Friday, October 20, 2006

Into Great Silence

I must start this post with a completely unrelated quote I just heard from my roommate Danielle: “What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about? What if that’s all there is?” A sobering thought indeed.

So the first movie I saw last week was called “Into Great Silence” or, in German, “Die Grosse Stille”. I saw it with Peter, who had been waiting for a long time to see it. The movie was part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, which I knew meant that it was going to be weird. I was prepared for weirdness. And I knew it would be about monks. Monks in the French Alps who take a vow of silence. I was all excited that I’d understand the French until I realized they wouldn’t be speaking…
So this was a very silent movie. A very long and silent movie. The person who introduced the movie said it would be calming, but at times I was a little TOO calm, if you know what I mean. After a long day at school, three hours of silence was difficult, and it felt like an accomplishment to have made it through the movie. No voice over. No background music. Only ambient noise. It’s crazy that these monks live this day in and day out. This is MDT solitude times a million.

I spent most of the movie in utter confusion as to how to feel. Should I admire these men, or pity them? Or some combination of the two? I’ve wavered in my view of the monastic life. Admittedly, these monks are among the most ascetic. Besides not being able to talk except on Sunday afternoons, they never sleep a whole night through. They sleep for three hours, wake up and sing chants for two hours, and sleep for three more hours. That has to be unhealthy somehow. There were some beautiful parts of the movie
, mostly in the rare instances when the monks had some contact with oeach other. A very old monk sitting shirtless, hunched over, the vertebrae in his neck sticking out grotesquely, most likely from the continuous bowing of his head, being rubbed gently with salve by a younger monk, in silence. An initiation ceremony culminating with each monk in the monastery embracing the new monk, and squeezing into his room to sing blessings over it. A Sunday outing where the usually solemn monks start sledding down the snowy hill on their feet, in their robes.

All in all, this movie didn’t make me want to be a monk – at least not a silent, secluded one. Not that I could be a monk, as a female. Hypothetically, though. In talks with Peter and Lindsey and Danice, I came to realize that I don’t think God put us here on earth to hide out in a building up in the mountains, out of the world, and just pray. Alone. Is that too judgmental? I know these guys have sacrificed their whole lives for this. But one thing I learned about last year is that in the Christian life, there has to be a balance between Mary and Martha – contemplation and action. Most of us outside of monasteries err on the Martha/action side. These monks were definitely erring on the Mary side. I think we need both. And I think we can’t know all of God when we’re isolated. We can’t know the relational part and the part of the kingdom that seeps through culture. And we can’t hope to do any kingdom-announcing work if we’re secluding ourselves from the people who need that message most. What do you guys think?

Aware of my Martha imbalances, I got wondering, what is the place of contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity in my life, outside the monastery? Incidentally, I have felt much more contemplative lately. I’ve been trying not to rush to fill my empty spaces with music, and I’m even trying to silence some of my inane mental conversations with myself to hopefully hear more from God. I’ve been feeling very much at rest most of the time (which Rachel says is equivalent with beauty). Except the last couple of days, which have been more scattered and difficult. But I’m going away on Monday, up the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days, so hopefully I can find an inner listening-to-God environment again.

If it be your will that I speak no more

And my voice be still as it was before
I will speak no more, I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will that a voice be true

From this broken hill I will sing to you
From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring
If it be your will to let me sing
From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will, if there is a choice

Let the rivers fill, let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill on all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near, and bind us tight

All your children here in their rags of light
In our rags of light, all dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

(Leonard Cohen)


Anonymous said...

beth..(i must start every post with your name..) me and claire and nathan went to see the Leonard Cohen film at the Broadway.. we were 3 of like, 10 ppl, i bet.. i voiced that i thought that's exactly how Leonard would have wanted it.. but anyway, in the film this dude sang this song... he was just in a world of his own (but so were all the other performers - probably just the way Leonard would have wanted it), so bizarre, but i was totally fine with him... sooo moving, the way he sang the song..but yeah, i can much of the time we disturb our own peace and silence with our heads... can you imagine how much my brain hinders my peace? i think you might have an idea, if anyone would.. for me to take that vow, at this point in my mental maturation, or just the current state of my mind, would be just THE most foolish thing... i'd vainly contemplate for a few weeks, uselessness.. and then i'd come to certain active thoughts that would excite, incite, frustration and passion, and the very loose term 'reason' in my case, would shove me rashly out of my vow of silence to run down the french alps all the while thinking about what difference i'd make in the village below..that is, if my passion didnt dissipate out of the boredom of the lengthy run, at which time i'd slow to a walk, having 'reasoned' my way out of the excited idea waiting for me at the foot of the mountain, and i'd instead chance upon a field of flowers most likely, or some babbling brook, and fall asleep in the grass watching cloud shapes with just one eye...... you know it... okay, i totally didnt anticipate that train of thought... but i guess it's just a case in point.. siiiiigh.... okay beth, i guess this whole post was just an excuse to say hi to you... it seems like its been a while... guess what? me and claire and nathan went back to la ronge this weekend... AMAZAZING... i'll write you about it... take care, beth, i love you...

Anonymous said...

In one post, vows of silence and Leonard Cohen lyrics...enticing. If you ever get a chance to hear Antony sing those words in the Leonard Cohen film, it's an experience. Strange and beautiful. I'm enjoying your slice of the world. Keep writing, sharing yourself!