Thursday, January 8, 2015

Into Great Silence

If you travel six hours straight south from the University of Notre Dame, you come into what is known as the Knob Country of Kentucky.  For quiet a few years, the Folk Choir has made an extraordinary trip into this neck of the woods, to continue a kinship that actually stretches back far into the past (well beyond the years of this group of singers).  It is a past that weds our University with another community, one that came into being at almost the same time as that of Notre Dame.

It was in the 1840's, and a lot of Catholic France was trying to figure out how to either adapt to or escape the fury of the French Revolution.  Two religious communities, the Cistercians (Trappists) and the Congregation of Holy Cross, decided that one of the ways to do this was to send a delegation of their men across the Atlantic, into the wilderness of a new country called the United States of America.  By that time, we were scarcely three generations old, and the frontier was everywhere.

Into that western frontier came the Holy Cross community, his band led by Fr. Edward Sorin, and the first Trappists, led by an equally audacious Frenchman, Dom Eutropius.  And early on, one of Notre Dame's famous first priests, Fr. Stephen Badin, had communication with this nascent community on the western edges of the American frontier.

Now, a hundred and seventy years later, Notre Dame's community visits the Trappists again.  We have done so every two years, for almost a generation.  And we do so for a very specific purpose.

It's getting harder and harder, with the passing of years, to actually find quiet.  Just like it's getting harder and harder to observe the stars in the expanse of the sky.  Our lights, our techie inventions, all these things block out the darkness, and block out silence, too.

The problem is – wonder is to be found in both.

So we travel to Gethsemani this weekend, in part, to rediscover the wonder of silence.

It is a movement into Great Silence, found in the low, rolling hills of Kentucky  (And to those who have never seen the movie about the Carthusians by the same name, it is a beautiful testament to both their life and to what the smallest of sounds can mean).

Perhaps it is a conundrum, but we travel to this quiet monastery to find out how to be better musicians, how to approach silence and sound in more profound ways.  Every time we make pilgrimage to this place, we come back, out of the silence, with a much deeper appreciation for the craft of music making.

And maybe – if we're lucky – we might just experience a little wonder at the stars in the heavens as well.