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)