Thursday, February 9, 2012

which are almost unsayable, letter eight, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays Thursdays Preston and I write letters to each other, to share the wonder of talking theology and grace and mystery together, across the blogs and emails and tweets. I hope you visit his space for At the Lord's Table: A Blog Conversation, and that you find the words there refreshing. I'm learning so much from spending time reading those incredible writers. Today I'm responding to Preston's beautiful letter from Tuesday.

Dear Preston,

This year for Christmas I got what is probably the most wonderful book I have ever received. It's a daily readings from Rainer Maria Rilke - every day a small paragraph, a small treasure, a poem or a letter clipped out and saved for these unlikely readers, who Rilke never met or perhaps even knew about.

When I read your letter, I wanted to write back right away, I wanted to put all these words to what you expressed, how difficult it is to feel like the other, and want to be seen as the same. I wanted to give you all these words, to fill up the places that feel empty or to overflow your inbox with a reminder that you are part of this community, part of this place, part of belonging here.

But you see, that was February 6. And on February 6, Rilke's words to me in that book were:

"Things are not nearly so comprehensible and sayable as we are generally made to believe. Most experiences are unsayable; they come to fullness in a realm that words do not inhabit. And most unsayable of all are works of art, which - alongside our transient lives - mysteriously endure." (Paris, February 17, 1903)

His words shook me. I kept wanting to give you words, words of comfort or truth or life, words that would heal and bind up and restore... And there is Rilke, reminding me that some things are not nearly so comprehensible as we believe.

So I wanted to tell you that while I long to give you words, I think it more important to stand in the face of your questions, of your silence, next to you and be silent too. Perhaps there isn't enough of standing in silence together anymore.

That's what the part of me that lives in the Orthodox Church says we should go. We should stand in silence together before what is so very difficult, what is almost unsayable. You know from all our conversations that the Orthodox Church is a large part of my heart, and some of my head, and always a wonder and a mystery about whether the rest of me will end up there. I'm remembering this prayer that they sing in the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: Lord, our God, whose power is beyond compare, and glory is beyond understanding; whose mercy is boundless, and love for us is ineffable; look upon us and upon this holy house in Your compassion. Grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy.

Those words make me stand silent. His power, beyond compare. His glory, beyond understanding. But His mercy, boundless, and His love, ineffable. There aren't words for that. Not really. Yet the Church repeats the words, and holds the silence that the words point to, holds what is unsayable in her spaces and in her people.

Could it be that in these moments when we look in the face of what is so unsayable, about Him, about us, about all that we do not know and wish we knew, we are meant to carry each other's silences? That for we who blog and write books and papers and who spend our time in theology and philosophy and literature, that in the end the words point to the silence beyond them?

I wish I could give you words, Preston. I long to. But I wanted to at least say that I will stand with you in front of what is unsayable. We can carry each other's silences. 



  1. Carrying each other's silences. The ability to do so for one another seems paramount in friendship. I'm going to tuck that one away.

    Also, I'm very curious about this Rilke daily reading book of yours! What's it called?

  2. Hilary, though I don't make it here to comment daily, I am reading and drinking up your beautiful conversations. I love your heart and voice, as it is powerful and so very rich in your questioning and discovering, the way you are proclaiming truth in your life-- all this is to say that I love your words. Thank you for spring them so graciously.


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