Words From The Woods
For the first half of my life I kept the silence of those who wait. I waited through my childhood and I waited through school. I waited through work and out in the world. For many years I kept my silence, waiting.
I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I didn’t know that an unimaginably deeper and more meaningful kind of communion was possible than any I had ever experienced. I just knew I couldn't connect with the conversation of the world, and that something essential was missing. I didn’t try to find what was missing, not really. I hid from a world I couldn't understand, and waited. How it found me is the story I tell in my presentation, "An Innermost Life."
What is "the Conversation?" It is what found me. It is the marriage between the moving word and the waiting silence. It is waking into the silent emptiness before dawn, and feeling a question form within you that only Reason can answer. It is listening for the soft sounds of the woods, and the murmur of the spirit over the waters. It is forever the first morning, again and again.
To me the Conversation is an act of love, forever renewed as the first act of Creation. It's as miraculous as every new unity, as every coming together of things apart. With the conversation the world is renewed as good and whole.
The Conversation is the heart of my life, and this house in the woods is the home of the Conversation. It is a questioning and an answering as much in silence as in words. For twenty years mine were the only questions. Then Innermost House was built, and others came with their questions.
We speak of everything, my husband and I and our guests together. Every subject, every question has a place if it belongs to the soul. Sometimes a guest will come with a question or a trouble that's burnt a hole in his life for years. Sometimes a marriage will be breaking apart in a way that my husband’s words can heal. Sometimes people come with a longing sense of something missing, and keep coming back for years because of what the Conversation helps them find.
Most often people come with a simple question, and it's only in the asking and slow answering that the depths and the dividedness appear. This I have learned from a thousand conversations: that every life conceals a mystery, that every success lies over loss, and that only the love that comprehends it all can make it well and whole.
Guests come with their questions, and for awhile entirely forget the other world outside. They come and then get lost on their way back home! Perhaps we are all lost, and only need to be reminded that we don't really know where we are going. Some guests don't wish to be reminded, and never return. In a way I'm not surprised. There's something high as the heavens about the Conversation, and something deep and dark as the heart of the earth.
The Conversation is an act of love and love's creation. It is the first thing to which I wake in the morning. It is the last thing I know at night. It is always new and forever familiar. To me it is the beginning and the end of everything. In the Conversation I have
What Diana calls the Conversation has been known by many names through history. Traditional Christianity calls it Contemplation, and seeks it through the practice of monasticism. Every Benedictine monk takes a "Vow of Conversation."
Hundreds of years before the Christian era, Aristotle called it "Theoria." In his Nichomachean Ethics he describes both the difficulty and the desirability of a life lived in accordance with such Conversation, which requires the exercise of Reason, and has its end in true Happiness. The "Master of those who Know" gave to such Conversation the very highest place in human life:
But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must,
so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every
nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if
it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth
Earlier still, in the Mosaic age of Judaism, the Sabbath was instituted in honor of the seventh day of Creation as it is recorded in Genesis. The traditional Sabbath was a day from which all labor was excluded, so that nothing should interrupt the sacred Conversation between man and man, and man and God.
But so high an estimation of the life of Conversation is not confined to ancient times. The 18th century American founders valued high conversation above all the arts and sciences. It is of such conversation that the independent American state and its constitution were born.
And speaking for the Transcendentalists of the American 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson surveyed the whole wealth of human culture to ask, What is it all for?— and answered:
...all for a little conversation, high, clear and spiritual!