Anthony de Mello: Silence and the Belief in Spiritual Consumption

The Jesuit Anthony de Mello, who died at the age of 57 of a cardiac arrest and at the height of his  popularity as a spiritual writer, was our mealtime reading back during our novitiate year. Shortly after meal, a reader stands before his novitiate community and reads one story or parable from his books including The Song of the Bird and The Prayer of the Frog. One can only read one story at a time if one has to avoid spiritual indigestion, or dialogue the most with those parables. One page for every story that often occupies only a quarter of a page’s space. The wordless space is as important as the worded wisdom. Remember Psalm 19?

The heavens keep telling the wonders of God,
and the skies declare what he has done.
Each day informs the following day;
each night announces to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
and there is never the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches all the earth,
and it travels around the world.

(Contemporary English Version)

At that time, i saw de Mello more as a creative storyteller than actually a threat to our fossilized spiritual belief systems. For example, typical of the Eastern, Indian man in him, he “ran the race” i would say of promoting Awareness of the Sacred within, both a wordless and worded act that is exploratory in itself. But to explore is often to set aside for a while beliefs written in stones because a belief system is just that – a limited human response to the initiative of the Spirit who is uncontainable. Or Unknowable as de Mello would often emphasize:

The disciples were full of questions about God. Said the master, ‘God is the Unknown and the Unknowable. Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.’

The disciples were bewildered. ‘Then why do you speak about him at all?’

‘Why does the bird sing?’ said the master. ‘Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.’

I hardly hear about de Mello around. A good thing actually if he’s been read in the silent corners of homes and seminaries, turning him less into a publicized commodity and celebrity, a sign against the way “vineyard churches” and their ministers in the US for example are too conscious over New York Times’ bestsellers’ rankings. But if de Mello’s wisdom is popularly avoided because they are too threatening to our belief system, i guess he would still end up both smiling and a little sad. His quips were right on:

“It is a great mystery that though the human heart longs for Truth, in which alone it finds liberation and delight, the first reaction of human beings to Truth is one of hostility and fear.”

In the face of cut-and-dried catechism, the emphasis on the unknowability of God would perhaps be too much. In the face of the dominant human screams of “Hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lord,” the Silence of god would perhaps be too much.

Let’s bring one ray of the Truth to the marketplace of spiritual books. I rarely go to the mall without dropping by a bookstore. Yesterday, i found 2 treasures from 2 intellectual giants of our time. Their books were on 50% discount. One is the new book Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas, and the other, Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber. Richard Tarnas is a lucid writer and thinker and anyone interested in the cultural history of the West and the brilliance and madness of its evolving intellectual legacy should read his thick and monumental book The Passion of the Western Mind. Those interested in philosophy should go beyond the comfort and market mode of Sophie’s World! The book was spiritual reading to me to appreciate the author by email. Cosmos and Psyche is the sequel.

Ken Wilber as most of us know is a popular name and i assume is also widely read. The thing is i haven’t read any of Wilber’s books. I only glanced at scenes of his thoughts through the works of Benedictine monk Fr. Thomas Keating. And at this point, i feel i don’t need to buy and read both even if i have the resources. Both books are grand and ambitious in its syntheses on perspectives about the cosmos, the human psyche, and the spiritual realms that we trod on. But the thing is i am contented with the packet of readings at hand and my favorite blogs and sites and venturing into something grand a human undertaking would be out of the line of my focus and priorities (at least at present). The decision what to buy and what not to buy is often guided by de Mello who once described spirituality as going to the market, look at the items on sale to know and decide which item one does not need. Books are only examples. Malls have a lot to teach, too.

9 thoughts on “Anthony de Mello: Silence and the Belief in Spiritual Consumption

  1. Base!🙂

    This post is an eye opener to me…🙂 Isa ako sa mga hindi masyadong familiar kay Anthony Mello, though I have read an analysis of his work on the Prayer of the Frog… After that, wala na…

    In the face of cut-and-dried catechism, the emphasis on the unknowability of God would perhaps be too much.

    I agree… When I read this, parang nagflash sa isip ko ang objection na God may not be fully knowable but we do know a little about (even if it is just a drop in the ocean) Him since He also chose to reveal Himself to us…🙂

    Kapatid, I really admire the piercing acuity of your mind, affirming always that silence is the mind’s freeing gymnasium… And I agree too, malls have a lot to teach…🙂

    • Kapatid, tama siguro tayo sa ating observation – hindi gaanong matunog si de Mello dito sa atin maliban na lang sa religious circles. Si Rick Warren, mas matunog pa siguro hehe. May pagka-contrarian kasi si Lolo sa establisamento. The irony on our knowledge of God is the more we claim we know God, the more we turn God into an object of our petty mind. Kaya – it’s always the safest knowledge to claim that God is unknowable which is one way of saying God cannot be objectified by our limited minds (the burden of the Western mind). In the first place, God is already in the truth of our being, inseparable from our createdness aand therefore, non-objectifiable.
      Minsan lang ako nagmo-malling hehe…

  2. salamat on your article on anthony de mello…my peborit author and his books were my reading companion some years ago!….i love his writing style and i am drawn towards writers who are storytellers at heart….

  3. “You are so proud of your intelligence”, said the master. “You are like a condemned man proud of the vastness of his prison cell”

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