Restlessness of spirit


Gerald Vann


So many people today are addicted to the mobile telephone. Whether in a surgery, on a bus or train, in a shop or even in the street, they are continually chattering or texting. They cannot bear silence or being alone … It is to some extent, at least the effect, of a deep underlying restlessness of spirit. A poet may cry, ‘Teach us to sit still’.


Silence and stillness

Modern people will do anything to avoid silence, even in church before a service, because they find thought, in any deep sense, very far from sweet. So all day long, the radio blares; all the time, there must be ‘background music.’ But where there is no silence, no stillness, there can be no vision: ‘In quiet and repose of the humours,’ wrote Albertus Magnus … ‘the soul attains understanding and prudence.’ Without that, we shall not learn: we shall not learn from the world around us, from Nature, for ‘the silent power of the landscape,’ as M. Max Picard remarks, ‘needs the silence in the human face if it is to exert its influence’; we shall not learn from deep human relationships with other human beings and with all creatures, for ‘ages no longer related to silence, like the modern age, do not bother about the ontic in things. They are concerned only with the profitability, the exploitability, and the revolutionary pos  sibilities in things’; we shall not learn from history, for such a world takes account only of the ‘loud facts of history’; we shall not learn even from the fact of death, for even ‘death itself has been killed,’ has become ‘merely some thing negative: the extreme end of what we call life’.


Pursuit of wisdom

The noise and the fever are in part the cause of our anxiety-ridden and neurotic restlessness; in part they are its effect. We have our share of complicity in creating the world we live in; for to a great extent the world we live in reflects and expresses the inner world of our own souls. There is tragic proof of this in the sphere of education. The age-old idea of education as the quiet pursuit of wisdom, of fullness of life, of a rich, deep, completion of the whole personality is disappearing, and is being replaced  by a more and more exclusively utilitarian scramble to acquire knowledge of facts and above all, commercially rewarding facts …

What is the use, people demand increasingly, of learning Latin and Greek? What is the use of all this poetry and music, this art and philosophy? Wherefore this waste? So Judas demanded as he watched the woman pouring out the precious ointment on the feet of God; and in his mean-minded calculation dis  missed with a word all the poetry of life, all the poetry of holiness. And his words seem to be echoed down the ages in the mouths of all those who, in other contexts, have wanted to sell humanity’s birthright for a mess of pottage.

From The Water and the Fire by Gerald Vann, edited by Arthur Middleton