Charles Moore Charles Moore

By banning what we dislike, we create a secular shariah

Stella Creasy [Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

‘Interior silence’ is not a phrase I associate with Sarah Sands, until recently the editor of the BBC Today programme and formerly my superb deputy at the Daily Telegraph. All her friends love her worldly, witty talk. Yet The Interior Silence is the name of her new book, whose subtitle is Ten Lessons in Monastic Life. Sarah knows that the contrast between author and subject is intrinsically funny, and laughs at herself — her struggle to fast in Assisi, parasites mercilessly biting her face while she sleeps in her Coptic desert cell. She is epigrammatic about monasticism: ‘Effortlessness is hard.’ But she is also appealingly sincere. She does want to understand it. She does long to turn off her mobile, though she rarely succeeds. In Sarah’s Norfolk garden, partly walled by the ruins of a Cistercian nunnery, the mute stones speak to her. I like the way she describes her fleeting visits; but in a way they only deepen the mystery of monasticism. I have sometimes stayed in monasteries, and always come away refreshed, but their real secret seems to me to lie in what the visitor can never know — the lifelong commitment they exact. As often with deep things, there is not much to be said about the matter, because talking becomes a boast. Asking monks about it tends to elicit rather opaque or wry answers, as it does from old couples asked the secret of their happy marriage. Out in the world, we try to be the architects of our own lives, which never quite works. Monks do something quite different, working themselves, so far as humanity can, into the divine life. It must be terrifying, which is why so few attempt it and many who do, fail. But it makes sense, when you combine this Friday and this Sunday.

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