“We need to remind each other that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, that precisely what causes us sadness can become the fertile ground for gladness. Indeed, we need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”
I am trying to get used to using the new handle for the quiet days away at Winbourne. These are something that I have written in my diary for the whole year [in indelible ink!] Other than the birth of a grandchild or death itself my intention is to be there and yes, I can in fact relate to the new title, for they are indeed a breathing space in my busy schedule.
March’s Breathing Space took a slightly different form and one that I found helpful. We are evolving as we are ‘getting used to one another’ I do not really know any of the participants in this community (other than a friend who travels with me) yet we are there with the same intent and this itself brings with it a sense of community, common unity, one mindedness, a oneness in spirit. The focus for this and very special to me is the mid day Eucharist. As we humble ourselves before God together and regard the symbols of bread and wine, body and blood, broken and shed on our account, in fact to clear our account, pay our debt, I find this service a great leveller. We are all equal in blessing before God as we share in this together.
This month, after our morning prayer and period of personal quiet reflection and listening to God we shared in the Eucharist together and then had a more monastic style lunch than we have had in the past. Rather than all chattering and sharing our lives with one another, we sat in silence to eat our simple shared lunch whilst Kerry read to us from a book called The Ladder of Monks. This was a new experience and one that took a little getting used to. For all that I am a chatterbox and love words in all their forms, I found this easy to accommodate and far less disturbing to my whole day than the social lunch we have had before.
So, here I am. At the Mount St Benedict’s Centre in West Pennant Hills. It is my first introduction to how non-cloistered people corporately endeavour to interpret monastic practices and traditions.
When approaching this weekend, as with preparing to watch Into Great Silence, I was a little scared. I didn’t know what to expect, but likewise, I don’t want the weekend to disappoint. However, disillusionment will only happen if my perceptions about monastic life and practices are in fact illusions, so disappointment may end up being a gift. We’ll see …
I am intrigued that we have been given permission to not be polite to anyone else attending the weekend. What I mean by that is that we have been released from the social obligations of Western society and can feel free to remain silent; to break eye contact; to not feel like I even need to say "thankyou" for someone’s help.
Compline in the Oratory
The question I am left pondering at the end of our first night of eating together, meeting one another, and praying Compline together is .. how do you form community when you are at liberty to graciously ignore everyone else in order to maintain silence?
I wonder if there will be an answer to that question before the weekend is done …
All lights appear to be out, and I am left fighting the urge to go hunting for a cup of tea to have with a piece of chocolate while I prayerfully read some material I have brought with me.
I decided to have a warm drink quietly and on my own in the dining room after which I went back to my room and sat up in bed reading the first part of Guigo II’s "Ladder of Monks", a letter written to a friend about the stages of spiritual experience with God.
Powerful and insightful.
From 8.30pm until 8.30am .. this is known as "the Great Silence" …..
I apologise this personal review of Into Great Silence has taken longer to get to than expected.
My wife has injured her knee and has been on crutches for over two weeks plus both my daughters have been struggling with the flu .. all at the same time. This has elevated me from simply being the bread-winner, to being Chief Cook and Bottle Washer with a special appointment as the head of Dad’s Taxi Service too!
Having said that, I wanted to wait until I had a three hour window of time in which I could sit down and view the movie without interruption; the way it was intended. With all that’s just been mentioned, creating that window took three weeks from the day I received the DVD from Amazon UK .. but it was well worth the wait.
Oddly, I was a little nervous about watching a film that has been so highly praised in every review I could find on the Net. Frankly, I didn’t want to be disappointed. Secondly, I was nervous about watching a film that ran nearly three hours in duration without a word of narration or a note of musical score to "fill the gaps". I was likewise a little nervous about how watching the film might affect me overall. I know that may be an odd statement, but there is such a sense of awe when approaching this film; at least for those, like myself, who are coming to understand and appreciate the value of silence, solitude, rhythm and intentional prayer in everyday life.
To most Protestants, the term "Rule of Life" would most likely be something new, or at least largely unheard of. It certainly was for me until a couple of years ago. So, if you haven’t heard the term, you’re not alone.
If I was to help my fellow Protestants understand what I’m talking about, I might illustrate that a Rule of Life is an ancient form of the modern teaching that suggests each of us needs to have a personal vision. Now, before you respond with an "Oh, now I get it" .. let me tell you that there’s a major weakness with that comparison. The difference is subtle at first glance, but it is a difference that has massive ramifications the further you "flesh it out".
In essence, a personal vision is generally a set of goals outlining what you want to achieve with your life, while a Rule of Life is essentially a structure in which spiritual formation is facilitated. And therein lies the difference. A personal vision is mainly about "doing", while a Rule of Life has its primary focus on "being".
The Latin term for "Rule" is "regula", from which we get our English word "regulation". It is also the root of the word "trellis". In other words, a Rule of Life is meant to be a framework upon which growth takes place and fruit is developed. But, as Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians having gotten free of "religion", the last thing that most of us want are rules that restrict us. Right? But stop and think about that for a minute.
For most of us in Pentecostal or Charismatic churches who have been taught all about leadership, authority and submission, we have ultimately found ourselves confusing obedience with asking for permissions. Likewise, the way we exercise authority generally does not serve life. Rather we tend to create repressive dictatorships, full of polite manipulation protected by an institution, invoking what is sacred in order to strengthen our control. How is that reality not restrictive?
The difference between what so many of us have been conditioned with in our Pentecostal or Charismatic faith traditions and the adoption of a Rule of Life is, that the Rule is not meant to tie you up and stunt your growth by loading you up with Pharisaical practices. Rather, like a young sapling tied to a stake, a Rule of Life is intended to guarantee you safe and consistent growth through the storms of the world, rather than simply creating "storms" inside the hot-house!
You might be interested to know that the Catholic church has seen the benefit of Rules of Life for almost two thousand years. Most monasteries and convents operate by one of them, such as the most commonly known Rule of St Benedict, upon which, incidentally, most of the practices of the Anglican church has been built. But there are other Rules of Life, such as for the Carmelites, the Jesuits, the Franciscans and other Catholic orders. Sadly, however, for most Protestants, the minute there’s the mention of anything Catholic, we tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
I would like to think by now, that many know me well enough to not publish anything that could mislead or be in error. I only desire that what’s published here should be to your benefit. Therefore I urge you, please don’t just write this off because it may be outside your experience. Rather, as the Scripture says, "Test everything. Hold on to (only) what is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Jesus taught us, saying: ‘Make a tree sound and its fruit will be sound; make a tree rotten and its fruit will be rotten. For the tree can be told by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can your speech be good when you are evil? For words flow out of what fills the heart. Good people draw good things from their store of goodness; and bad people draw bad things from their store of badness. So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word people utter they will answer on Judgment Day, since it is by your words you will be justified, and by your words condemned.’ Matthew 12:33–37
During prayer this morning, these words struck home for me. In recent months, I have been busy investigating monastic wisdom, principles and values because I’ve sensed a deep call from God that there is a place for their employment in our everyday lives as non-cloistered people.
The concept of being silent as a human being is anathema to many and just plain weird to most. However, most monastics live a largely silent life for two reasons. The first is that, through quietness, they might hear the soft, still voice of God speaking to them from within their hearts, and the second is to be found in the Scripture quoted above .. in particular, the last sentence. If it is by our words we are justified and by our words we are condemned, it then makes perfect sense to live life using an economy of words and to not entrap ourselves in idle chatter, for which we will have to give an account to God.
Now, as a professional broadcaster, this may seem to force me to live a contradictory life .. and that may be so. But in recent years, I have discovered the value of silence. As a prophetic ministry, my vocation has been filled with words, but still, a lesson Paul Cain taught me some years ago rings even more true as I allow the power and value of quietness to pervade my heart and life. He said, "The more mature a prophet becomes, the more silent he becomes." What a treasure that statement is!
But I think the same ought to be said for all human beings. The more mature we become as people, the less willing we ought to be to have an opinion about everything. The more mature we become as people, the more self-disciplined we ought to be, able to mind our own business and hold our own tongues. The more mature we become as people, the more we can follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul, who said …
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Silence truly is golden!
I have continued doing a great deal of reading over recent months and soon I will begin to share some of what I have been processing and discovering. In the meantime, let me tell you about a new movie that I stumbled on recently while doing my reading.
It is called Into Great Silence.
Here is the synopsis:
Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries.
In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready.
Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions.
This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light.
One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life.
More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.
No matter where I turn, I have yet to read a bad review about this movie. It seems such an unlikely subject (life in a Carthusian monastery) at such an unlikely duration (about three hours). Now, before you think, "what the??", jump out for a minute and read these reviews of the movie … then come back and read on …
The movie recently had a short run screening at the Dendy Cinemas here in Sydney and in Brisbane. Sadly, I missed the movie on the big screen. However, I have just received the DVD from Amazon UK. Thankfully, being a region 2 disc, it plays on an Australian DVD player. Including shipping, it cost me about $40.00AUD. So far, I have only had the chance to view some of the "extras" on disc 2, but as soon as I’ve seen the full movie and had a chance to process it, I will post a personal review.
For more about the DVD and all the extras with it (which are remarkable), click here.
In the meantime, check out the trailer and see what you think. Click the screen below to play.