Dom Sylvester Houédard (1924–92) was a Benedictine monk and noted concrete poet who is best known for his contribution to the innovative and international art scene in 1960s London. His vocation immersed him in Catholic spirituality, especially that of Meister Eckhart. He was also involved throughout his life in interfaith discussion and inter-monastic dialogue, engaging with Tibetan Buddhism and the Islamic mystical tradition of Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi.
The essence of religion is the union of wisdom and compassion, of knowledge and love. So, on this fourth journey of mind, we not only become aware that everything is in the same position as ourselves; we are also aware that we receive compassion . . .
The Kiss consists of ten talks given at Beshara Centres in the last years of his life. Embodying an imaginative, learned and profound view on human spirituality, they range over such subjects as self-knowledge, time, creativity and contemplation. Peter Young (Director of Studies at Chisholme House 1987-2016) writes in his foreword to The Kiss: ‘….his Chisholme talks had working titles, usually awarded on the spur of the moment, but everyone knew there was really only one subject of contemplation. They flowed together in a single river – rapid, meandering sometimes apparently lost in a delta. But then, when least expected, would be a limpid pool in clear sunlight, with silver fish darting timelessly in the depths. Joined together now, the great river was heading in one inexorable direction, towards the sea of Being and now…’
The title of this selection of talks was suggested by Dom Sylvester when approached by the late Robert Clark – then manager of Beshara Publications – to propose this publication. Jane Clark records in the editor’s notes that when asked about this he referred Robert to Nicolas J Perella’s The Kiss Sacred and Profane, which traces the history of the symbolism of this most intimate of acts from its origins in the opening lines of the Song of Songs: ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth’. Within the mystical tradition, it became a highly developed symbol for the union between God, the Beloved, and the soul which seeks Him.
‘The bride-soul longs for a kiss, she does not ask for liberty, nor for reward, nor for an inheritance, not even for learning, but for the kiss’. Bernard of Clairvaux
The preface by Charles Verey, a friend over decades, gives an overview of Dom Sylvester’s contribution to what he called the wider ecumenism – a term which encapsulated his life-long search for a universal form of spiritual expression.
287 pp | Soft cover | £24.50 |ISBN 978-0-904975-71-0
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UK £27.50 | EU £34.50 | USA £35.00 | Canada / Australia / S. America £38.50
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“The Kiss is a fine testament to dsh’s utopian mysticism, his antic creative spirit, and his ever-dynamic vision of ecumenical possibilities. With a lightness in keeping with his own mischievous character, this collection of his visionary lectures bathes us in an exhilarating range of his reading and his unexpected, but always eirenic understanding.”
Dame Marina Sarah Warner, DBE, FRSL, FBA English historian, writer, art critic
“This engaging volume is the perfect introduction to the life, thought, and writings of one of the great religious polymaths of the 20th century, Dom Sylvester Houedard O.S.B. Priest and monk, metaphysician and theologian, translator and poet, builder of bridges between disparate faiths, Dom Sylvester is just the sort of guide we need in today’s fractious world. Skilfully edited by Charles Verey and Jane Clark, The Kiss is a beautiful book about a beautiful man. Read it and rejoice!”
Philip Zaleski, Department of Religion, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
“Dom Sylvester Houédard is today best remembered as a significant figure in late twentieth-century avant-garde poetry—an unusual identity for a Benedictine monk, we might think. The essays and poems in this collection show something more, perhaps the true heart of his intellectual and spiritual adventure. Deeply grounded in the Catholic philosophy, Dom Sylvester’s writing moves easily between Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Ibn ‘Arabi, Buddhism and other sources. Essentially, the core of this collection is a penetrating insight into that simplest and most difficult of all questions: what it is to be. But, for Dom Sylvester, being is never (at least, not for human) just being, it is being and becoming, receiving our ‘isness’ in a constant movement forward, an eternal now in the midst of time. Perhaps modern philosophy offers many variations on these themes, but rarely are they addressed with as sharp, as discerning, and as much spiritual urgency as they are here. These talks should be read by anyone who wants to learn what fundamental metaphysical thinking is really about.”
Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, University of Glasgow
‘The Kiss is a wonderful rare treat of a book that overflows with insights on page after page, moving from the teachings of Catholic and Buddhist scholastics to Ibn ‘Arabi with consummate ease and profound grace. Dom Sylvester’s is a much-needed modern voice of remarkable clarity and compassion, illuminating the sacred possibility and dignity of being human.’
Editor, Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society; Director, Anqa Publishing