Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Annie Dillard’s theology, part 2: silence & loneliness

“We are here to witness. There is nothing else to do with those mute materials we do not need.” Annie Dillard has been talking in the essay, “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” about what she calls “silence.” Listen to the world and what you hear is “things …. being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum … This is it: this hum is the silence. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it, they all don’t do it. … The silence is … all there is.”

“We can stage our own act on the planet – build our cities on its plains, dam its rivers, plant its topsoils – but our meaningful activity scarcely covers the terrain. We do not use the songbirds, for instance. … We can only witness them. … If we were not here, material events like the passage of seasons would lack even the meager meanings we are able to muster for them.”

In another essay Dillard describes standing in a field. “There were flies buzzing over the dirt by the henhouse, moving in circles and buzzing, black dreams in chips off the one long dream, the dream of the regular world. But the silent fields were the real world, eternity’s outpost in time.” She listens, frozen, listening for something, a “music ringing the air like a stone bell”? Or is that silence again? “The notes [of a woman whistling as passes pushing a wheelbarrow] spread into the general air and became the weightier part of silence … It was as if God had said, ‘I am here, but not as you have known me. This is the look of silence, and of loneliness unendurable; it too has always been mine, and now will be yours.’” She later refers to this epiphany as a presence of angels.

source: Teaching a Stone to Talk, by Annie Dillard

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