Soundtrack of My Life

As a screenwriter and music-lover, I pay special attention to the soundtracks of the films I watch. (One of my favorites from 2011 is Howard Shore’s Oscar-nominated score for Hugo.) As a writer, I find music one of the easiest ways to “enter” into the ideal writing state–relaxed but focused–by playing carefully chosen music. My screenplays each have their own “soundtrack,” made up of a wide variety of instrumental pieces carefully chosen for the mood they evoke in me. Once a piece of music becomes “writing music,” when I’m writing becomes the only time I play it. Hans Zimmer–composer of countless soundtrack masterpieces as Gladiator, Batman Begins, King Arthur, Driving Miss Daisy, Sherlock Holmes, and so many films–is one of my favorite composers.

The theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for the 46th World Day of Communication (on May 20, 2012) is: “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.” In his message, Pope Benedict speaks about the importance of creating an environment for ourselves that balances silence, words, images, and sounds. I agree wholeheartedly with his recommendation, and I realize that I’ve been doing this for some time in my life.

In a media culture that bombards us with information and messages that appeal to our needs, it’s important that we give some thought to our environment. What media do I choose to take in? There is nothing wrong with having preferences, but a diet of just one kind of media message can be as unhealthy as eating only chocolate all day long. And when do I need to “take a break” from the flow of information so that I can ponder it and more deeply reflect on its meaning for me?

Silence is essential for any real communication to happen. Think about the spoken word. Words have beginnings, middles, and ends. The separation between each word–no matter how brief–enables us to distinguish that word. Forexamplereadingthissentencewithoutanyspacesmakesitmuchhardertounderstand. The spaces between the words, the silence between sounds, is important for us to create understanding.

But if we want to deeply listen, we need more silence than a breath or a space bar. When I plan to write a film commentary, it is helpful to jot down notes while or just after seeing the film. But my best commentaries come after I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I need a little space for the film’s sounds, images, dialogue, and emotional impact to sink in, and then, to find my own authentic response to them. I think one of the reasons it’s helpful for me to “ponder” a film overnight is that, in the silence of my overnight activities–such as night prayer, getting ready for bed, falling asleep and then rising early to pray–I have the opportunity to ponder, to listen more deeply.

“Deep listening” is what contemplation is all about. (By the way, a wonderful introduction to contemplation that I just found is Choosing To Love the World: On Contemplation, by Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo.) Deep listening to the culture, to people’s needs today, to the people I minister to, to the sisters I live with, to my own self, and to God. This is essential for my life as a writer and as a Christian serious about my relationship with God. Sometimes, God speaks the most profoundly in silence.

The soundtrack of my life, as a Daughter of St. Paul and a communicator of the Gospel, requires all kinds of elements:

  • Interpersonal conversation and dialogue
  • Connection with people I meet casually or in ministry–reaching out to discover and respond to their needs–and open to being touched by their goodness and humanity
  • Digital connection with people I “meet” online
  • Close relationships with friends, the sisters I live with, my family and loved ones
  • Participation within–perhaps even immersion–in the culture of communication: facebook, email, youtube, goodreads, etc…
  • Choosing to take in profound pieces of art, like the depth of exploring the human experience that comes from viewing a film such as Tree of Life, or the beauty of the music of a soundtrack like Gladiator
  • Silence–where I can most deeply connect with God and with myself

What are the elements of the “soundtrack” of my life this week? They’ve ranged from Palestrina (The Song of Songs), to the lovely voices of my sisters at table, to pop music heard at the mall, to the shouts of  TV football game announcers, to the exquisite sounds and images of Hugo at the theater, to the snowfall-muffled noises of the busy city street I live on, to the silence of the chapel early in the morning. I get to choose to balance these elements, to make sure that they create a “soundtrack” to my life that will help me to live in deeper union with Christ and with his People.

What is the soundtrack of your life?

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