Tag Archive: silence


AMDG

There is a tribe in South Sudan which is called the Mabaan Tribe and they are known as a quiet and peaceful people. They don’t use guns or drums, unlike neighbouring tribes, and are famous for their ability to listen. An American study on them was made in the 1960’s by Samuel Rosen.  It was discovered that the hearing of Mabaan tribe members at the age of 70 was superior to that of Americans in their twenties.    2 Mabaans standing 300 ft apart to each other could carry on a conversation in soft voices, with their backs.  Their extraordinary preservation of hearing was partly due to their low-fat diet and mainly that they lived in such a quiet environment. The human ear has not evolved yet to cope with the noise that it is subjected too.

According to the UN, ten years ago humanity passed a significant threshold. In 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas. Since then the urban population has outstripped the rural populations.  There were more than 400 cities over 1 million and 19 over 10 million. More developed nations were about 74 percent urban, while 44 percent of residents of less developed countries lived in urban areas.  With the majority of humankind now living in cities in much noisier environments their will an increased deterioration in our hearing.  In cities, this is due to the imbalance in our environment between noise and silence – rapidly increasing the aging process of our complex ears.

Noise pollution is becoming a significant problem and not just in urban areas. Our oceans are becoming noisier – with the phenomenon of mass whale beaching possibly due to the increased noises from bigger boats, more sea traffic, offshore wind farms etc. There seems to be a growing interest in promoting silence.  It is also a justice matter as it is often the poorest who are most affected by noise pollution.

AMDG

360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .

 

 

 

More precious than money or happiness?

AMDG

I am reading a thrilling book at the moment on one man’s quest for silence in the modern world. George Prochnik argues that more than money, power and even happiness, silence has become the most precious commodity of the modern world. Fascinatingly he traces the etymology of the English word silence – to a Gothic verb anasilan, which is a verb that describes the experience of the wind dying down. This is a very evocative verb, you can almost imagine the Gothic tribes standing outside their wind battered huts in Germany or around the Black Sea, savouring the respite in the biting wind.  The noise of the wind for them has almost become a relentless buffeting of wind for us in the age of TV, IPod, and urban life.  But paradoxically it is in the cessation of noise that we come to appreciate noise. Neuroscientists at Stanford University have demonstrated that when we listen to music it is the silent intervals in what we are listening to that triggers the most intense and pleasurable brain activity.

Prochnik  argues that a lack of silence is actually harming us.  Spending time with a police officer in New York on night shift, he discovers that the majority of domestic disputes that the cop is called out to are actually noise complaints.  When the cop arrives he goes into rooms where the television is blaring, with a radio on top of that and maybe a game station going on too.  The first thing the cop does is tells them to turn everything down and get them to sit down for a minute and listen.  The stress decreases, the tension abates, muscles relax, the heart beats more slowly and the cop says ‘that feels different doesn’t it! – maybe the reason you were fighting is how loud it is inside of the apartment’ According to the cop  most of the cases end there and then. I have only just starting reading  his book,  ‘A pursuit of Silence‘ embarks on a fascinating quest and I’m looking forward to accompanying him on it!