Chapter 5: Reading Guide

Chapter 5: Silences

1/ This Chapter is something of a departure both in content and perhaps in tenor from the previous. What strikes you, and why? What stays with you?

2/ What do you do, or where do you go, to experience silence, or to cultivate the discipline of listening through silence?

3/ In commenting on Mabel Dodge’s description of Blue Lake, the author suggests that such accounts are “revelatory and even salvific to the degree they awaken something in us that has died or fallen asleep…” (p. 75) Would you agree, as Pramuk here suggests, that we need to expand our notion of “salvation” to include the “suffering earth”? What are the implications of such a view? How might our churches (or other communities and institutions) do so concretely, in image, speech, and practice?

4/ Watch together the brief interview posted to “Music and Art” with artist Little Lake Johnson of Taos Pueblo, “Keeping Traditions Alive.” Reflect on the video in light of what you learned about Taos Pueblo and its history in Chapter 5. What impressions of the Pueblo people and/or the natural landscape are you left with? Would you agree that the Indians can “teach us something essential that we have forgotten…”?

5/ Review the section “Polarities,” p. 76-78. To what extent has your formal education included stories such as these in American or Native American history? If Indian history, culture, and spirituality remain largely hidden from our view, why, do you think, is this is the case?

6/ What do you make of the religious or theological dimensions of Indians’ relationship to the Earth? Where do you stand in present debates on the environmental crisis? Does your faith or sense of God shape your perspective on the environment?  Have you ever heard preaching on this issue?

7/ “The Spirit of God can work in surprising, even miraculous, ways in and through profound cultural polarities and conflicts of difference” (p. 78). Would you agree? Is the author too hopeful, naïve, or optimistic? Can you think of other examples, whether historical or contemporary?

8/ Watch the short film trailer for the film Koyaanisqatsi under “Music and Art” for Chapter 5, and review the quote from director Godfried Reggio at the bottom of p. 79. What is Reggio’s central insight and concern here? Do you agree? To what extent does “silence speak louder than words”?

9/ Pramuk’s inclusion of Reggio’s film alongside Native American spirituality reprises the idea, as in Chapter 4, that music, art, poetry—and here dance!—may be more effective in waking people up than strictly rational, scientific, moral-ethical, or political discourse. (Note also the mention of the animated short, The Man Who Planted Trees, in n. 22, p. 185, and several other artists in n. 26, p. 186.) Why should this be so? Might this especially be true with respect to the environmental crisis?

10/ What daily practices can help us to cultivate “a more simplified and integrated life of balance”? Are large-scale, systemic movements possible in this regard, or must transformation happen one person at a time?

11/ Which of the endnotes for Chapter 5 most interest you, and why?

12/ Review David Tracy’s description of the darker side of modernity, n. 24, p. 185. What do you make of Tracy’s view of the contemporary global human situation? Too bleak? About right? Does this chapter gesture to some way through or beyond this situation?

13/ Notes n. 36 and n. 38 expand on the conflict between different cultures especially in the realm of religious ritual, belief, and practice. Read aloud and talk about what moves you in either of these two notes.

14/ Throughout the chapter Pramuk links silence to death, to the awareness of our mortality, and suggests that cultivating this kind of awareness is a good thing in the spiritual life. What do you think?

Be sure to check out “Music and Art” for Chapter 5, with links to many rich resources for further meditation, reflection and discussion.

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