Book – “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance”

Book recommendation

The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance

by Dorothee Soelle

I received an email today, from my long-time friend in Dallas, lawyer John Douglas. John worked closely with the late Bede Griffiths in establishing his Literary Trust before he passed away in 1993. John reads a lot, especially about spirituality. In this sense he keeps his ear to the ground, and I respect his discernment. Though I’ve not had the chance to procure Dorothee Soelle’s book, John has a few things to say that I offer you in today’s blog. As a theme for the book, the author quotes the Sufi poet, Rumi:

Why, when God’s world is so big,

did you fall asleep in a prison

of all places?

A passage John found remarkable:

“I picture the religions of the world in a circle with the center as the mystery of the world, the deity. The adherents of those diverse religions are drawn by this X at the heart of the world and give it names such as Allah, Great Mother, the Eternal, Nirvana, the Unsearchable. But giving a name and forming a tradition is not the decisive issue; rather it is how far the pilgrims advance on the way from the periphery of the circle towards its center. How close is the unutterable X to us? That is the crucial question. We approach the center of the circle in that the distances between the various points of departure on the periphery become ever smaller the closer we come to the center. And so, the differences between the individual religious approaches also become less important: in the heart of God they have disappeared altogether.” (page 51)

“My most important concern is to democratize mysticism. What I mean to do is to re-open the door to the mystic sensibility that’s within all of us, to dig it out from under the debris of trivia – from its self-trivialization, if you like.” (page 301)

As Meister Eckhart puts it, we have “not been created for small things.”

John tells me the best way of obtaining the book is by ordering from

The following is a review: The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance.

The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance

Dorothee Soelle

Fortress Press 05/01

ISBN 0-8006-3266-4

Dr. Dorothee Soelle was professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1975 to 1987. She is an activist in peace and ecological movements in Hamburg, Germany. This monumental theological work is her magnum opus, drawing together a wealth of insights on the depth charges of mysticism. She asserts that its natural expression is working for justice in a world reeling from consumerism, economic inequities, ecological trauma, and global chaos. Her own dedication to this path grew out of a need to hold together unity with all and resistance against the machinery of death and destruction. She explains in the introduction: “My questioning is focused on social reality. This means that for the sake of what is within, I seek to erase the distinction between a mystical internal and a political external.”

With great analytical skill, imagination, wisdom, and a deep respect for spiritual activists, Soelle spins out a narrative that provides readers with a sturdy, ecumenical, cross-cultural, and multi-religious perspective on mysticism. Here is a curriculum that can stir the soul, ignite the mind, and serve as a spur to ethical action on behalf of peace, justice, and the well-being of the entire creation.

“The history of mysticism is a history of the love for God,” writes Soelle. In part one of The Silent Cry, she maps some of the universal elements of mysticism including union with God, ecstasy, yearning, wonderment, and the language of silence and paradox. She uses illustrative material from the mystical sensibilities of C. S. Lewis, Martin Buber, Rabi’a, Mansur al-Hallaj, and Thomas Müntzer. Near the end of this section, Soelle suggests a three-part mystical journey for today that involves being amazed, letting go, and resisting.

Armed with an even more dazzling array of examples, the author then looks at places where ordinary people have experienced mystical oneness, breakthrough, and wholeness ­ nature, eroticism, suffering, communion, and joy. The saints and moral mentors who flash across these pages illuminate the contemplative activism of souls stretching out to serve others. They include Marguerite Porète, Thich Nhat Hahn, D. H. Lawrence, John of the Cross, the Beguines, Hasidim, and Quakers following the Inner Light.

The final section is titled “Mysticism Is Resistance.” Soelle sees globalization and individualization as having built the prison that most of humanity has chosen as home. The keys providing the way out of this lockup are ego-lessness, property-lessness, and nonviolence. Leo Tolstoy and Dag Hammarskjöld prime us in ways to escape the ego-fixation demanded by globalized production. By voluntarily choosing poverty, Francis of Assisi, John Woolman, and Dorothy Day inspire us with their vibrant resistance to the tendency to define the human adventure in terms of having. And Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., challenge us to practice nonviolence as a means of saluting the unity of all living beings. Or, as Soelle puts it ­ “To be aware of the ‘silent cry’ in our world means to become one with it.”

This stunning theological work makes a substantive case for the essential intertwining of mysticism and political action. Soelle also believes that in our age of global materialism and fundamentalism, mysticism provides fresh significance for the religious impulse: “for [it] still names our poverty and reminds us still of the power in us that holds together and heals. Religion still speaks of the sanctity of life for all that we can locate in love.”

Finally, John opines this is one of the best books of 2001 and, indeed, one of the best theology books he’s ever read. With its mix of clear and concise theological explication and inspiring portraits of people we can all emulate, it puts mysticism right where it belongs ­ down to earth to change us and our world.

John Douglas (Dallas)