Thursday, September 04, 2003

Re: Mysticism

As much as I try to question my relationship with religion, it's probably pretty obvious to any regular readers that I'm still pretty consumed by the topic for one reason or another (there's a blog post, perhaps?). While I'm not inclined to, nor do I think most of you care to know, the specifics of what I believe and/or disbelieve, I thought I'd toss out a little essay on the topic, generally speaking, of mysticism.

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What to do when words run out on you, off to another pen, another's lips? They're never our own, you know; they are forever, and forever have been, nothing but a haunting silence -- present only as a spectre. Words fail me.

"I who live by words am wordless when
I try my words in prayer. All language turns
To silence. Prayer will take my words and then
Reveal their emptiness."

So begins one of my favorite poems about prayer. If I don't do it often myself, I sometimes take solace that others do. This poem, which is not entirely distinguishable from the prayer its about, is a story and song of hope and healing. It is, on the surface, a story of peace and quiet:

"The stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration."

To silence?/./! -- need this be a simple statement, or also a question, an exclamation. Is it possible to be each? Is there enough breath, enough room on one tongue? -- though one may rightly suspect that the answer to this question depends upon who is asked. For instance, to interrogate the silence we identify as God, our question, statement, and exclamation is empty, indeed silent. What kind of silence is this?

"The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended."

A silent devastation; but, and this is the ineluctable question that haunts, is it a devastation that is seen, and if so by whom? To speak, particularly in prayer, though perhaps also in poetry, and maybe still in one's living and dying, is to betray one's self by speaking the unspeakable Word, heard only in a whisper, (in parenthesis), and which comes at a price: "Do no think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to brign peace but a sword."The Word of prayer, then, it slices and it dices, having itself been punctured and hung to die. Indeed, in speaking the Word, one shares in its fate, as well as, so it is sometimes spoken, inside empty, silent rooms, its resurrection.

"I leave, returned to language, for I see
Through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I turn me to the Word to pray. Amen."

This, to me though, causes yet more problems. We arise to a world of words that can do nothing but fail. What, then, does this say of that which we see, if we do indeed 'see through words'? What, then, does this say of our world, of us? What else can words say but silence?

A spoken silence?/./!

I've been asked by several people about mysticism, my philosophical investigations often sounding as though they may indeed be so disposed (though perhaps merely interested). Its minimal acknowledgement notwithstanding, I think this poem is a pretty fair description of the Christian variety. To be truly mystical, however, to follow the trail of one's assumptions and, one's prayers and tears, one must be willing to err along the groundless ground of a radical silence that never quite heals, unlike what we find in the poem. That is, the promised healing is always ever a present we can never open. "Is there no balm in Gilead?"

Faith, it would seem, is certainly scary business. I suppose it could be regarded in a couple of ways: a tease, or the motivation to continue erring, seeking that which cannot be found, saying what cannot be said and hearing only silence, but never a telling silence, of the sort that most mysticism uncovers. The mystic's gift is one that cannot be opened. It is an impossible gift that faith continually experiences as the impossible.

It's enough to make you mad. -- and indeed it normally does.

I, of course, find this whole realm of (non)thinking very intriguing. Mysticism points to Absolutely Nothing, which is not to say God -- or at least gives it its all to do so; it cannot, in fact, point to any thing, not even Nothing because Nothing then becomes the possible, the thought. No-thing is what is sought, and sought it must be, and never found.

I've already said too much: mysticism is the experience of the impossible as impossible, thus inflicting the mystic with her wounding silence that proves to be too much. Words fail. She and the Word, the Christ of the Gospel-page, collapse under the weight of an indifferent silence, only to find life again, and again, and again.