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Technology, Silence and the Pedagogy of Farming

Carthusian Monks in "Into Great Silence"

After the historic speech in Germany and his mention of the environmental movement as one example of a challenge to the bunker of relativism, Pope Benedict XVI continues to make reference to the environment. In a speech to the Carthusian monks in southern Italy, he gave an interesting diagnostic of our world, where technology and the stimulus anxiety of the new generation reveals humanities fear of silence and inability to connect with God. Monks, who live in silence and in touch with nature, are an important witness to the Church and the deeper dimensions of our humanity. Below some key excerpts.

Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknown to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.

The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude…. by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void,” which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

A few days later the Pope reflected on Psalm 126, and its message of joy. Reflecting on the psalm’s words of those who “sow in sorrow, will reap in joy”, the Pope deepens on the image of farming, sowing and reaping. He tells us how this act of socking reminds us of our smallness, weakness and necessity of something greater than ourselves. Counting on nature is an act of humility, it gives us this ” powerless time of waiting” for our sustenance to grow. Below his own words:

To scatter the seed is an act of trust and of hope; man’s industriousness is needed, but then one must enter into a powerless time of waiting, well aware that many deciding factors will determine the success of the harvest, and that the risk of failure is always lurking. And yet, year after year, the farmer repeats his gesture and scatters the seed. And when it becomes an ear of grain, and the fields fill with crops, this is the joy of he who stands before an extraordinary marvel. 

Jesus knew well this experience, and He spoke of it with those who were His own: “He said: ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how'” (Mark 4:26-27). It is the hidden mystery of life, these are the wondrous, “great things” of salvation that the Lord carries out in human history and whose secret men do not know. 

When divine help is manifested in all its fullness, it has an overflowing dimension, like the watercourses of the Negeb and like the grain of the fields — the latter also evoking a disproportion characteristic of the things of God: a disproportion between the effort of the sowing and the immense joy of the harvest; between the anxiety of waiting and the comforting vision of the granaries filled; between the little seeds thrown upon the ground and the great sheaves of grain made golden by the sun. At the harvest, all is transformed; the weeping has ended and has given way to an exultant cry of joy…. This is what the psalmist refers to when he speaks of salvation, of liberation, of the restoration of fortunes and of return from exile.  

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