From Centuries of Holiness
The need for discourse in the spiritual life never really fades away. Given the complexities of postmodern existence and the speed with which new phenomena both come into existence and change people’s way of life, there will never really come a time when discourse – engagement with ideas and new things, with social connections and social interactions, and with concern for the physical environment – will dissipate. Discourse is a reality in the postmodern spiritual life. But discourse does not solely define the modality of the religious life. There are also times when seekers become capable of moving beyond the discourse into silence and into holy ignorance.
Recollection is the foundation of this movement beyond words and knowledge. In habitually recollecting the self in the divine presence, the seeker allows the divine presence to permeate life and thought. In the memory of the divine presence, in calling to mind the interior divine presence, the seeker connects with that divine source of life and begins to cede to the divine presence the priority of expression and centrality. The depth and transformative power of the interior divine presence takes on a central role in the life of the seeker. Recollection, in this sense, remains a discursive practice, because in recollection the seeker directs the attention to the divine presence while thinking, relating, or acting. And recollection is also a passive state, because the seeker rests in the divine presence and finds there solace, peace, and renewal. Recollection bridges the discursive activity with the contemplative inactivity.
When the seeker enters into the divine presence and rests there, the seeker experiences a great silence. This silence draws the seeker into experiential relationship with the divine, putting the mind and its work aside in order to rest in that which ultimately is beyond words. Silence transforms the discourse into experience, and the experience of silence carries the seeker more profoundly into the inner divine presence. Silence, like recollection, is both active and passive: in active silence, the seeker puts aside all that intrudes and demands attention except the divine presence; in passive silence, the seeker basks in the glory of resting in the divine presence and rejoices. The silent state, induced as it is by habitual recollection, moves the seeker into a direct apprehension and experience of the divine presence.
From this silence comes a holy ignorance. The discursive categories so essential to building the habitual state of recollection of the divine presence seem to fall away, to be silenced, and to dissipate before the direct experience of the divine. A holy ignorance descends upon the seeker, who no longer clings to the categories and the knowledge achieved over many years of struggle to become holy and divinized. Now the seeker clings to the divine alone. The ignorance that follows upon discursive knowledge leads the seeker into an experience of the divine that defies human categorization and rationalization, so that the seeker not only basks in the silence of the divine presence, but also enters into deep union with the divine presence and impulse and finds rest and solace there.
This same progression of recollection, silence, and holy ignorance operates in communities that begin to live more and more out of the center of their contemplative life. The community discourse, so often oriented toward the remembrance of the divine presence and impulse in their presence, seeks to experience the deep silence of people centering their attention in the divine presence. That community discourse, which strives to manifest the divine presence and impulse in its activity and relationship with others outside the community, begins to reflect on the magnitude and majesty of a divine presence that drives them to restore relationships throughout the world. The community seeks to renew itself in the silence and to find in the silence of the divine presence a revived energy for action. Then the silence leads the community to discard the categories, to move beyond what they know and understand, to an apprehension and service of the divine in unexpected and unusual circumstances. The contemplative progression guides the community to understand the deep well of the divine presence living in silence in the heart of the community. It encourages the community to move beyond its own understanding to risk service and relationship in ways that have never been considered before. Communal holy ignorance inspires prophetic and bold actions reflective of the divine presence, actions that defy common wisdom and that fly in the face of the received practice of the day. The contemplative community is the most prophetic community – healing the sick, restoring the disenfranchised, embracing those whom the world refuses to embrace, and in every way acting beyond the given categories of society. The contemplative community acts out of a holy and defiant ignorance deeply rooted in the silence of the divine presence and built up over years of corporate recollection of the divine presence in activities and thought.