By Patrick Griffin
“What should I watch on TV tonight?” You probably asked yourself this particular question many times in the last year. The past year was a strange one for movies, as productions were postponed, and releases were delayed. Of the new movies I did watch, The Sound of Metal was my favorite.
The film tells the story of Ruben, a recovering drug addict and drummer in a metal duo. He and his girlfriend Lou are living in and touring out of their RV.
One morning, Ruben wakes to discover his hearing has effectively disappeared. The results of an examination are not hopeful, but his narcotics anonymous sponsor finds a rural shelter for addicts recovering from deafness that can take him.
Ruben is hesitant to leave Lou and stay there, expressing interest in getting cochlear implants instead. However, Lou convinces him to stay at the shelter. Joe, another deaf-recovering alcoholic, runs the shelter and helps Ruben adjust to his new life in the deaf community. Joe attempts to help Ruben embrace the silence by having him sit alone with just a journal and a pen.
As time passes, Ruben seems comfortable in his new environment. He is able to communicate through American Sign Language and seems content with his situation. When offered the chance to permanently remain in the community, Ruben thinks of Lou and sells enough of his belongings to qualify for the cochlear implant surgery. However, the deaf community is founded on the idea that deafness is not a disability, and so Joe forces Ruben to leave the community.
The surgery was not what Ruben expected, as his hearing is mechanical and simply not the same. He reconnects with Lou, but discovers she is now mentally healthier in her new lifestyle. Ruben leaves Lou’s house and sits outside on a bench, but is bothered by the distortion of his hearing. The movie ends as Ruben turns off his implants, sitting in silence.
The Sound of Metal is an emotionally intense journey. I found myself sitting quietly well after the movie ended. As I reflected upon the film, the theme of silence and solitude stood out to me. We live in a world full of distractions and busyness, and it seems that there is always something reaching for our attention. We are being pulled in every direction and it feels difficult to experience a moment of silence or solitude.
But God is calling us to experience God’s presence in these moments. In 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV), Elijah encounters God in the silence:
11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
God met Elijah in “a sound of sheer silence.” Like Ruben, we must attempt to embrace the moments of silence in our lives. Richard Foster says that without silence, there is no solitude. Ruben gives us an example of how to do this, isolating himself in a quiet room of the house. But simply sitting in silence is not enough. Solitude involves both silence and listening, as true silence does not occur without a heart listening to God. Joe describes to Ruben how silence and solitude can allow one to experience God:
“I wonder, uh, all these mornings you’ve been sitting in my study, sitting, have you had any moments of stillness? Because you’re right, Ruben. The world does keep moving, and it can be a damn cruel place. But for me, those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the kingdom of God.”
May we experience the kingdom of God through the disciplines of silence and solitude.
Patrick Griffin is a CBF Leadership Scholar and is currently pursuing an M.Div. from Campbell University Divinity School. He received his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and serves as in the discipleship ministry at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, NC.