Book Review: Silencing the outer voices so that we can hear the inner ones
Report from Calabria, a Season with the Carthusian Monks by a Priest, Gracewing, 142 pp, £14.99.
reviewed by Bryan Storey
One reviewer describes this book as a gem, and it is certainly no exaggeration to describe it in this way, as the Bishop of Oakland, California, does. Moreover, he goes on to say something particularly important and significant: ‘It will make you want to pray.’ I can think of no higher recommendation for a book, especially as prayer is the only way we can find that vital and unique increase in our human love. To want to pray more involves the vital first step we need to take in order to continue this important journey.
Never reformed because never deformed
The priest-author, based in the USA, who stayed with the Order for four months, follows a great Carthusian tradition of remaining anonymous. This particular tradition helps to give exclusive glory to God and is no doubt also linked to the Carthusian motto ‘never reformed because never deformed’. What a truly wonderful thing that this Order has never deviated from the Lord’s Gospel teaching, helped no doubt by the effort of trying to be anonymous which can help in finding more space for God.
I can think of no better way to spend £15 than to buy this book. It will help improve one’s personal spiritual life, so vital as we always are in need of being helped to cope with our theological confusions, particularly because of our tendency to try to make religion more like myself. Moreover, this helps us find that silence which is such a vital part of enriching one’s life with thoughts of God and His Kingdom. It is also helpful to spread the Good News by giving copies to friends.
Silence, which is so necessary in our journey towards spiritual transformation and conversion, is more elusive than we think! At first we think it is the absence of noise; later we discover it is more than that, much more. Father Tadeusz Dajczer wonderfully shows us in his books on the Eucharist that silence is transforming. This is beautifully demonstrated in that film ‘The Great Silence’ which leads the Trappist monk to give us all a lesson for life when he said that he was sure that God had allowed him to be blind so that he could discover much more of God’s love for him. The voice of conscience is made real and appealing by following silence as a vital part of life and helps us in every way to have a more positive, objective outlook.
Speechless in the face of beautiful things
This book, beautifully illustrated with many coloured pictures has the central theme of introducing us to this vital and necessary silence. It is not easy to keep silent. Even in church where enquiring after the health of our neighbour has often taken over from finding more of God which is the real medicine to help us all grow in the necessary sincerity and spiritual depth which means so much more than the casual enquiry which is so much better taking place to take place outside church. The Carthusian spirit demonstrates uniquely the importance of finding God through being quiet. The author calls it a language. He mentions in order to help us that we often find ourselves speechless in the face of beautiful things. There is the speechlesness of spouses or close friends who often have passed beyond the need to talk. Among the Carthusians there is the speechlessness to find more of God summed up in Psalm 46:10 and sometimes sung in church: “Be still and know that I am God”.
Purpose of life
He summarises the point by quoting a priest friend who said to him, “The purpose of life is to silence the outer voices so that you can hear the inner ones; then you can begin to uproot those that draw you away from loving God and others and encourage the good ones to grow.” The author confesses, as we must do too, that this language is a very difficult one to learn. Yet of course it’s the one most important to learn because it leads us in the direction of the first Commandment which Our Saviour tells us is the most important one of them all. It is the language which brings us to magnificent love and joy surpassing all other joys in life and finding peace unbounding.
In the unusual situation of not being able to talk at times due to an effect of Parkinson’s disorder, I am discovering how many words I have used in my life which were quite unnecessary. I think often of St Thomas à Kempis’s saying in The Imitation of Christ that we go out to meet others in hope that we will return more human only to find that so often we are less human in view of what we have said and the way we have said it.
I do not doubt that we can all benefit from more silence to help surpass all understanding. I am convinced that in this the Carthusians have much to offer and that we owe this Priest a debt of gratitude in bringing it to our notice.
Father Bryan Storey is priest-in-charge of the Catholic mission church in Tintagel, Cornwall.