Three Years: An Addendum to The Pilgrim Essays

It is a bit more than a month away from the calendar anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church by chrismation. The liturgical anniversary this year will fall very close to the calendar date. As I have done each year since, I want the influence of more time and experience to work its energies on the perspective with which I view the precise same events. Any such changes, however imperceptible, do not of course change the facts of the past, but sometimes, by grace, they do elicit new understandings. I have in the past spoken of a new awareness of providence, of the healing of the rift of head and heart and its accomplishment in the askesis of a particular way of living, and with that, of promise. It seems to me, though I am no prophet, that these themes will remain with me through the end of this life. I don’t know that I will understand them more adequately as time goes on, but I do hope to live them more deeply.

There may well be another theme to add to these, one which has been exhibited, perhaps providentially, though not intentionally, through the lack of activity on this blog. It is the activity of silence and the value of such an activity to one’s soul. The Rule of St Benedict devotes all of chapter 6 to silence; the ninth rung of the ladder of humility in chapter 7 is that of silence; and in chapter 42 the monks are directed not to speak after the observence of the last office of the day, Compline. That silence is an activity and not a passive state can be understood from just a brief moment’s reflection: imagine refraining from saying anything to anyone for an entire day, then imagine refraining from daydreaming for an entire hour, then imagine doing nothing but holding your attention, without any distracting thoughts, on the presence of God for a single full minute. It takes a very great energy to be silent.

I have read–I am sure I cannot speak with authority from my experience–that the achievement of true silence of lips, mind and heart is itself a purer form of activity than the restraint of speech and thoughts and distractions. But we know from those that have gone before us that aside from God’s gracious gift, we first must purge ourselves through restraint (via the askeses of Christ’s way of life) before we can experience the more pure activities of true silence. As I say, for me, this is all secondhand knowledge.

Yet, this first sort of silence, the askeses of restraint, is not without grace and mercy. One very mundane gift is that the restraint of thoughts, words and distractions one exerts is productive. It seems perhaps strange to say this, since words and speech are so influential and, well, useful. We use words and speech to express and to meet needs, to motivate choices and actions. But there is I think a unique and sometimes inversely proportional influence that silence (even the silence of restraint) brings to bear on one’s soul and the events and actions it engenders and endures. But just by stating this, I have hit the limit of a mystery I cannot understand. A fecund mystery, I think. But nonetheless to me presently opaque.

I have experimented (mostly unintentionally, though not without reflection) with forms of silence in the past year or two, and more so in recent days. I nuked one of my blogs (obviously not this one), and deactivated, for a week, another online social media account. To the degree that I have adequate discernment to judge, the results were swift and very positive. More such steps will need to be taken in the future. Steps which will involve this blog. I have a series of posts on Christian Philosophy I would still like to complete, but I don’t know if I will make the effort to do so. The topic still motivates, but I wonder whether that is enough justification. Mostly all I’ve been doing of late on this blog has been updating (usually only changing the posting date) of previous posts reflective of various saints’ days and feast days. Given the unintentional hiatus for original posts, given an increasing absence from online activities generally, and given my present experiences with silence, it seems a propitious time to draw this blog to a close.

Having said that, I’m not sure what I yet want to do with the content here. This has been a wonderful outlet to think through many of the theological and philosophical issues which have captured my attention since November of 2002. But there is less of that wrestling in the past three years, and more of a desire for quiet reflection. I know my ultimate decision will be to erase the blog and all its content. I just don’t know yet whether that will be tomorrow or some other later day.

Thank you to all who’ve commented here, who’ve emailed me relative to various posts you’ve read and enjoyed (or opposed). May the Lord send his mercy upon us all.