|01-02-2012 - Traces, n. 2
the facts answer
Every question is found in the silence (like every answer)
Words are not our purpose. The Pope points to an experience that is similar to the “Flash” described by a brilliant poet...
by JOHN WATERS
About a decade ago, I became friendly with an old man named Peter Kavanagh, who was the younger brother of the great Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, a man who unabashedly described himself as a “Catholic poet”and wrote poems that bore witness to the created universe and the Presence which he could see in everyday things. Peter was a professor of poetry, a vocation he had pursued to advise and protect his brother. Both men understood the limits of words. The important thing about a poem, Patrick would say, was the “Flash.” By this he meant the intrusion of the exceptional, the unexpected, the Other. I once asked Peter how he would describe the relationship between the words of a poem and this indispensable content, the “Flash.” The words, he said, “are the least important part of a poem. In a poem, the words burn up in a tremendous thread of something unusual.”
I thought of Peter when reading Pope Benedict’s recent message anticipating the 46th World Communications Day coming up on May 20th: “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.”
Our culture nudges us to see and hear words as the key to all understanding. We “explain” things or listen to “explanations.” We read something and somehow it becomes part of our consciousness, or so we are led to believe. But the Pope asks us to stop and think about this. Words need silence, he says, the two working together, “two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved.”
In the babble of the modern world, silence is not easy to find or nurture. But all questions emerge from silence, and the answers, too, are ultimately to be found there only. The Pope called it “God’s silence.” Silence becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and out of this a new Word, the redeeming Word, is born. When we speak of God, as Fr. Giussani reminded us, we search for the least inadequate words we can find, always remaining aware that all our attempts to understand are ironic. Only in the gaps and spaces and pauses is the truth accessible.
“In speaking of God’s grandeur,” wrote the Holy Father, “our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation ‘to communicate that which we have seen and heard’ so that all may be in communion with God” (1 Jn 1:3).
It is a strange paradox: we need to speak the words, however limited, so as to make possible the spaces between them, but the words on their own always come to nothing. At best, they ignite in the listener, reader, a sense of recognition, which becomes stronger when the silence enters. Really, there is no communication except the mutual exchanging of experience. We understand only what we already know. The words help, but they are not the final destination of our reflection.