06 April 2006


I have several gigabytes of music on this computer, and I'm not listening to any of it. This is one of those times when silence is the best music. This is the first of the silences I'm thinking about today: the silence I voluntarily enter when I want to remember the texture of existence.

This is the most challenging silence. I have to enjoy my own company, go on internal resources, be responsible for my own spiritual awareness, and resist the temptation to addiction and self-numbing. In this silence I can awaken the channels I usually ignore—sounds from upstairs or outside or even from inside me.

The second silence I'm thinking about is that vulnerable silence of Quaker worship. The worship leaders can say "God is with us" all they want; in the silence, we can listen and taste for ourselves. We can approach the altar within, and receive communion there. Or we can stop short of that, remembering someone we're not reconciled with, and note an intention to attend to that. We can merge silences—personal and shared. We can be baptized in the silent Spirit bath, and receive a leading to tell others about the cleansing experience ("All the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter," said George Fox). Or we can hide in the silence and embroider its lacy esthetic to the point that the crying child is an irritation, not the miracle that is feeding others.

When I first encountered intentional silence, in my meditating days before becoming a Christian, I felt as if I were on the slide of a cosmic microscope. Then, when I began worshipping with Friends, the silence took on a very rounded shape, like a hill. At the beginning, I felt—still feel—the excitement of a journey ahead of me. I'd ascend with the help of the inward liturgy that Deborah Haight of Ottawa Meeting first told me about. Adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Then the top section of the curve—the bliss of just worshipping, without agenda, at times almost weightless. As close to Jesus as I dare get. (Sometimes, the baggage I bring makes me not very daring.) On the descent, merging worship and daily life, letting my mind synthesize my images and intuitions, and test out leadings to speak or stay silent.

Another silence: God's silence. I know all the theological excuses, but when millions prayed for Tom Fox, and specifically when I thought I'd given God the most exquisitely persuasive reasons to keep him among us, the discovery of his corpse was so hard that piety gave way to anger. I had to remember that God's universe has a lot of built-in silence and apparent discontinuity in it, from our ground-level viewpoint. If God could tolerate the communal idiocy and cruelty of Judges 19, there is evidently space in God's creation for endless tragic mystery. Nothing that happens is so terrible that it hasn't happened before, I uselessly remind myself as I think about my murdered sister. The Bible seems to tell us that these things are what happens when people operate outside God's covenant. (Judges 21:25, "At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.") Timing is everything, I guess. I'm just glad I don't run the universe, I just live in it, and try to live consciously. And the best way for me to do that is to live with people who stick close to Jesus, without hiding either in convenient cynicism or false piety.

Speaking of sticking closely to Jesus, read these eulogies for Tom Fox. And Alivia Biko's Web site is hosting Derek Lamson's downloadable song for Tom Fox, the song I mentioned back here. (Thanks to Peggy Parsons for alerting me that the song had been posted.)

Immigration and immigrants are again the focus of a national conversation, and I detect a bit more compassion this time around. (Disclosure of self-serving sentiments: I'm an immigrant.) I loved reading in an AP/Yahoo headline that the authorities were surprised by the size of the immigrants' rally in Los Angeles. On a sadder note, this BBC item reminds us that anti-immigrant attitudes and xenophobia are by no means confined to the USA. In Russia, I have personally witnessed anti-semitism and racism being flaunted openly in a way that is truly shocking, considering how many millions of Russians were lost in a world war, still in living memory, that was ignited precisely by Hitler's anti-semitism and racism.

How indirection and evasion work: I appreciated George Bush's willingness to accommodate challenging questions at today's appearance at the World Affairs Council of Charlotte. Here's a bit of the AP story:
Defending his decision to go to war in Iraq three years later, Bush said it was important that he follow up his words with action when Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate with the United Nations.

"When America speaks, we ought to mean what we said," Bush told the World Affairs Council of Charlotte. "I meant what we said when we embraced that resolution that said `Disclose. Disarm. Or face serious consequences.' Words mean something in this world if you're trying to protect the American people."
Shouldn't this audience be able to trust that Bush's assertive recounting of history is accurate? We know that, by the terms of international demands, Saddam Hussein had indeed disarmed. Bush's coalition did not reluctantly attack Iraq to comply with a UN resolution but eagerly, with unseemly haste and sloppiness, lined up its compliant ducks to do so, after yanking out the inspectors who were in the process of assessing Iraq's weaponry. What serious consequences does Bush face if words, and facts, truly mean something in this world?

It's also frightening when our Supreme Court justices set an issue in a false frame. In this Reuters/Yahoo story, Antonin Scalia dismisses the constitutional rights of Guantanamo detainees. Scalia was quoted as saying, "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs." That IF is one of the points at issue, and it's not a minor point. We're not talking about a traditional infantry battle by uniformed soldiers, nor about a traditional war with traditional closure. Prisoners got enmeshed in the conflict by a variety of ways, including innocent blundering, denunciations, bounty-hunting, and, by most prevailing standards, honest combat against an invader. None of these ways provides a humane nation with an excuse to practice the cruelty of indefinite detention without recourse.

Scalia also said, "War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts." He's right. Actual combatants are released to go home. I cannot remember a case in modern times outside the Soviet bloc when someone else's soldiers were held in indefinite captivity. Inside the Soviet bloc is another matter: captured Germans and others sometimes disappeared for years inside the GULag, and so did Russian veterans who had simply had the misfortune of being captured by the enemy. Is this the comparison we've stooped to?

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