Dr. Dorothee Soelle was professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1975 to 1987. She was 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."
This is one of the best books of 2001 and, indeed, one of the best theology books we've 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.