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The Ragged Edge of Silence: Book Review

March 22, 2011

Previously… Some background on John Francis

All this is to say that I come to this book from already knowing John, his story and his family. Introducing his journey to a new reader on these pages, John sounds wise and well read, a little awe inspiring. It’s not just the carefully reasoned way he outlines his own spiritual practice, shoring it up with examples from Lakota myth and Jesuit philosophy. I feel a little envious of the people who joined him as he studied and taught in his classes. While he was making his way across country, deepening his practical and philosophical underpinnings of silence… I was playing with Legos and dollhouses and reading Babysitters’ Club books.

But- the book does a good job of capturing that journey, and maybe even making it accessible as something a reader could adapt and do. Each chapter ends with a few ideas for integrating silence into your own practice- keeping a journal, finding a scrap or two of nature. All probably doable ideas to enrich a busy life. The numerous sources John Francis uses to shape the context of silent meditation do more than give his writing a certain scholarly heft. Practicing silence and meditation, and being aware of silence doesn’t hinge on any particular religious or spiritual identity.

I keep wondering, though, about silence in the digital age. Part of my morning ritual is coffee while I read the Internet. Typing clackety-clack fast I can have seven conversations at once, while reading something else, and not moving my vocal cords at all.

The silent journey John chronicles, underscored by some banjo music, is a pre-digital, paper letter writing, “snail mail,” one. I wonder how you define a silent pilgrimage in the digital age. Would it have to be a digital fast, too, to be what John sometimes calls a “word fast,” in his writing? I’ve been wondering about that, especially as I’ve been reading a series of books about technology and society, to review for the Ledger.

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