The Spell of Sensuous Silence: A TOP10 Book List of the Divine Sense

The Spell of Sensuous Silence: A TOP10 Book List of the Divine Sense May 5, 2015

What does silence have to do with the sensuous? The books below explore this question.
What does silence have to do with the sensuous? The books below explore this unlikely connection.

The interviews are coming. The interviews are coming! Shh . . .

Thursday this week will feature an interview with Damon Linker of The Week Magazine talking about political theory and his conversion to Catholicism.

Tuesday next week will feature Kevin M. Johnson of Daily Theology and The Inner Room talking about practices of silence and their fundamental importance for maintaining our sanity and our connection to God. What follows is a sneak peek of the Johnson interview by way of some of the books he recommends for cultivating silence in your life.

I will skip over his recommendation of Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard, because they already respectively appear on my living religious poet and living religious novelist lists. I know almost nothing about the titles below. According to Johnson, there’s a reason for this:

For all our contemporary words about silence and their variants (like mysticism, contemplation, meditation), it is rare to find anyone talking about “actual silence” in or out of theological circles. The ones I do find talking about it are many of the poets and fiction writers.

Stepping outside my area of knowledge is part of the challenging fun of writing blog. Besides, these books do look inviting since, according to Johnson, they tap into some very ancient Christian sources:

Silence is an actual practice. One needs to do it and not just think/talk/write about it. Furthermore, one needs to be patient with it because it takes a while to allow Silence to emerge. Once silence is given its space, then it will offer its fruit in its own way at its own pace. Silence will affect our words and experience in ways different to words and linear rationality. It has a more holistic and embodied epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, psychology that is built into it so to speak and it is not within the control of our rational thinking mind.

This is just traditional theology and nothing new really.


Immemorial Silence by Karmen MacKendrick

Silence, roar!
Silence, roar!

Drawing on philosophy, theology, and literature, from the early Middle Ages to the present, Immemorial Silence traces a series of intertwined ideas. Exploring silence as the absence of language, which is nonetheless inherent in language itself, and eternity as the outside of time, cutting through time itself, the book unfolds a series of connections between these temporal and linguistic themes.


Modest cover, contents promising.
Modest cover, contents promising.

The Embers and the Stars by Erazim Kohak

Those who share Kohák’s concern to understand nature as other than a mere resource or matter in motion will find his temporally oriented interpretation of nature instructive. It is here in particular that Kohák turns moments of experience to account philosophically, turning what we habitually overlook or avoid into an opportunity and basis for self-knowledge. This is an impassioned attempt to see the vital order of nature and the moral order of our humanity as one.

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

The bird.
The bird.

How did Western civilization become so estranged from nonhuman nature that we condone the ongoing destruction of forests, rivers, valleys, species and ecosystems? Santa Fe ecologist/philosopher Abram’s search for an answer to this dilemma led him to mingle with shamans in Nepal and sorcerers in Indonesia, where he studied how traditional healers monitor relations between the human community and the animate environment. In this stimulating inquiry, he also delves into the philosophy of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who replaced the conventional view of a single, wholly determinable reality with a fluid picture of the mind/body as a participatory organism that reciprocally interacts with its surroundings.

My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman

Dive in.
Dive in.

Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, useful not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at times to overbrim its boundaries. How do we answer this “burn of being”? Wiman asks. What might it mean for our lives–and for our deaths–if we acknowledge the “insistent, persistent ghost” that some of us call God?

Nine Gates by Jane Hirshfield

Take a bite.

A person who enters completely into the experience of a poem is initiated into a deeper intimacy with life. Delving into the nature of poetry, Jane Hirshfield also writes on the nature of the human mind, perception and experience. Nine Gates is about the underpinnings of poetic craft, but it is also about a way of being alive in the world — alertly, musically, intelligently, passionately, permeably.

The Second Truth: A Brief, 21st Century Introduction to the Intellectual & Spiritual Journey that is Philosophy by James Danaher

second truth
Can you handle more than one truth?

We are born into families, language communities, and cultures that provide us with an initial understanding (first truth) through which to interpret our experience. Civilization advances, however, because certain authentic individuals like Copernicus, Socrates, and Jesus pursued a better way (second truth) to conceptualize and interpret their experience. Eventually, we inherit filtered versions of their second truth as part of our initial understanding, but such an understanding originated out of a specific form of thinking known as philosophy.

The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist

Not just for MAs.
Not just for MAs.

In a book of unprecedented scope–now available in a larger format—Iain McGilchrist presents a fascinating exploration of the differences between the brain’s left and right hemispheres, and how those differences have affected society, history, and culture. McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent research in neuroscience and psychology  to reveal that the difference is profound: the left hemisphere is detail oriented, while the right has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. McGilchrist then takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists from Aeschylus to Magritte.

Writing the Icon of the Heart by Maggie Ross

I have trouble writing.
I have trouble writing.

We are invited into a silence that is not necessarily an absence of noise, but is a limitless interior space. Ancient texts are used in new and exciting ways, and many of our worship practices are challenged. She is in no doubt that ”the glory of the human being is the beholding of God.”

The Divine Sense by Anna Williams

They didn't say it would be pretty.
They didn’t say it would be pretty.

A. N. Williams examines the conception of the intellect in patristic theology from its beginnings in the work of the Apostolic Fathers to Augustine and Cassian in the early fifth century. The patristic notion of intellect emerges from its systematic relations to other components of theology: the relation of human mind to the body and the will; the relation of the human to the divine intellect; of human reason to divine revelation and secular philosophy; and from the use of the intellect in both theological reflection and spiritual contemplation. The patristic conception of that intellect is therefore important for the way it signals the character of early Christian theology as both systematic and contemplative and as such, distinctive in its approach from secular philosophies of its time and modern Christian theology.

In Pursuit of Silence by George Prochnik

Shhh . . . quiet
Shhh . . . quiet

Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, earsplitting sports stadiums, and endless air and road traffic, the place for quiet in our lives grows smaller by the dayIn Pursuit of Silence gives context to our increasingly desperate sense that noise pollution is, in a very real way, an environmental catastrophe. Traveling across the country and meeting and listening to a host of incredible characters, including doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so loud as a society, and what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet.


If you’re not aware of the sensuous invitations of silence I recommend you watch Into Great Silence, or at least this trailer:

Take a look at my other TOP10 booklists, especially the one on the most important critiques of modernity, because that topic dovetails right into silence.

Finally, hear what Oscar-Winning Film Ida has to say about silence.








"Gluten intolerance is completely -- and I mean completely -- different from celiac disease. Many ..."

The Surprising Anti-Capitalist Logic Behind the ..."
"Read Bruno's comment: #2 below your ranting comment."

Michael Voris’s Stunning and Admirable Broken-Hearted ..."
"Science needs "a confession of sins and an articulate profession of faith"? Seriously?Certainly, individual scientists ..."

2 Reasons Why the March for ..."
"In other words, the March for Science needs a confession of sins and an articulate ..."

2 Reasons Why the March for ..."

Browse Our Archives