Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Morning darkness

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017


In the morning darkness

Silence, waiting.

Once, there was expectancy.

Once there was a presence.

Now, silence,


It is not


or upsetting,

this waiting.

The Listener

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

There was the Other Voice Owl of the World.  He sat in the world tree laughing in his front voice, only his other voice was not laughing.  His other voice was saying the silence.  He had a way of saying it.  He said it wide and far when he began.  He said it tiny when it came close.  He kept saying the silence like that in his other voice and when he finished the silence swallowed up the sounds of the world and the owl swallowed up the silence.


No one knew he was doing it.  He was trying to swallow all the sounds of the world and then there would be no more world because everything would follow its sound into the silence and then it would be gone.  What the owl had in mind was to get it all swallowed and then fly away.  He only did it at night.  He thought he’d get some of it swallowed every night until the whole world was gone away.


No one knew what the owl was doing except for a child.  He didn’t have any eyes.  He listened all the time.  When he heard the owl saying the silence in his other voice he heard the silence swallowing up the sounds of the world, little and big, from the wind sighing in the trees to the ants crying in their holes.  The child knew the owl was trying to say the whole world away and he knew it was up to him to stop the owl, so he began to listen everything back.  He listened far and wide when he began, he listened tiny when it came close.  The eye of the goat and the dance in the stone and the beetle digging a grave for the sparrow. He listened them into his ear holes and he kept them all safe there.  The foot steps of the moth and the sea foam hissing on the strand.  He listened everything back.


The child only kept the sounds in his ear holes at night.  He kept them safe till morning.  When the cock crowed in the middle of the night it never fooled him, nor when he crowed again before first light.  He kept the sounds safe in his ear holes till the day stood up and the cock of the morning crowed everything awake.  Then the child unheard the sounds and they went back to where they lived.  The child was laughing at the owl, but the owl didn’t know it.  He thought he had done a good night’s work.  He sat in the world tree grooling and smarling all day, thinking he would get the whole world gone, only he never did.


The owl keeps trying and he’ll do it one day.  All it takes is for no one to be listening everything back.  He will go the world away and himself with it and that’ll be the end of it.  But it may not be for a while yet.  Not as long as there is a child to listen.


Sunday, April 7th, 2013

To deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hill, or sea, or desert: to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.
—Thomas Merton

On the existence of God

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Attended a talk the other night on whether it was possible to demonstrate the existence of God. Very rambling – but he was one of those speakers whose digressions are interesting. He ran out of time but he seemed to be suggesting that, with an unusual combination of platonic idealism, Anselm’s Ontological argument and Descartes’ Meditations, one could demonstrate the existence of God.

I would have taken a different route. I think that philosophically all one can do is demonstrate that belief in God can be reasonable. Because God is transcendent he does not exist in any sense that we can understand existence. Therefore his existence cannot be demonstrated. To paraphrase Luis Nordstrom

transcendence leaves no conceptual (or conceptualizable) trace – no trace of what has been transcended, what it has been transcended toward, nor any trace of the experience itself. True transcendence can neither be understood in terms of anything else nor in terms of itself.

Which is to say more or less the same, in less elegant terms, that Taoism, the Upanishads, Zen, Eckhart etc. say.

I would have gone down the religious experience road. With regard to the religious experience argument Caroline Franks Davis in her The Evidential Force of Religious Experience concludes –

If the evidence other than that of religious experience does not show theism to be improbable, then the evidence of the many religious experiences which escape pathological and other challenges will be sufficient to make some relatively unramified theistic claims probable.

However you explain it religious experience has been a factor in human awareness as far back as we can go. There are many kinds of altered states of awareness (why they always call them ‘altered states’ I don’t know. They are just different.) of which some are mystical, i.e. they are an experience of God. This is the extraordinary thing. The transcendent God somehow enters human awareness.

Lonergan explains it this way – that there is a distinction between knowledge and experience. Mystic experiences are precisely those that are conscious but unmediated, conscious but unknown. Consciousness refers to experience, whereas knowledge is a composite of experience, insight and judgement. Knowledge occurs only when experience is mediated by images and ideas and brought to reflective awareness.

To say that dynamic state [of mystic awareness] is conscious is not to say it is known. What is conscious is indeed experiences. But human knowing is not just experiencing. Human knowledge includes experiencing but adds to it scrutiny, insight, conception, naming, reflection, checking judging… the gift of God’s love ordinarily is not objectified in knowledge, but remains within subjectivity as a dynamic vector, a mysterious undertow, a fateful call to dreaded holiness. Because that dynamic state is conscious without being known, it is an experience of mystery. (Lonergan, Bernard, Method in Theology, Herder & Herder, New York 1972  p. 106)

Mystical experience, because it transcends conceptual knowledge, leaves no trace of itself within the memory, except a sort of aftertaste, a fading glow. This is that of which one cannot speak. This subliminal awareness sometimes hovers at the threshold, there but not there, a sort of corner of the eye experience which, when looked at is not there. These experiences do not come with any labels, like God, or Jesus, Krishna, or whatever. Labels are the product of later reflection, efforts to understand and make some sort of sense of what really is ineffable. This is why above all others I prefer the Buddha’s approach.

Post-mortem reflections

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Gwen’s funeral recently. On the whole a happy event. She was almost 90 and had suffered a long decline into Alzheimer’s disease. It brought the extended family together and that was the happy part. There was much reminiscing by four first cousins sitting at the same table afterwards, all in their 70’s. Only at weddings and funerals, it seems, do we all manage to get together.

It struck me during the mass that it is a pity the deceased does not get a chance to say anything to the congregation. Much is said about him, or her. Much is remembered, but it is all one sided. So I thought that when it comes to my turn I would prepare something to be read out. There are many references to ‘eternal rest’, ‘at peace’ and ‘resurrection’ etc., but all these are stale metaphors and convey nothing of the death event itself, what it might have meant to the individual (and surprisingly, what it must mean to the family). Nor, not surprisingly, apart from the conventional metaphors, is anything said about the post-mortem reality. So here goes.


Palm Sunday

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

I have written nothing for a long time. I have been able to write nothing. My thought processes seem to have reduced to preoccupation with the immediate here and now and any kind of intellectual exploration, any kind of sustained thinking has become an impossibility. Prayer, after a few brief moments initially, is a battle with drowsiness. There is no fervour, no longing to be fully engaged, no élan. Nothing. I wonder if I am drifting into the apathetic quietude of senility.

From time to time I am seized with a sort of anguish at this unresisting slippage into a mental twilight. Questions arise, recurring again and again, seeking and not finding answers. ‘Of what value is this human life, me?’ ‘What significance has this moment?’ ‘Do these thoughts, hopes, wishes, prayers mean anything at all, or are they simply mental fluff stirred up by the cold winds of reality?’

Against this, never has human life seemed more precious. I exult in the energy and joyfulness of young people. I am full of admiration for those whose generous commitment and willingness to go beyond the mere requirements of the job leads them to help others. And yet, never has the human biosphere been more raw and bleeding. There is the calculated and unapologetic abuse and exploitation of ordinary people by governments, financial and business institutions. There is the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israelis – the mindset which led to the ethnic cleansing and extermination of the Canaanites thousands of years ago still flourishes in Israel. There are large sections of the Old Testament I can no longer read and I wonder how formerly I was ever able to consider them the word of God and accept the horrors they describe so uncritically.



Saturday, September 8th, 2007

Phronema will be wandering around the Rhône Valley and the Haute Savoie for the next two weeks.