Over the next six months at least three noteworthy books on one of my favorite topics — silence — are scheduled to be published. So I thought I’ve give you a head’s up in case you might be as interested in these books as I am. Two of them will be out before Christmas, so you can put them on your wish list.
Pablo d’Ors, Biography of Silence: An Essay on Meditation (October 2018) — A bestseller in the author’s native country Spain, this is the first time this book has been translated into English, and it promises to be a short book (only about 112 pages) so it really is an “essay” on silence. Pablo d’Ors is a Catholic priest who became a student of Zen (sound familiar?1If this doesn’tsound familiar, may I suggest you explore the work of Thomas Merton, William Johnston, Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle, Robert Kennedy, Thomas G. Hand, and Willigis Jäger?) and wrote this book to share his experience as a newcomer to the practice of meditation.
The book has been praised for its “disarming honesty and directness, as well as a striking clarity of language” — no easy feat when talking about the theater of consciousness. d’Ors does not paint a romantic view of meditation, speaking honestly about how the practice can leave one feeling bored, distracted, or antsy. But the priest-turned-zen-student perseveres, and begins to discover that meditation offers far more than just a sense of serenity and peace (emotions which, after all, are as changeable as the weather) — but that in the silence he truly begins to discover himself, and begins to finally learn how to see things just as they are.
Biography of Silence is translated by David Shook and will be published by Parallax Press. To order your copy, click here.
Phileena Heuertz, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation (November 2018) — Phileena Heuertz is the co-founder of Gravity, a center for contemplative activism based in Omaha, NE. She and her husband Chris are part of the larger “new monastic/new friars” movement which has brought an integration of traditional contemplative spirituality and contemporary social justice work into the evangelical community.
With a foreword by Richard Rohr and an afterward by Kirsten Powers, I think it’s fair to say that this book is aimed at Christians and other interested folks all across the social/political spectrum. This book promises to share Phileena’s own story of discovering centering prayer as an essential spiritual practice, and learning that the key elements of silence, solitude, and stillness are essential for anyone wishing to cultivate a contemplative heart.
In his foreword, Rohr notes, “Phileena writes here with such simple clarity―and easy readability―because she knows she does not need to prove, convict, or defend anything. Mindful Silence contains not just her wisdom but the spiritual wisdom of the ages that is again standing the test of time and showing itself in the fruits of incarnational holiness. It is the great tradition of action and contemplation again showing itself.”
Mindful Silence will be published by IVP. To order your copy, click here.
Jane Brox, Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives (January 2019) — So much of the literature of silence is written from a spiritual or religious perspective (like the two books listed above), that I find it exciting to see a book written by someone who is known for being a literary writer rather than a religious or spiritual teacher. Brox is best known for her book Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light; she is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction and teaches writing through Lesley University’s MFA Program.
All this to say, this promises to be the most elegantly written exploration of silence since 2008’s luminous A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland.
Because she is not trying to promote the spiritual meaning or value of silence, Brox offers a twin approach to her subject, looking at silence in terms of the monastic cell, but also in terms of the prison block. She recounts the story of experimentation with imposing silence and solitude onto inmates to facilitate rehabilitation, only to show that this kind of “silencing” reveals the dark side of silence (or, perhaps, the dark side of human arrogance when it comes to our capacity to exert power over one another).
This sounds like it will be a truly nuanced and comprehensive exploration of how silence can mean many different (and perhaps contradictory) things in human experience.
Silence: A Social History will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To order your copy, click here.
Update, March 2019: Jane Brox spoke with us on the Encountering Silence podcast. Click here to listen to the conversation.