TEACHING A STONE TO TALK Here Dillard tells the story of a man who is trying to make his pet rock speak. She concludes that his experiment exemplifies the human desire to hear the voice of God, and assuage our fear of being alone with our own thoughts and without direction or clear destination. She asks, “What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us?” She decides to quit hiding, “pray without ceasing,” and resolves that “silence is all there is.”
‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’ addresses religious and spiritual questions and themes. Answer the following questions in order to explore these more fully.
1. Larry is trying to teach a stone to talk, keeping the stone on a shelf, covered with a piece of leather. Dillard does not know him well and most of her information about him comes through other people. What do we learn about Larry in this essay?
2. Dillard admires Larry for trying to teach a stone to talk. Why do you think she believes that this is worthy of admiration when so many would find it crazy or impossible?
3. Discuss Dillard’s belief that discovery is heavily tied to the idea of watching. (In this essay, Dillard argues that people are here to witness. Humans cannot change or use the essential essence of the earth or animals; one can only witness them. The witnessing doesn't change the earth or change God, but it changes humans. By watching, humans discover new things about their world and about God, which ultimately brings humans closer to God and brings humans better knowledge of themselves).
4. Comment on the following quotations taken from this essay: "At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world's word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence." Teaching a Stone to Talk, pp. 71-72
"We are here to witness. There is nothing else to do with those mute materials we do not need. Until Larry teaches his stone to talk, until God changes his mind, or until the pagan gods slip back to their hilltop groves, all we can do with the whole inhuman array is watch it." Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 72