when there are no words (a letter to preston)

Some of you know that last year, my friend Preston and I started pondering theology out loud in letters. He writes on Tuesdays, I write on Thursdays, and we wander through Gossip Girl and workloads and grace and mystery and espresso. Won’t you join us? You can read his last letter to me here.

Dear Preston,

I think not long ago we were talking about writing, why we do it, and I rambled off something to you about silence – that we write to get to the better, fuller silence. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote you, only that I kept wondering the question, turning it over in my mind.

Why do we do this, this gut wrenching work, this turning our selves inside out and displaying it? I freeze every time I hover over the publish button. I think about being too revealing and being too closed off. I wonder if books are safer (are they?) because they’re bound beautiful and the words have chapters and categories, instead of spilling out all over the same website in no real order. 

Why do you, Preston? Why do you write?

Rilke keeps asking me this week: must you? Is it the thing you cannot live without? And this week my answer is such a tentative, restless yes. It’s a yes of impatience, a yes with a no lurking under it, and then a deeper, more reluctant yes lurking under that. I must write. I can’t help writing.

Some days I wish I could stop. Some days, when I close my eyes and think about the weight of this world, the ruins of St. Mary’s Cathedral you mentioned before, that one sculpture I’m desperate to see again in the Musée Rodin, the passage in Atonement that makes me cry when I read it (and I read to help myself cry in my real life sometimes, too) – I just want to stop all the words.

I want to sit in silence. I want a small punctuation mark, the comma or period, and then, that lingering space.

The pause,

The pause.

I am tired of seeing how little I’m really capable of saying well. I am tired of the tug of words on my hands, saying, “come, write the world, everything you see, never cease your amazement and sorrow and awe.” Sometimes I want to stop feeling amazed and sorrowful and awed and just feel that silence.

Do you feel that too, sitting in front of your blog or your books, wondering about the way you see the world and how much you see in it? Your post from yesterday – about the old sadness, and the hope, and the Light that breaks forth? It made me want to stop all the words, except for Pablo Neruda and Rainer Maria Rilke (because in the midst of my silence I hear, not their words, but the space their words create), and have the world sit in silence.

The pause before the storm resumes. The pause when even the wind will cease howling for a moment and listen to the greater stillness that hovers over the land.

Maybe the purpose of all these words is just to reach for that silence. Maybe we are supposed to write our way there, and people everywhere sing or paint or train for marathons or bake bread or build homes or families in the unsteady journey to the greater stillness I can almost hear hovering over the land.

I’m going to leave us both with Neruda, and the deep space of his words and the swell of the ocean I imagine lived in his heart, whether he could taste and see it every day or not. I imagine that we’ll someday, somehow, live inside the stillness.

Let us look for secret things
somewhere in the world,
on the blue shore of silence
or where the storm has passed,
rampaging like a train.
There the faint signs are left,
coins of time and water,
debris, celestial ash
and the irreplaceable rapture
of sharing in the labour
of solitude and the sand. – Pablo Neruda, from On the Blue Shore of Silence


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3 thoughts on “when there are no words (a letter to preston)

  1. Pingback: translation, a letter to hilary | see preston blog

  2. “Rilke keeps asking me this week: must you? Is it the thing you cannot live without? And this week my answer is such a tentative, restless yes. It’s a yes of impatience, a yes with a no lurking under it, and then a deeper, more reluctant yes lurking under that. I must write. I can’t help writing.”

    And I am so glad for that, your answer.

  3. Lovely post. Your words are swirling around an idea…not taming it but discovering its shape. I sometimes feel that if I can just get the words in their places that peace will come. But only for a time, for then more words start to vibrate and pulsate and beg for attention.

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