Knowing Beyond Words: Reflections on the Inexpressableby John II McQuiston
The bestselling author of "Always We Begin Again" collects inspired and inspiring prose and poetry from many of the brilliant men and women who have tried to translate the inexpressible. These include Teresa of Avila, T.S. Eliot, Reinhold Neibuhr and Rabbi David Cooper.
- Church Publishing, Incorporated
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- 5.60(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.80(d)
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As theologian Abraham Heschel has said, 'God's voice speaks in many languages, communicating itself in a diversity of intuitions. The word of God never comes to an end. No word is God's last word.' In his second book on the spiritual life, 'Knowing Without Words,' author John McQuiston is the first to acknowledge that he has undertaken a daunting task, the use of words to represent ultimate reality. His introduction cautions that we tend to forget that words are merely man-made symbols, and that in attempting to use them to express the inexpressible we run the risk of idolatry, of falling into the worship of our own religion. Having thus taken note of the pitfalls, McQuiston proceeds to serve up an impressive collection of efforts by a pantheon of religious and secular sages to express the reality that lies beyond the power of language. The book is divided into eight sections dealing with attempts to speak about ultimately indefinable themes such as the nature of God, the search for meaning, forgiveness, and death. With commendable humility, McQuiston's own thoughts are limited to a short but illuminating introduction at the beginning of each chapter. The author's erudition is readily apparent in the breadth of the sources represented, which range from the Bible, to the Bhagavad Gita, to the Tao Te Ching. They include the reflections of scientists, poets, mystics, and philosophers including T.S. Elliot, Shakespeare, Meister Eckhart, Annie Dillard, and the Dalai Lama. One recurring source is the 1662 version of the Anglican 'Book of Common Prayer.' 'McQuiston, an attorney, explains that this edition was selected because it is no longer protected by copyright law.' This wide-ranging cross-cultural approach eloquently reminds us of the truth of John Donne's observation that 'God employs many translators,' and that attempts to express the inexpressible are universal and not limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. 'Knowing Without Words' is a beautifully crafted book, appropriately spare and austere in its design. One of McQuiston's achievements is the imaginative pairing of contrasting and complementary reflections from disparate sources arranged on facing pages. The layout makes use of generous amounts of empty 'white space' which encourages the reader to pause between successive images and suggests that a higher reality lies beyond the words. This is important one needs to pause in the face of a startling observation such as Paul Tillich's that 'God does not exist. He is being itself, beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.' Unlike so many popular works on 'spirituality,' McQuiston's book offers no easy shortcuts to enlightenment. It is unlikely to appeal to the reader who finds comfort in a formulaic approach to religion or the conviction that truth is the exclusive province of a single tradition. But for the individual who can accept the ambiguity of metaphor, who values the full breadth of human experience, and who takes seriously the search for meaning in life, 'Knowing Without Words' is a work to be treasured. Its rediscovery of the spirit that lies behind traditional religious images and its unexpected juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar sources make for lively reading and sustained reflection. McQuiston himself sums up this search for better metaphors for the sacred. 'If we no longer think of God as 'out there' or 'up there,' we may look 'within us' or 'between us.''