Die Grosse Stille
“When the noise stops – the conversations, the music, the news, talk radio, the thought about what to say next in a discussion – then can one hear God speak.”
I thought these words years ago after attending a silent retreat at Featherock, a center run by Opus Dei, about an hour’s drive East of Houston. It has been our habit for my wife and me to attend separate, silent retreats at Featherock for the last 10 years. For us, it is an opportunity to spend time in silent prayer and meditation, away from the noise and activity that comes with a large homeschooling family. It is time for us to listen to God without interference from the outside world, to look at where we are and where we think God wants us to be. This process is done with spiritual direction from the priest in residence, spiritual reading, meditations, and most important of all with time spent before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
The yearly retreat is something we look forward to eagerly, and yet after three days, I find myself yearning for the company of my wife and children, and all the other things of the world that clamor for my attention.
I mention this before reviewing Into Great Silence because I know in my heart that I could never be a Carthusian monk. The three-day retreat has proved that many times. Despite this, I felt a bit of envy or desire to be a Carthusian. I can’t explain it any better than to recall one of my favorite quotes from St. John-Marie Baptiste Vianney:
“You see, the good God at times inspires us with desires of which he will never ask the fulfillment in this world.”
Abbe Francis Trochu go on to explain that “aspirations towards the monastic life were of this kind; and that, if they were carefully cherished in his heart, they would prove both a preservative against worldliness and a stimulus to the practice of every priestly virtue.”
(From The Cure D’Ars, by Abbe Francis Trochu, TAN Books, p. 309)
Before discussing the movie, some practical points to consider. The movie is almost 3 hours long, so consider a visit to the little boy’s room beforehand, and ration any drink that one consumes during the movie. Ignoring this advice may make you experience “Die Grosse Blase” instead of “Die Grosse Stille.”
Consider guarding one’s eyes before the movie starts. In the theater in Dallas, the movie trailers that preceded “Die Grosse Stille” were not appropriate for our children to view. Consider waiting until the movie is about to start before taking a seat.
The movie consists of short pieces of film depicting activities that take place in the Charterhouse located in the French Alps. Some of the scenes show the change of seasons, from winter to spring and then back to winter again. My wife pointed out that this showed how the seasons (or time) proceed, while the way of the monastic life remains changeless. Even the short vignettes have a kind of symmetry, where the movie begins and ends with scenes of the monks praying alone and together.
The movie is punctuated by the ringing of bells. Bells calling the monks to pray in unison in the chapel or alone in their cells. Wherever the monks are, they heed the call of the bell and pause for a few moments prayer. This is most touching in one scene where a monk is in the forest bowing in prayer before continuing his work in a small creek. The message I got was that prayer must be incorporated into all my daily work.
Rather than describing the movie (and giving away the surprise ending) I will discuss some of the notes I made of thoughts I had during the movie.
I was reminded of Switzerland, 1972, when I was just a Noisykid myself, and we were living in Switzerland at the time. I had forgotten how the mountains looked, and how thick snow could pile up on a roof. I had forgotten the sound of cowbells ringing on mist-covered slopes.
Seeing postulants, or novices being welcomed into the community, where the monks would embrace the new member and then purposely raise them up from the kneeling position. Such a sign of welcome and support was reminiscent of my brother’s ordination to the priesthood.
Seeing the meals delivered to the monk’s cells made me wish to be in a place where I could be taken care of completely. This thought was followed immediately by the realization that God does take care of me. I have never watched a movie which created such a feeling of being loved by God. I almost started crying – crying over lunch being delivered!
Touching on the subject of food, we all were impressed by the amount of food the monks seemed to get. Granted, if we were seeing the whole day’s ration it wasn’t that much. But if they get what appeared to be a large coffee can full of soup for every meal, they must be eating really well. We thought this until Fr. X noted that they probably need the calories for generating heat.
The only dialogue (not chanting or prayers) is in French, with subtitles. I remembered the saying that France is the ‘oldest daughter’ of the Church. Close-ups of the monk’s faces showed men filled with joy – especially the older monks. The close-ups also revealed these men to be fallible humans like me – some had glasses, bushy eyebrows; one even had a pacemaker or an AICD (Automated Implanted Cardioverter-Defibrillator) under the skin of his chest. A scene of the monks on their weekly exercise together, where they were sliding down a snowy hill, had to be the funniest scene in the movie. It also showed that even those who have forsaken the world for Our Lord still have a sense of humor.
The whole movie is a window into a world which I was always aware of but had never taken the time to examine. Granted, there are nuns and monks throughout the world who are remembering the intentions of the dadwithnoisykids family, but I realize now just how much I have taken their prayers for granted. Into Great Silence made me realize just what this other part of the Mystical Body of Christ looks like – what a tremendous gift we have by having men and women living the consecrated life, spending all their days in prayer and penance for those of us who live in the world. So when I look outside and see the Noisykids playing in the back yard, when I find myself falling asleep every time we pray, when the gloriously mundane life I lead seems to be summarized by nothing but failure, I can remember that somewhere there are monks and nuns who are awake, praying for the likes of me and my family. This thought gives me great consolation.
I recommend this movie without reservation. I took my children down to 9 years old to see it. This is also the first movie I have seen in a theater since 1999.
The '4K' is ready to cultivate some land!