Some occasions require silence. Others cannot endure it.
I recently heard of a Trappist monastery that last century observed a very strict silence. At the beginning of World War II, the abbot made a simple announcement: “The world is at war”. In 1945, a second announcement was made after several years had passed and tens of millions had died outside the cloister walls: “The war is over.”
I enjoy unplugging for a week at a time, but would probably tap out around a month. I’d be surprised if even today’s strictest monasteries limit outside news so severely as the one mentioned above. After all, contemplatives are meant to live in solitude, not isolation. They provide hospitality for those seeking refuge and embrace the needs of the suffering world in their prayer. Regardless of how well-informed such monks may be however, their sacred prayer rhythms go uninterrupted.
I find comfort in the regularity of a monastery. Even when the world seems upside down, I know that there is not only the abstract constant of births and natural deaths—there are places that I (or you) could go to seek respite to recover whatever energies may be necessary to reengage with whatever outside troubles assault me.
Sometimes it is a challenge to decide what current events to include in this blog and which to pass over in silence. What we don’t write or say though is as important as what we do.
Right now, many people are captivated by the helicopter crash that killed Christina Mauser. Christina was undoubtedly revered by the girls she coached at basketball and by her grieving husband and three children. For many, she was surely a star. Yet we don’t mention her, because another passenger who died in that crash was a celebrity known by many more people. What does it do to a family’s grieving process to have their own tragedy overshadowed by the death of a celebrity who shared the same fate?
Like Kobe Bryant, Roberto Clemente was also a standout athlete who lived his Catholic faith through humanitarian initiatives and died an untimely death. Although Clemente is still known today, the number of people familiar with him have diminished with time. One day he will be largely forgotten—unless, perhaps, he is canonized a saint. As impossible as it sounds, the same will one day be true of Kobe Bryant, even if it takes a hundred years. The grief of friends and family members will certainly outlast public interest, and those tears will not depend on the degree of celebrity attained by the departed.
The monks said their prayers throughout the world wars, and in spite of acute tragedies such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters. This is not mere escapism however, but an attempt to interject the long view of things into our human perspective. All of our current elations and heartbreaks will one day be memories. The monastic routine reminds us that beyond our daily occupations, in the long run things will be fine with the help of God no matter how imposing current suffering may appear.
Death comes in many forms. We may lose our loved ones, our lifestyle, our employment, our reputation, our health, or our very lives. The economist John Maynard Keynes famously observed that, “[i]n the long run we are all dead.” The promise of the Gospel though is that deep wounds still heal, seemingly endless tears will cease and dry, and even the dead eventually rise to new life.
In the words of St. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
This week’s “ear candy” suggests that true comfort lies in the ceaseless repetition of that which gives us joy. The lyrics are simple and wistful, but nonetheless worth pondering. Meanwhile, the “brain food” reminds us that while living in disconnected bliss may be all right for heaven, people need us engaged as long as we are still here on this earth.
Ear Candy: “Heaven” by Talking Heads
Brain Food: “Starving for Justice in ICE Detention” by Sarah Gardiner
Come back next Saturday for a new post!