priestly) or marriage, are lives with a unique focus and purpose.

In the religious vocation your whole life is geared towards a deeper understanding of God, which necessarily includes much time for prayer, your love for Christ all-consuming. At least this is what it looks like to me from the outside looking in.

Within marriage, your time as a parent is uniquely focused on the demands of raising children. I was a stay-at-home mom for close to 20 years. They were very demanding years, full of purpose, but also immensely satisfying.


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