Winter 2009


William L. Brownsberger

“Presence in silence betokens disponibility. . . . Selfishness centers on the scattered-out self (in the Augustinian sense).”

A “recollected” spirit always feels, thinks, wills, acts in the presence of itself and of God, always moving from its interiority while remaining there in its entire exterior life.1

There is little attention given to the significance of silence today. Whether we should see this fact more as stemming from or as contributing to a lack of the experience of silence is difficult to judge. In either case, the disregard of silence is a problem that affects persons in themselves and in their relationships with others in a profound way. The claim that this is a problem clearly requires some justification today since silence is now the outsider. Silences are usually seen at present in a poor light: they represent discomfiture, deep-seated anger, defeated concession, being at a loss.2 Where silences are valued, they are often such in a merely negative way, as the absence of and rest from burdensome activity or impinging noise.

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1. “Uno spirito ‘raccolto’ sente, pensa, vuole, agisce sempre in presenza di se stesso e di Dio, sempre muovendo dalla sua interiorità e permanendovi anche in tutta la vita esteriore” (Michele Federico Sciacca, Come si vince a Waterloo, 5th ed. [Milan: Casa Editrice Dott. Carlo Marzorati, 1963], 167; here and throughout the present text, translations from Italian works are my own unless otherwise indicated). A beautiful meditation on recollection is found on 167–71. Cf. Max Picard, The World of Silence, trans. Stanley Godman (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952), 62: “The man whose nature is still possessed by silence moves out from the silence into the outside world. The silence is central in the man.”

2. For other negative connotations of silence, see Jean-Luc Egger, “‘Ganz und gar gegenwärtig’: Forma e silenzio nel pensiero di Max Picard,” Sapienza 52, no. 2 (1999): 143–96, 143–44. In the same vein, see also Rachel Muers, Keeping God’s Silence: Toward a Theological Ethics of Communication, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 215.