Holiness, Speech and Silence

Lash, Nicholas
Ashgate (2004)
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This is not a book review. Nicholas Lash's slim book is too dense to allow anything like a complete survey of its content in 500 words; not only is the subject matter (which echoes A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic) so dense that it requires repeat reading paragraph by paragraph but the strands that relate content to each other are so numerous that a linear account is extremely difficult to assemble.

The first part, though illuminating, covers the familiar ground of how the God we (and the other two Abramic religions, among others) worship became a god who was an explanation for our world, the subject of philosophy, which was made redundant by natural science. God ceased to be a relationship and we lost our sense of the word as a verb rather than a noun. We lost the sense of mystery and metaphor which must always be associated with God; and although talking about God is the most difficult and dangerous thing we can do, we must persevere was to be a believer is to be in a school of faith.

Lash then turns to globalisation to say that we are everyone; but scientific language means we have lost the gift of grand narrative; paradoxically, we have lost the idea of one world in the Holy Spirit at the time we most need it; we have lost holiness (wholeness) and we have lost all sense of ourselves in a narrative in favour of a fatal separation of truth from individual experience and so we lose our self awareness as creatures of the Creator. The world is God's gift and the Church is its sacrament.

We live in a world of betrayed trust which makes utterance difficult, not only because of science but greed and selfishness on an unimaginable scale. He leans heavily on George Steiner here who says that all true speech is religious but after what we have done to the world we are living in an extended Holy Saturday between Crucifixion and Resurrection. Yet in this state we must persevere, recognising our utter dependence on God who says the one word that God is. The rest is silence. Steiner's concern is the difficulty of speech after Auschwitz but we can forge speech after Calvary. In this economy of the Trinity the Father is silence, the Son is utterance and the spirit is life giving holiness. Christians know that they are lovingly created into peace; and that is all they know.

You can tell from this succession of stunning ideas and phrases that this book is both challenging and immensely rewarding. It also relates tellingly to most of the important theologians and thinkers in the second half of the 20th Century notably McCabe, Rahner, Sagan and Hawking. Perhaps its main virtue is that it takes theology seriously instead of entangling it with contemporary anxieties which divert us from our true purpose as creatures, to try with the tools we have been given, to fashion a relationship with the Creator.