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Retreat Conference

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So good morning, and we should stay in silence, but we have a lot of things to say. So after the wings of openness, we are cued today to the opening sounds of silence, and how do we begin? Maybe we should be listening to the song of Simon and Garfunkel, the sound of silence, or we could begin with an installation of an Italian artist, Claudio Parmigiani, who places in a large room many huge bells on the floor,


and what a powerful experience you could feel of the energy of silence guarded inside the bells. Or we could start from the video artist Bill Viola, living and working in Long Beach, who plunges you in an experience of silence, drastically slowing down the movements of the scenes he stages, opening your senses to the minimum gestures of the body or of the faces, without any sounds except the movement. But all that would be too delightful, so who better than a theologian can introduce us into the secret folds of silence?


So, today, overturning the rhythm, we will follow the tracks, first of a theologian, then listening to the divine silences in the Gospel, and then the silence in, for, between, among, beyond us. So, in the summer semester of 1933, at the University of Berlin, the evangelical theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer inaugurated his course on Christology, saying, Every doctrine on Christ begins in silence. Stay silent because it is the absolute.


The silence of the Church is the silence in front of the Word. Announcing the Word, the Church actually bows down in the presence of ineffable. The spoken Word is the inexpressible, the unutterable is the Word. Even if the Church shouts it to the world, the Word nevertheless remains the indescribable. A correct description of the Church ensuing from a right silence is the announcement of Christ. The speaking of Christ should necessarily be a discourse in the silent space of the Church.


Beautiful speech, but still academic one. But if we listen after some years, that is to say, ten years later, in 1944, he sent a letter on the occasion of his nephew's baptism, this time no more from the university but from the jail of Tegel. He will be hanged one year later in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. He wrote, Today you are being baptized without any understanding of the words and gestures, but we also are sent back again to the beginnings of our understanding to what is the meaning of reconciliation, redemption, rebirth and spirit,


love for the enemy, cross and resurrection, life in Christ. All that is so difficult and distant from us, and at the same time we perceive that something revolutionary is happening, so new that we aren't able to seize or express it. And he continues, The ancient words have to lose their force and to fall silent. We don't know, but there will be a time when some persons are called to pronounce the word God in a renewing, transforming way. It will be a new language, perhaps not at all religious,


but able to free, to heal like the words of Jesus. Until that moment, the cause of the Christians will be silent and hidden, but there will be persons that continue to pray and to act for what is right, waiting for God's time. So Bonhoeffer perceives that a world is at an end and the symptom of it is the crisis of a meaningless language. The great words that one time oriented and enlightened the territories of human experience are now like a compass needle gunned with wild.


But notwithstanding the deep obscurity into which our understanding has fallen, he senses it is not just a mortal silence, but a generative one, the prelude to an awakening. It will be an experimental closeness to God as happened in the passage of word, action, and embodiment of Jesus of Nazareth. As the divine word is begotten from the silent bosom of the Father, in the same way the divine may breathe in the silent cradle of our soul. So now we move towards the divine silence in the gospel.


John, in the prologue of his gospel, envelops the divine verb in the eternal silence of the beginning. Thank to the energy of its word, God breaks its silence, unfolding the creation. And myths and rites evoke a sacred, silent, and dark origin of the beginning of beings. The cosmic outset is imagined as a pure state of energy that radiates as a cosmic vibration from the unuttered source, resounding in every sound, voice, and rhythm of the bodies of the soul of the meaning.


And from this eternal, primordial silence, from where all things come to light, God breaks its attentive silence through the incarnation of Jesus, his beloved Son. And the first thirty years of Jesus are enshrouded by an impenetrable silence. His journey of revelation begins with an awakening baptism into the fountain of his Sonship. Heart by heart with the wellspring of his father-mother, he can find his way into people's hearts. Along the roads he incessantly scours.


Then again he responds to the appeal to retire into silence, to regenerate at the source in a lonely space, not to escape but to go back to the roots of his deep identity, to enter the blessed sacrament of his solitude, to comply with the unspoken loving voice, the silent beggar of our words. We now draw close to the scene of the adulteries in John 8. In the middle of a group of furious males ready to execute a woman in name of the Lord, Jesus bends down at the heart of himself, plunging in the bowels of mercy.


And from that silent core a new first day of creation and recreation dawns. Evident stands out the contrast between the law written in stone tables, unquestionable and unappealable, and his word written on the sand, elusive and silent, evoking a law written on our hearts, which we cannot appropriate but only surrender to. Law of the spirit that interrupts the sacrificial violence of the crowd, impersonal and hurtful, to open our senses to the revelation of the other person,


not as an object of judgment but as a living being to listen, to welcome. And Jesus enters the interplay of communication to transform slavery into a new communicative opportunity, overturning the violent demeanor and releasing a process of freedom, creativity and invention. We recall also the scene at Jacob's well in Sychar, the meeting between Jesus and a pagan woman, a Samaritan, who comes to draw water, a silent and lonely place, at noon,


a meeting where at every word and pause there transpires the tenderness of love stronger than every prejudice, prejudices about her womanliness, which the Samaritan had felt on her own skin. I see shadows of judgments, malignancies and traditions that the rabbi, sitting at the edge of the well, melts with the warmth of his living waters, flowing from the silent heart of charity, that loses every wall of separation, every temple of opposition, harshness, punishment.


And Christ is especially silent in his own consumption unto the cross when the human beings silence the Word. Abandoned into an abyss of pain, God breaks God's Word and withdraws into silence. Word becomes Spirit, creative breath poured forth upon us. And the life of the risen Christ will be the overcoming of God's silence, unimaginable and unrecognizable immediately by human beings, a presence approaching us in silence, marked by an interruption of our customary perception,


opening us to recognize the invisible in the visible. We could also say that Christianity doesn't begin with doing but undoing. It begins with one who, addressing to the other, friend or enemy, stranger or brother, woman or man, doesn't interpose the weight of things already decided or refused, of issues already formulated, of choices already judged, of absolute rules. But he looks at everything new, human, and joyful can happen in a definite context of relationship.


Christianity begins, after all, stopping the machinery of repetition and of abstraction so that something of new may take place in our bodies, eyes, hands, hearts, mind. And this new often arises and grows from the silent cave of the soul, in the sanctuary of our bodies, where treasures are hidden, waiting to be risen. I would like to recall at that point the sinking into this silent source of creation by some innovators of spiritual experience.


Paul, Anthony, Augustine, Benedict, Romuald, Francis, Clara, John of the Cross, Teresa, Charles de Foucault, Begriffitz, and, and, all of them experienced the crumbling of their self-understanding and identity, they suffer the collapsing of their previous belief. Losing their words and their world, like a process of desertification, they are driven towards a deeper immersion in their self, being opened to the one we cannot know. Mysteriously guided beyond their culture and religious setup, they participate as actors in a creation of whom they are the creative matter.


Living on the border between word and silence, they become the womb of a new generation of the spirit, whereas silence is a nourishing amniotic liquid that breeds new organs of perception, sharpen their senses, like infants, which literally means a person without words. They are taught by the spirit a new language of charity, in the context where they live, receiving the gift of God's spirit. So finally we approach to the listening of the sounds of silence


in, for, between, among and beyond us. So silence in us. As with the transfigured persons we have just referred to, each one of us have been personally involved in very different ways and at different times of life in such processes of deconstruction of our self-consciousness, when we realize that the ground we are on is not steady at all, as we imagined, but bewildering gusts arise from the unknown and affect us.


In such predicaments we discover that what we usually consider the familiar building of our reality manifests further rooms, stairs, floors, profoundness, complexities, unexpressed or wounded potentialities that make us lean out, deplace us. And it is enough to have resounding in us such evident words like body, time, pain, delight, trust, evil. We soon perceive that each one of them opens us to boundless depths of meaning,


where words become like shells. You learn to listen to them as you listen to the sea in the shell, disclosing fabulous, ungraspable words. There are silence in our words, breaths, sounds, visions, inspirations. The silence in our words corresponds to the refreshing breathing in our bodies. Our saying is pervaded and cadenced by silences. Words and gestures walk, move and join us from silence like stars twinkling in the night vault of heaven.


Risen words that go out of the tomb where we fixed them, reviving our polluted infosphere. Withered words that renew, bathing in the perennial streams of silence. And what an intense experience I had visiting Monterey Aquarium. I was impressed how the silent ocean floor is crowded by so many presences at different levels of depth, whereas at the surface nothing is visible. And similarly, I was awakened to our words or emotions swimming in silence at different layers of our unfathomable being,


where another life lights up. Truthfully, I have to witness also the liquefying experience of words and thoughts when I visited the wine shops in Napa Valley. At the end, I was also living in a silent and intoxicated atmosphere. So what on earth could be our spiritual journey if not a silent enlargement of our pores? The pores of listening, of caring, of entrusting. A process of detachment from the immediacy of our self, from his affirmation and sovereignty,


from the working faculties of our mind and will. We discover ourselves as other from what we believe to be, with whom we identify, awakening to further layers of feeling. We experience freedom, opening to that ground without ground, to the divine breeze breathing in us, as the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti sings. After so much fog, one by one unveil the stars. I breathe the fresh that leaves me heaven's color.


I acknowledge myself transient image caught into an immortal turn. And now, silence for between among us. As a primordial condition to communicate between I and myself, you and I, or among us, we need distances. Places in which to shelter, to rest, to heal, to collect ourselves. We discover silence as a safeguard, a place that is no one's own.


And this pristine nobody place becomes for us the possibility to enter in the presence of one another, to approach the other one in a new, tactful way, to speak a not already definite language, but a throbbing language that we generate together, pregnant of the possibilities and surprises that we ourselves allow to happen. And that is again and again a challenge to sharpen our listening to the unpronounced words of our interlocutor, the crevices of his or her voice.


All that means we let the transcendence breathe among us. We preserve each one from every trap. We learn to appreciate that the other is irreducible. You will never be me or mine. If I nurse silence, if I guard obscurity as a womb for my own secret, I will learn to respect and to foster the invisible in you, the immensity of your soul. At every moment I let myself be surprised by a secret that is developing,


is appearing between you and I or among us. We need a horizon of the unknown to approach each other, being the advent of me and of us never exposed in full light. We can take shelter and grow where shadow, becoming, listening are. And finally, silence beyond us. Experiencing silence, our senses soften. What we perceive at the beginning as definite and solid overflows its borders, manifests other shades and landscapes.


Silence is often compared to darkness, guarding another quality of light. The poet Stephen Wallace invites us to throw away the lights, the definition, and say of what you see in the dark when the crust of shape has been destroyed. So there is a night we know that surrounds us. And then there is another night that we never have in front of us or around us because it thrives in us. Another side of the night interrupting the primacy of our productions, bringing us back to silence.


And in this new earth and sky of gratuity, we discover every being as useless and unproductive, purposeless. And it is not true that our most precious things are useless. What is friendship, love, faith, God, the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, music, if not useless? And are we still human without this uselessness that burst open onto immensity? Waves echoing the rhythm of eternity, the music of grace.


God has a silent music that enlivens us, as it happened to the Jewish pianist in the movie The Pianist of Roman Polanski, who, destroyed by persecutions, brutalized by terror and dispossessed of his identity by incessant flights, hidden as if he didn't exist in the silence of an empty house, he imagines playing on the mute keyboard of a piano the precious music he guards in his heart that keeps him alive. And at the end, it will be the music that saves him, the music that goes beyond the inhumanity of human beings


and resounds also in the soul of the enemy, creating a gentle bridge of grace. So we leave the last words to, I think, a Russian poet, Denis Lefertov. Where is the angel? Thank you. Where is the angel? Where is the angel for me to rest? No driving snow in the glass bubble, but mild September. Outside the stark shadows menace, and blame their huge arms about, unheard.


I breathe a jellied air, the blur of asters, of brown fern and gold dust, seems to murmur. And that's what I hear, only that. Such clear walls of curved glass, I see the violent gesticulations, and feel, no, not nothing, but in this gentle haze, nothing commensurate. It is pleasant in here, history, mouth, volume turned off. A band of iron, like they put round a split tree, circles my heart. In here it is pleasant, but when I open my mouth to speak, I too am soundless.


Where is the angel to wrestle with me and wound, not my thigh, but my throat? So curses and blessings flow storming out, and the glass shatters, and the iron thunders. Thank you.