Cue Simon and Garfunkel. Sound and silence – with a spiritual spin – are drawing fresh attention from authors. Silent prayer has always been a feature in Christian and Jewish practice. Now, authors are keying into the mindfulness trend, tuning in to the earth’s resonance, and drawing creative connections to the world we hear.
Attending to sound – whether it be a chanted mantra, a whoosh of traffic, or a soaring musical note – can help lead to inner serenity, says concert pianist Mark Tanner. Tanner, the author of Mindfulness in Music (2018), has returned to Ivy Press imprint Leaping Hare with Mindfulness in Sound: Tune in to the World Around Us (out now), exploring triggers for meditation everywhere, even honking cars and dripping faucets. Joanna Bentley, Ivy Press senior project editor, says, “focusing on sound is a different approach and Mark is great at helping us become aware of all those little sounds we don’t normally notice."
Tanner tells PW, “You don’t have to be sitting cross-legged on a mountain in Tibet for mindfulness to be effective. You can be accepting rather than questioning that we are stranded in this limbo world, united in being isolated (during the coronavirus lockdown in England). It becomes easier if you show yourself compassion.” In his book, he writes, “Sound, real or imagined, can become an indispensable catalyst to self-awareness and our sense of time and place. Noticing our sound environment is a first step towards repurposing it for future meditation, or giving us another point of resonance between ourselves and the world around us.”
Resonate with God
Eerdmans executive editor David Bratt sees burgeoning interest in mindfulness as another way of drawing connections between faith and the creation and experience of art such as music. Eerdmans has brought out the first English translation of a book by master violinmaker Martin Schleske. The Sound, published in Germany a decade ago, has been released here as The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty (out now) with photos by Donata Wenders.
“Martin describes the process of creating a violin, starting with knocking on trees to listen to their resonance to find the right wood. He uses violinmaking as a metaphor for the Christian life and what we are becoming in the hands of the master luthier – God. As you are immersed in the violinmaking process, it leads you to think of your faith life along the way. The sound you create is everything. In the Christian life, you come to resonate the way God wants you to.”
Drawing connections between spirituality and sound dates back to the very beginning of the human experience, says Jon Graham, acquisitions editor at Inner Traditions. “In most religious and spiritual traditions sound is considered a direct link to the divine.”
Upcoming titles from Inner traditions include The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Science of the Divine, by historian David Elkington (April, 2021) connects the Earth’s resonant frequencies with the origins of religion and the building of sacred sites such as Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, and Chartres Cathedral. Also from Inner traditions: Esoteric Mysteries of the Underworld: The Power and Meaning of Subterranean Sacred Spaces by the late French scholar Jean-Pierre Bayard (Oct.) "shows how to amplify the effects of sacred sound in subterranean spaces for magic purposes," says Graham. This is a new English translation of the book, which was originally published in French in 1973 and updated in 2009.
Silence speaks deeply to us, according to The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention (St. Martin’s Essentials, Jan., 2021). This is the newest among dozens of books on the creative process written by Julia Cameron that began with her bestseller The Artist’s Way in 1992. Essentials publisher Joel Fotinos, who edited The Listening Path, says, “Julia asks us to rethink the idea of listening as a passive activity. When we actively listen -- to others, to ourselves, and to the silence — we are engaging in life, and being open to new ideas, new actions, new ways of walking in the world."