Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Sunlit Absence - I (Book Review)

After months of eager anticipation, I have zipped through Martin Laird's A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation and begun, as of late last night, a much slower and more careful second read.

A Sunlit Absence is a companion volume to Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, upon which Michelle and I reflected  over a period of several months last year. (See tab at the top of the page.)  I think that most readers will find A Sunlit Absence to be more challenging and, without a great deal of attentiveness paced over an extended period of time, less easily satisfying,  On the other hand, of course, perhaps such attentiveness will lead ultimately to a more rewarding experience of reading and prayer over that longer timespan.

Into the Silent Land, using the metaphor of the doorway, provides an introduction to contemplative practice in the sequence of a journey.  Moving from an introduction to Christian contemplation into the methodology of utilizing a prayer word, addressing the difficulties with mental distractions that cause many people to run as fast as possible away from anything that smacks of silence, and providing instruction in how to persist in prayer despite or even in aid of life's traumas and crises, Into the Silent Land eases us into an orderly exploration of prayer.

A Sunlit Absence is more akin to the experience of opening a scrapbook, inviting us to sift through a cascade of images, allusions, and parables in pursuit of the elusive God who need not be pursued at all because we live and move and have our being, always, within God's love.  I've just counted, and I have at least 25 of its 175 pages turned down as indications of material that called out to me for further reflection ~ but I don't yet have a sense of the whole.

The title of  the book comes from a Seamus Heaney poem which begins with the words, "There was a sunlit absence."  I'm not sure that Laird ever addresses the poem (as I said, my first read was a speedy one), but what he does describe in the introduction  is our experience of the God who both envelops and fills us as  that of water merging into water and light merging into light.  As Teresa of Avila says, "love melts into love."

As I pondered some days ago, before the book arrived, I have begun to wonder whether the silence of God is not, in fact, the compassion of God.  When I mentioned that possibility to someone else, he suggested that the silence of God is the patience of God ~ and, perhaps not surprisingly, referred me back to a passage in Into the Silent Land.  

I have been wondering, also, whether the silence of God perhaps reverberates through the universe?

Silence as the compassion of God, the patience of God, the echo of God?  We shall see what this book suggests.

No comments:

Post a Comment