Book Review by Tony Arden, Queensland Regional Meeting
VINTAGE BOOKS, LONDON, PAPERBACK, 376 PAGES, RRP $8.99.
Sometimes, I fear, we can become so excited by the wheel we have just invented that we can forget to check who else has invented it.
We tend, at times, to identify our Quaker practice of silent worship as something that marks us out. And, at a local level, this would seem to be the case. The meetings of Queensland Churches Together start with worship, and representatives of the various churches take turns to lead the worship. Invariably, we are given beautiful prayers, some composed by the speaker, some carefully culled from that church’s liturgy, except when it is the Friends’ turn. Then we bring our characteristic worshipful silence.
These thoughts were sparked off in me in reading Karen Armstrong’s excellent new book: The case for God: what religion really means. Time and time again, we come back to the advocacy of silence: Gregory of Nazianzus (329-90) in Asia Minor, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in North Africa, Denys the Areopagite (C5-6, but whereabouts unknown), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in Germany, to name but a few.
For these souls, silence was of great importance. Silence was necessary to remove oneself from ‘rational’ thinking about God, which invariably reduced God to a personality, a power, a quality. In silence, they believed they could touch the unknowable, incomprehensible God.
Armstrong is much wiser, much better read and much more eloquent that I am. And she is very readable, in this book about religion’s struggles to know God. I can thoroughly recommend her.