Silence at the Heart of Things

After 36 hours of retreat with the Benedictine monks at Glastonbury Abbey, I am reminded of the question raised by a beloved teacher of mine, in an undergraduate seminar 30 years ago: “Why is the man of action absurd?” (She had not yet adopted inclusive language.) Or as Ecclesiastes puts it: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9)

One way to take this truth is to ride it down into desperation and defeat: all comes to nothing. There is no point.

Another way to take this truth is to allow it to check our feverishness, and to welcome its injection of a mature irony into our stance toward the world. In a further twist of irony, then, the more deeply we stand in what is authentic about our human lives (including the absurdity of action), the more effective our action becomes.


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