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Sounds of Silence

Some years back I gave my Sophomores the possibility of gaining extra credit if they made the trek from Chestnut Hill to Cambridge to see the movie: "Into Great Silence."They arrived, bought the requisite popcorn and drinks, and settled in. The film began. Ten minutes later they became aware that the only sounds in the theater were their munching popcorn and slurping sodas.After some embarrassment they put the junk food away and began to listen. They heard drips of water, birds chirping, tools hitting hard ground, monks laughing while sliding in the snow.Our spiritual senses have been atrophied by over-indulgence. We fail to perceive that often silence speaks powerfully, and absence is suffused with presence.Blessed Feast of the Ascension.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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This is one of my favorite films which I watched on a computer screen. What struck me was how water played a small - but I think significant - role in the film. As I wrote on my blog, "Groning paid particular attention to water we see the monks dip their fingers in the holy water font at the entrance to the church; we hear the rain on the monastery roof; we even hear the monks during their weekly time to talk together discussing whether the custom of a ritualistic washing of hands before dinner should continue. The baptismal image is just under the surface dying with Christ, we rise with him."

"Into Great Silence" is a remarkable and beautiful movie. I agree with you completely that "Our spiritual senses have been atrophied by over-indulgence. We fail to perceive that often silence speaks powerfully, and absence is suffused with presence."For the first 30 or so minutes I was antsy - I wondered how I would sit through three hours even though I had practiced Centering Prayer for years. But after a while I was able to allow it to work its way into my mind and soul. When the movie ended, I was shocked - already? I was sad that it was over.

Thank you, Anne,my students' experience was similar. They settled into the "rhythm" of the film and it carried them.

Agreed. The prolonged closeups of each of the monks at the end was perhaps one of the most intimate things I've ever seen on film. Beautiful.

I haven't seen the movie - I'll look for it - but it reminds me of the series on the BBC, The Big Silence, about silent retreats. Part 1 is here ...

My husband is a movie lover and will see almost anything for the sheer pleasure of the medium. I am more selective, and really, more restless in movie theaters. If a film is longer than 2 hours, I won't bother with it. 90 minutes is my ideal. But I really wanted to see this one. I told myself, I could get up, go get a cup of tea, walk around a bit, return to my seat. I could manage it. Instead, I sat for the whole 3 hours, riveted by the simplicity of life in the monastery, the sounds of nature, the footsteps of the monks on the way to chapel. We live noisy lives and in the past I have compulsively stayed alert to the news and noise of the day. I am relearning the power of the sounds of silence, in Fr. Imbelli's apt description. It's not easy. We have been programmed to be doers, in the fight, on top of all the latest trends, happenings, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but it has thrown me off track too many times. Keeping up with keeping up 24/7 is no way to live a thoughtful life. And it makes it very hard to "hear" the people around us and the voice within.

Though the entire film was excellent, I second Jim Hohman's comment about the poignancy of the extended close ups of each of the monks. Those images remain the most memorable part of the film for me. Though some of the monks appeared a bit uncomfortable at first looking into the camera, their ability to maintain their composure for what seemed like many minutes revealed, at least to me, a deep inner peace.

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