Finding God in Silence
I recently watched a movie titled Into Great Silence about a Carthusian monastery in Chartreuse, France. The film depicts the everyday activities of the resident monks, but because they have taken vows of silence, the only sound is that of their activities and their chant in chapel. There are two scenes where they speak to one another during their appointed recreation, but apart from that, there is only the silence and the beauty. The beauty of the simple space and the focused beauty of the monks themselves.
One interesting feature of the movie is that it is 2 hours and 42 minutes long—nearly an hour longer than many blockbuster movies. Its length alone causes an uncanny stream of emotions in the viewer. To begin with, it seems impossible to sit through two hours and 42 minutes of it. It's a nail biter simply because it is so slow, and your own psyche has to slow down with it. In the process of that slowing down, you feel fidgety, edgy, uneven, bored, astonished. You find yourself wondering how much time has passed. You wonder what is going on in the mind of the monk as he goes through his appointed task. You wonder about silence and the lack of it in your own life. Then you find yourself wondering again how much time has passed and decide that you've pretty much gotten all that you're going to get, so why bother sitting through any more. You consider getting up to turn off the TV, but find you're riveted to this strangely haunting movie, and you continue to watch.
Then you start to change. As your inner self slows down, you find your outer self slowing too. You're a little less fidgety, edgy, uneven, bored. You begin to hear more deeply and fully the sounds of their daily movements and are more attuned to the cadence of the rhythm of their life. All the while, however, you're asking yourself questions like, “What good is it to be that silent? It can't be healthy. Surely we're meant to be interacting verbally with each other. What about joy, laughter, and playfulness? What about missing out on parties? How do they express anger—surely they get angry! How are their administrative affairs handled? Someone must have to talk about budgets, strategic planning, long and short term goals. What difference do their silent lives make? It seems they spend their lives doing nothing but living, praying, and sustaining each other as monks for centuries have done before them. What is the point?”
All the questions make it abundantly clear how far from silence you are—even though you're not speaking a word into the air. Perhaps, that is the point. Perhaps, the point of their lives is to reach the great silence— that place of union with the Divine where the mind and body no longer need to chatter, where all is One and One is all, where all is nothing and nothing is all, where time has no edges and therefore no power, where meaning is complete without words and no parties or play are required to find it, where life is but an extension of eternity, where eternity is really what matters for it is inclusive of it all. To touch these realities is a worthy endeavor for their silent, obscure lives. Perhaps, it is even a worthy endeavor for my own paltry life.