As I watched the monk intently preparing vegetables, I was struck by how present he was to the task at hand. There was no accompanying television announcer in the background. No music played. No traffic buzzed in the distance. Only the sounds of the knife slicing through the food. I found myself entranced, and listening to hear the tonal difference between the slicing of a carrot and that of a tomato.
What a gift I received this morning as I was allowed a window into the everyday lives of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse, a monastery high in the French Alps. My passport into their world was Philip Gröning’s stunningly moving documentary Into Great Silence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_Great_Silence. The film, decades in the making, was released in 2005, but my introduction to it came just a few weeks ago in our Sunday Adult Forum. The filmmaker’s final cut contains neither spoken commentary nor added sound effects or music. The entire film consists of the images and accompanying sounds that depict the daily rhythm of their monastic life. I am almost overwhelmed by the stark beauty and the peace of the silence that permeates their lives. It draws into sharp relief my own noise-filled pattern, with its incessant hums and beeps and ringtones. It makes me acutely aware of the need I have for silence, and the gift that comes with choosing that practice.
My world is not that of the monastery, far from it. But as I walk into my kitchen to fix lunch, my hand pauses as it makes its customary reach for the remote control. I have no need to hear the noon news and its litany of accident, crime and sorrow. Right now, I need the sounds of silence as I put the teakettle on the stove, slice the meat and cheese, and mix the pesto into the mayonnaise. I listen for their sounds. And in hearing, I receive the gifts they offer.
I’ve learned that sometimes the creative life needs space… and silence… to happen.