This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
Our country and our world is in a good bit of trouble right now. We live in what storyteller Michael Meade calls “black dog times”. The tale goes like this:
The Old People of the tribes tell of a special cave where a woman is weaving the most beautiful garment in the world. She is almost finished, but while she stirs the soup in a great cauldron at the back of the cave a black dog awakens and moves to where she has left the garment on the floor. The dog begins pulling on a loose thread of the beautiful garment. Because each thread is woven to another, pulling on one undoes them all. Soon the beautiful garment is a chaotic mess on the floor of the cave. When the woman returns she sits and looks silently upon the remnants of her once beautiful design. She ignores the presence of the black dog as she stares intently at the tangle of loose threads and distorted designs. Then after a while she picks up a thread and begins again to weave an even more lovely cloak, the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen.
The story is longer than this summary, with a wealth of meaningful detail. It was featured in the retreat “Thriving on the Threshold,” held at Rolling Ridge in October. Yet even this abbreviated version of the tale holds nuggets of insight and meaning. One could say that much of the fabric of human culture today is unraveling, and nature with it; our civil society and our connection to all that is meaningful is coming undone, our creative efforts to build a more beautiful world have seemingly come to naught. The story offers hints of what to do and how to behave when the black dog begins pulling on the loose thread and the dark times come around again, as surely they have.
Planted in the middle of the story is a seed of hope. For in the midst of this trouble in which we find ourselves, the weaving begins again out of a moment of deep contemplation and silence.
“The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and my advice asked, I should reply, “Create silence. Bring people to silence. The word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Therefore, create silence.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
Silence is the room in which it is possible to hear the voice of our soul calling us home to our true selves and to the Holy One at the center of our being, the Holy One who awakens us to our unique belonging to the world and to
Michael Meade writes, “What keeps being lost in mass culture and in the overheated political rhetoric is the uniqueness of the individual soul. Ultimately what stands against the storms of extremism and nihilism is the awakened individual….In the great drama of life the awakened human soul becomes the extra quantity and uniquely living quality needed to tip the balance of the world away from destruction and towards ongoing creation.”
Out of her silence during which she listened deeply within and gazed long and intently at the destruction and chaos before her, the woman in the story reaches down and pulls thread after thread from the tangled mess. As she does so, she begins to imagine again the beautiful cloth. As she weaves, new patterns and designs appear and her skilled hands knowingly give them vibrant shape. Soon she has forgotten the garment she was weaving before as she concentrates on capturing the new designs of the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen.
This is the gift and grace of silence. It is both the soil of imagination and vision and the doorway to the realm of the numinous and the awakened soul. Perhaps there is no more important work before us than that of encouraging and sustaining its sacramental power in this time. The work of creating silence and of awakening souls is surely what is being called forth among us now. We are each uniquely qualified for this. We can do it. We are the friends of silence.
Silence is a very different theme on more or less the same occasion in a post by sardonic Catholic Pole Artur Rosman, up today. Or maybe not so different, finally, in spite of his comparatively (and characteristically) harsh tone. He has the early monastics ‘running off into the sands,’ but the book by Maggie Ross he links to there undoes a too-easy reading of the image. Rosman is a student of story too, after all. It’s a nice pairing, the more I think about it.
Thanks, Paul. I’ll check it out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the long, silent moment in the story of the woman weaving the world (a post or two ago). When she comes back from stirring the soup and sees that the black dog has unravelled her beautiful garment, her first response is to sit and contemplate. Not a bad first response. Especially given that the action she finally does take is to pick up a thread and start weaving again.
Yes. I particularly like the picture of silence as soil — ‘the soil of imagination and vision.’ Something comes out of this, that’s quite the point.
What encouraging & sustaining silence in this time might mean — might mean in my case, living where I’m living, doing the work I’m doing — is a good question. I’m not very well qualified to talk about silence.