The Twelve Degrees of Silence (Books)

2Q==By Sr. Marie-Aimée de Jésus, O.C.D. Edited and translated by Lucinda M. Vardey. Novalis, 2014. 79 pages. $12.95/paperback

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Silence is an elusive state of being for many Friends today. In honest, spare, and poetic language, Sister Marie-Aimée de Jésus invites readers to explore the 12 degrees of silence she identified through a lifetime of contemplative practice. Her writings may appeal to contemporary Quakers like me, who yearn toward mystical union with Divine Love.

This little-known nineteenth-century French Carmelite nun had something in common with early American statesman Benjamin Franklin. Both focused on attaining “moral perfection,” but they went about it quite differently. He wrote a list of 12 virtues, made a chart in which he tracked his progress, and kept a list of transgressions. In his late-life autobiography, Franklin confesses how vexed he was to find himself “still so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.” The secular self-improvement movement follows in Franklin’s footsteps.

Surrender to God’s love was the first motion for de Jésus. She is said to have lived in peace and died in joy by dedicating herself to such daily disciplines as “Silence with One’s Imagination,” “Silence with One’s Memories,” and “Silence to Self-Interest.” Mystical Quakers like me may also resonate with short sections titled “Silence in Actions,” “Silence with Others,” “Silence to the Will,” and “Silence towards Oneself.” Her legacy shares a taproot with the current mindfulness movement.

Lucinda M. Vardey’s thoughtful reflection questions may attract Friends who value the role of queries in the spiritual quest. How much of the past affects your present? How is the process of dying to self unfolding in you? What percentage of trust are you according God in the process? How can you silence self-concern? How can you transcend self-identification?

The Twelve Degrees of Silence lays out a step-by-step path to a fruitful sojourn with the Source of Love. Friends may want to practice one degree a month, joining de Jésus, Vardey, and me in delving into this treasury of contemplative practice. For those with a physical approach to transformation, the book is small enough to tuck into a pocket for a walk in the park, or to slip into a pack for a hike in the hills.

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