Fall Issue 3
Articulation & Silence
On Centering Prayer & Student Life
By Jolene Nolte
Articulation and silence may seem to be opposites, but I’ve come to recognize my need for both. In the process, I've come to think of them as complementary aspects of the same thing, like inhaling and exhaling are both part of breathing.
I spent my summer working at our beloved John Richard Allison library, where my boss specified employees could not listen to music. In my past jobs, I’ve leaned on music and audio lectures to propel me through the long stretch of hours, particularly for tedious tasks. But after the initial shock, I was grateful for the silence where I could attend to my breathing and the alpha-numeric order of one book at a time. Gradually, I learned to do so prayerfully.
The last few months I’ve practiced centering prayer. The goal is to breathe deeply and surrender your thoughts and feelings to God as they arise. Other than a word that you
repeat to re-focus, it is a wordless form of prayer. In many library shifts and morning prayer sessions, the silence brought my own mental static to the surface. Without even knowing how, I often emerge from periods of silence different from how I entered. Sometimes I can identify what changed, but often, I simply feel upheld. The day’s other, deadline-driven tasks await, and I do often feel overwhelmed by them. But these times of silence remind me of the unhurried, gracious Presence upholding me.
It feels like swimming, a silent form of exercise I took up this year. There are moments when my initial childhood fear of drowning flashes across my consciousness. See how far the curved valley of the pool floor is? My mouth and nose are underwater, what if I can’t breathe? It’s more a primal sensation of fear than conscious thought. But as I focus on one stroke at a time, I realize the water holds me. My arms, legs, and buoyant lungs are cooperating with the water. There’s a thrilling freedom in the feel of water both bearing me up and yielding to my movements.
Just as there are different qualities of speech, there are different types of silence. The silence we’re invited to is one of trust. I think of Jesus’ silence compared to Dante’s Satan. Jesus is silent before Pilate because he knows what he must endure, and he trusts that God will vindicate him. He doesn’t need to defend himself. The Spirit who has the power to raise him from the dead will do that. Jesus’ silence, then, is a radical statement of trust. Dante’s Satan, on the other hand, is silent in the icy centre of the earth, his three mouths full with the traitors he chews on. He cannot speak. His silence is a cold, self-enclosed stasis devoid of love.
At the same time, whether in my poetry, my academic writing or conversations with friends and mentors about my relationship with God, with others and with myself, over and over again the theme has been the importance of articulation. What is it I am trying to say in my writing? What are the thoughts that keep me awake at 5 am? How do I see God involved in my life—in what I’m grateful for and in what’s causing me pain? Kierkegaard writes that having a self is God’s great gift to human beings and is our immense responsibility: “to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession, an infinite concession given to man, but it is also eternity’s claim upon him.” I’ve been entrusted with existence, with a self. What, who is this self I’ve been given? Kierkegaard, like Augustine, locates the self’s only rest in God. But what does it look like for each of us to, in Kierkegaard’s words, “transparently rest in the power that established it”? It is hard work to ask these questions and to begin to answer them. I’ve come to see that while the answers are elusive, not wrestling with them has consequences. Engaging them is like swimming freestyle, facing that deep valley only to find that I am miraculously upheld.
God is ineffable. We can never wrap our minds fully around him. And we are more than our rational abilities. Our silence allows space for God to meet us in parts of ourselves that we can’t consciously reach. Our silence, as Tetsuya reminded us last week, allows room for another to speak. But God is also Word. If there is one thing I understand from the last couple weeks' Barthian Theo I readings, it’s that God has articulated himself to us. This is why we can call him by name, why we can say anything at all about him, why we as perplexed students can dare to write anything theological.
The articulation we’re invited to is one of trust. Articulation has communication as its goal, and communication requires another whose response we cannot control. We have to trust that our labors to articulate will be worthwhile, that it’s worth the risk. Our efforts may be fumbling and imperfect, but it’s important to try. This is so much of what we do as students. It may not involve swimming, shelving and creative writing for you, but take heart, knowing the enterprise of putting words to inchoate thoughts and impressions is worthwhile. We serve a God who meets and upholds us in our silence, who articulates himself to us, and who has given us the capacity for articulation ourselves.
Ho Feng Shan, the Chinese Schindler (Part 1)
By Peter Cheung
Act One | Diplomatic Life in Vienna
Prologue | Justice
Manli’s home. 15th August, 2015
Manli enters her study, looking at a series of awards dedicated to her father on a shelf, finishing with a photo of her younger self and her father. Manli takes it into her hand.
President Ma: (voiceover) The republic of China should have been the first nation to recognize Ambassador Ho and his deeds in Vienna; we are sorry, but we ended being the last one to do so. We are… sorry.
Manli: Father, President Ma issued an executive order today, seventy years after World War II. Finally, the nation has restored justice for you.
1 | Arriving In Vienna
Oriental Express. Summer 1937
Monto: Father, what is Austria like? Is it like Turkey?
Shan: Monto, Austria is part of Europe, and Vienna, the capital that we are going to, was a metropolis almost 1,000 years ago!
Monto: So it's as old as China?
Shan: Well, no, Chinese history is even older, even though our republic is relatively young.
Monto: What's a republic again?
Shan: A country not ruled by a king but by its people. Austria became a republic seventeen years ago. Could you tell me another country that is also a republic?
Monto: Oh, oh, oh, Turkey!
Shan: That's right.
Train operator: (voiceover) We are about to arrive in Vienna. Please exit the train and retrieve your belongings.
Shan: Monto, go help Mama get the bags.
Monto: Yes, Father.
Mozart violin music starts.
Shan: (appreciating the music, then speaks to audience) Vienna, of course, is also famous for being a city of music. Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven... In fact, the legation is on Beethoven platz, and there's a statue of his opposite to the entrance. On the left side was Strauss' statue near the Stadpark. When we arrived, it was the Viennese Festival, there were countless musical performances.
Music of Beethoven starts.
2 | English Club
Vienna café. Christmas Eve, 1937
Music continues in background. Café servers, Burg and Rosenberg bring out chairs, tables, coffee pots and cups.
Shan: (during setup, continue speaking to audience, like a narrator) But of course, another thing that Vienna is famous for is its many cafés. There, we drink coffee. We also talk about all kinds of topics. A good friend of mine organizes an English club. It's a comfortable enjoyment. Not long after I arrived, I was asked to speak.
Burg steps forward, stands next to Shan and begins to speak.
Burg: Hello, everyone (addresses the audience as if they are participants at the English Club),today we have Dr. Ho from the Chinese legation again. Last time we really enjoyed having him to speak on... Hmm...
Shan: Chinese customs
Burg: Right, Chinese customs, you have spoken of so many interesting things over the last few months so even I have lost track! I especially remember the bound-feet and trousers-
Shan nods, with a little bit of embarrassment, but still full of confidence.
Burg: And pigtails. (laughs) Today, we have a more serious topic on Sino-Japan relations. Dr. Ho has done extended research on the topic, and is eager to share with us. Please, Dr. Ho.
Shan: Thank you. (Like Burg, also addresses the audience as participants from English Club.) Friends, one of the key connections between the East and West, as we know, is the trade route made famous and named after Marco Polo. In fact, what he did was so significant that a bridge in China was named after him in the English language. Marco Polo bridge, in Chinese, we call it the Lokou.
Rosenberg: Silk Road!
Shan: Indeed, the Silk Road. Why am I telling you this? It is because a few months ago, on 7th July this year, the Japanese made up an incident there as their own excuse, and began their invasion of China. Yes, Sino-Japanese relations, as we speak, is currently in a state of war. But the threat of war is already been looming over the years. We actually secured a Japanese memo from the highest levels regarding directives on how to deal with the free city of Shanghai, which their troops have occupied. But not only Shanghai, their ambition is to conquer the world. And China is fighting to stop them. We have fought many battles, in Shanghai-Wusong, TaiYuan, PingXingGuan pass and most recently, Nanking. We won some battles at a very heavy cost of high casualties, but the enemy is not satisfied with just killing soldiers. Yes, as of this very moment, they are killing off Chinese civilians.
Burg: Oh my!
Shan: (Nods) I want to tell you this not just to get your sympathy, but your support. Very soon I will engage with bigger audiences at the National Assembly hall here in Vienna, and to the wider audience through publishing a book called China Defends Herself. Help me to take this message to a wider audience. And also pray for us. Thank you.
Burg: Well, thank you Dr. Ho. This is indeed a serious topic and that we should take action on. Everyone, this ends our club time today. I am sure Dr. Ho will stick around downstairs to take questions, but I know many of you have to go home to celebrate Christmas tonight. So thank you for coming again, and Merry Christmas!
Everyone exits with chairs, tables, coffee pot and cups.
By Sandi Smoker
Crossword by Embolus
1. Compound of copper and benzene, hazard losing European emperor (14)
8. Royal movement includes state of loving (8)
9. Terrorist outfit takes Eastern American lawyer for pleasure cruiser (6)
11. Prophetess includes decimal base sensor (7)
12. Fragrant resident of Barnardo’s (4)
14. Does mystical icon have a material presence? (6)
16. Anti British sentiment in ungenerous Asian import? (4,4)
18. Nut cut (8)
19. Interfere with announcement of award (6)
21. Opening veil exposes no treasures (4)
22. In the current situation I am bent out of shape (7)
25. New goals set in political sound-bite (6)
26. Elevated pitch-and-put lie before dry round (8)
27. Boss’s queue is no manifestation of true humility (14)
1. French triumph over England by no royal chap with classical ambition (6,8)
2. Copper and tin alloy provides cable limit (10)
3. Reading list for clergyman? (5)
4. Very thin layer set up for living creature (6)
5. Howling breeze? Coats, boots for harbour. (9)
6. Product of the tails of sea-slug Chelidonura? Royal jelly. (4)
7. Abysmal paving material (4,10)
10. Contribution from vermin, putrid parasite. (5)
13. Cemetery? Bull’s eye! (4,6)
15. East and Central Europe make ready for battle. (9)
17. Declare condition (5)
20. Native American voters appealed judgment over First Nation (6)
23. Military infrastructure in Donbas Estuary (5)
24. Atom bomb’s intrinsically