From a second century homily
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence
Death is a hard teacher. But a good one. It seems at first like the great enemy – as the great teachers always do. Yet, when we have learned from it, it becomes our friend. In the Katha Upanishad the boy Nachiketas is resolved to find the meaning of truth and knows that he must penetrate and question death if he is to succeed. Laving his home and family he starts his quest across the threshold of the known world. Every wisdom tradition recognises the importance of remembering that we will die and reminds us that resisting the temptation – however understandable it is – is to deny reality.
Today, Holy Saturday is the day after. We can no longer deny it. Facing this, we also learn the meaning of silence. Nothing is more silent than death. Not only is death silent, but to become silent is to die - to our self. The only way we can approach the dimension of the divine is through the silence of all our faculties. There is no observation platform for the ego to take refuge on, to say ‘how silent it is here’. What it is like to be dead, the living can never know. We glimpse, with some degree of fear, that our body is not private property.
To live with this uncertainty makes contemplation unavoidable. Otherwise we construct false certainties and securities that rob life of its dignity and joy. In meditation, the work of silence, all our ideas about God become obsolete. God dies – as modern secular society well knows. Yet God survives his own death. It is not God who dies but our most precious images of God.
However painful may be the abyss of absence in death, if we embrace silence, we learn that neither death nor silence is not negation or an evacuation of meaning. It is emptiness, which is simultaneously utter fullness: the poverty of spirit that makes us full citizens of the reign of God.
Silence says nothing. It has no message except itself. Silence grows through all dimensions of reality. The silence of the body happens not through oppressing or humiliating it but through the discipline of moderation and love. The body has a million things in operation at the same time. Unless we are sick, we are not and do not need to be aware of them all. But it’s more difficult to meditate and do the work of silence when you have toothache or a runny nose. The silence of the mind is also achieved not through force but the repeated gentleness of training our attention – setting our mind on God’s kingdom. Not the idea or image of the kingdom but the kingdom which is silent. More even, which is silence.
Everything, including language and imagination, proceed from silence. To live and truly seek, we need to return frequently to the work of silence until it becomes like our biological operations a blessed natural rhythm we don’t need to think about. Jesus dives into the deepest mind of the cosmos and explores every corner of human nature and history. He touches the singular point of origin and simplicity, which science believes in but cannot find. Holy Saturday is the feast of the universal stillness at the heart of reality. When our mind opens to learn this, it does not become silent. It becomes silence: beyond all thoughts, words and images. It is the great liberation.
As silence, in silence we wait for the great event that manifests the life of love from which everything that is has come and to which it returns.