Into Great Silence

Over the Easter holidays I watched a film called ‘Into Great Silence’. It is a feature length documentary about the daily lives of Carthusian monks of a monastery high in the French Alps. I was told by the lender that despite its virtual silence it was surprisingly mesmerising.

I was indeed moved by this brief glimpse into the asceticism of their monastic life. Isolated from the world, but surrounded by the sublime beauty of creation. The ordinariness of their faces belied the astonishing internal beauty cultivated by their committed relationship with God. This contrast between what for most of the world would be a great hardship; no material possessions, and very limited communication with each other, with the spirit of love that exuded from the dialogue of a monk towards the end of the film was powerful.

Talk to most people and silence is something we often find uncomfortable and do our best to avoid. I myself prefer a house filled with music rather than be confronted by the deafening silence of being alone. Whatever we use to break the silence, it is a diversionary tactic used to avoid uncomfortable truths that lie beneath our conscious selves.

Existing in silence is a permanent meditation and you need not be still to benefit. In the state of denying the self from psychological comforts such as music, conversation or television, we are forced to dwell in solitude with our thoughts and feelings. A solitude that reattaches the reality of our lives to the consciousness. Connecting mind and body has the effect of bringing up emotions we might not have realised were there. When our emotions are buried in the depths of our souls, they work unconsciously as belief systems that set the rules for how we live our lives. Frequently these manifest as self-limiting behaviours.

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14 NIV.

In feeling unloved, we can bury emotions of grief, which manifest as fear in our conscious selves. We may continue our lives with a lack mentality within this area, and wherever we think we lack, we consciously or unconsciously say; I lack, therefore I am suffering. This frequently shows itself as entitlement. No matter what the particular lack is, we perceive it as suffering which is subjective to each individual.

To counter this meditating on Psalm 23 refreshes our souls! “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”  

I spent a while contemplating how I would respond to living as I had seen, in the place of these Carthusian monks. I arrived at the realisation I would weep deep sorrows in my heart, initially from the overwhelming feelings of loneliness. But when all cried out, a freedom arose from these wounds and a new perception of living the reality of God’s presence placed deep in my heart. We are never alone. The fruits of this relationship being a profound sense of peace and joy.

Silence then being the pivotal tool in bringing our emotions to the surface, the way to which God can truly heal us.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.”  Isaiah 58:8 NLT.

So in silent contemplation there is healing. In healing there is a closer relationship with God. His love replaces all fear (John 4:18).

I then began to wonder what value do we give or gain in conversation with others?! What exactly is the point of it? Is conversation a self-indulgent pleasure? It is certain that everyone wants to feel important in some way. But what if our self-esteem is dependent on gaining value from these exchanges or in changing the experience of another we gain meaning for ourselves?

I myself in conversation, being highly empathic often and automatically mirror the other. In some situations this can put others at ease, but on occasion it’s a subconscious regression that removes a sense of control, which in itself can become limiting.

And in conversation there is often a deep need to be accepted. Acceptance gives us our sense of ‘fitting-in’ where we have lost concerns of self. Perception of self and others often determines how easy we find it to talk. Having a genuine concern and care for others removes our self-awareness and allows conversation in the absence of difficulty.

God says it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and the Carthusian monks who live in silence are not alone. They eat together and all share the same purpose. All the jobs they complete around the monastery are for the benefit of the community. Their individual work is for the common good. They are connected, and when they did converse this came across as such a joyful experience – a rare treat!

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24. ESV.

Engaging in conversation gives the opportunity to demonstrate God at work in us and through us. It enables us to serve, share and care for the well-being of others in community and relationship. Conversation serves God’s purpose. And let us not forget that there is no greater sense of intimacy and otherness than the concept of God as the Trinity!

As I have said many times before, what is said matters less than how we leave others feeling. If we leave people feeling listened to, respected and valued; we have loved our neighbour as Jesus commanded (Matthew 22:39). Through this comes many fruits of the spirit, such as love, joy, peace, gentleness and kindness (Galatians 5:22-23). All from the simple enjoyment of connectedness. It is enough!


Father God, we thank You for Your eternal love and desire to be in relationship with us. We thank You Jesus for reconciling us through Your suffering.

Lord, we thank You for a life without lack and the blessings of company and all the goodness it brings to us and to others. We ask You Jesus to help us let go of ourselves to become more like You each day, working in service to others. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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