I just finished watching a fascinating documentary, called “Into Great Silence”. This movie is about the Carthusian monks, who are considered the strictest order within the Catholic Church. The Carthusian monks seek God in solitude on three levels: separation from the world, life in his cell, and inner solitude or ‘solitude of the heart.”
In the monastery, every monk lives in a room or a “cell” as they are called. There he spends the larger part of his day alone. These monks are extreme hermits where virtually no visitor’s are allowed. That is why it is especially valuable and unique that they allowed themselves to be filmed for this extraordinary documentary.
The monk’s lives are lived in a world of silence. Of course, since they have a vow of silence, the documentary was in complete silence. No talking and no narration. The only noise are the occasional chiming of the bells or the Gregorian chants that take place during their time in the chapel.
When you sit there and watch this completely silent movie, it draws you into their world. I felt the silence encompass me. The level of silence that the monks experience is something we don’t often have in our “modern” world.
On one level, it was a pleasant experience to feel quiet, still and silent. Yet on another level it was at times disturbing and uncomfortable. For the “modern” Christian, silence is disturbing. In our culture we are accustomed to the many noises in our life. Traffic, television, radio, conversation…it all contributes to the constant cacophony of noise and distraction.
Acoustical engineers have found that suburbia is nearly as noisy as urban centers:
Their findings, delivered on June 8 in Salt Lake City at the 153rd biannual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, indicate that the noise level in the average suburb is approaching the noise level in the average city. “The level of noise in the urban and rural areas we tested remained pretty consistent with the 1970 E.P.A. figures” — about 59 decibels in the city and 43 in the country, Mr. Szymanski said. But in the suburbs, the average ambient noise level was 56 decibels — a whisper less than the average noise level in the average city, and 7 decibels higher than it was in 1970. According to a Census Bureau survey, noise is the #1 “neighborhood complaint,” ahead of crime, odors and poor public services.
Although, this report is only focused on the sounds that fill the air, I think that there are other “noises” that permeate all around us in addition to just the “audio” noise.
These other noises in our culture are much more subtle and insidious. These “noises” don’t jar you out of bed in the middle of the night. They don’t cause you to cover your ears. They are the noises of busyness, pursuit of wealth and pleasure. These “cultural” noises distract us and anesthetize us to the realities around us.
Silence is an important spiritual discipline. Perhaps many of us will never go to the extreme of taking a vow of silence and living in a monastery. But it is important that we remain still and quiet before the Lord at times during our day and that we receive God’s encouragement for us – “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps we may be still and silent early in the morning or we may take time to reflect at night before bed. We might spend time alone in the car – with the radio off. Perhaps a quiet lunch in the park some weekday afternoon. It doesn’t necessarily matter where or when, but do what you can to block out the noise that attempts to invade your life. Be still. Meditate on God’s Word. Listen. Let God speak to you and into your life.
Watching a 2 1/2 hour documentary on monks might just be a start as you prepare yourself for times of silence. Watch “Into Great Silence”. Watch it alone. Watch it while being still and in silence. And enter into the world of the monastery and the life of solitude and silence.