Sunday, October 28, 2007
Peace in the Silence, Peace in the Song
As night falls over the river, and young and old trickle away from Circuit House Park, a faint sound can be heard, the sound of a gong. And there, nestled in a grove of houses and trees, the great river quietly flowing nearby, sits a beautiful white chapel, neatly ornamented with green trim, surrounded by gardens and trees; it is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of life in Bangladesh. And as the sound of the gong fades into the crisp night air, young men appear quietly from the surrounding houses and calmly file into the chapel, not a word is spoken, as an air of anticipation and peace falls over the place.
Inside, five men clothed in white gowns sit facing the cross, one of few decorations in this simply furnished space. And all around them sit the boys, silently they sit on the grass mats, with Psalm book in hand, waiting for the sound of the harmonium to break the silence, bringing with it the sweet sound of many voices. And as the lines continue the sound grows, the harmonium is joined by the empowering beat of the toblas and the grounding rhythm of clanging cymbals. And voices raise together in adoration of the Lord. And there I sit, and I let the sounds wash over me, words only slowly beginning to take form in my mind, I realize now why music need no boundaries. Music does not need to be understood it needs to be experienced.
As the opening hymn comes to a close the lights come on and as if drawn with strings, each boy picks up his Psalm book and together the psalm is sung. It is sung as a conversation to God, one side sings a line, followed by the other, and back and forth, throwing their praises across the room. Preparing the place for the reading. With those last few syllables of the scripture, the darkness returns to the room and peace falls, like a gentle blanket, covering me, relaxing every fibre in my body. I slowly look around the room, three flickering candles provide all the light I can see, a beautiful, softly glowing light; and faintly I smell the fragrance of incense rising to greet me. And it is here that I sit. It is here that I am at peace, there is nothing beyond this moment, for it is in this moment that I feel love and joy, happiness and relief. My body relaxes, it melts into the moment and I pray, I let my daily worries, my challenges, and my joys join the multitude of prayers in the space, and I enjoy the silence.
I find in Bangladesh, that peace is so often tied to the silence, that rare and beautiful concept of silence. And for ten minutes of my day, that communal silence surrounds me. Then a voice breaks the silence, and in Bengali, a mantra is said, the time for communal prayer has begun. And in turn prayers are raised in this community, all concluded with "Probhu, amader prarthonna shuno" (Lord, hear our prayer). And as the final Amen resounds, silence returns, save one lone voice singing, "Oh Lord hear my prayer, Oh Lord hear my prayer, when I call answer me; Oh Lord hear my prayer, Oh Lord hear my prayer, Come and listen to me". And voice by voice, the sound multiplies until the room is gently ringing with the sound of voices. The sound of that music soothes and prepares, it comforts and empowers, and with a joyful Amen, the music fades, and those present bow before the Lord, rise, and silently leave the chapel. Where in very hushed tones the chatter begins, for it is time to eat.
Standing in a circle, we wait for the brothers to exit the chapel and give any necessary instructions, introductions or farewells, and then off to dinner. Because Taize is a community, we eat together, joined in a circle, sitting patiently on grass mats on the concrete slab. As slowly the plates of bhat ar torkuri (rice and curry) are passed around the circle until everyone has been served. The call for silence is followed by a prayer and frenzied hands ripping through a full plate of rice. In Canada, I have been told I am a fast eater; here in Bangladesh I am quite pleasantly surprised not to be the last one finished. As the rice very quickly disappears, hands are washed and the water thrown away, it is time for announcements. Anyone with anything to say is invited to speak, time limits are never enforced, as this is sharing time. After a few minutes of informing, joking, and much heartfelt laughter, the meal is officially closed with the call, "Ishorer joyo gan kori" (To God we sing praise), and followed with the response, "Ishorer donnobad hok" (Thank-you God). And each night as I laugh and joke on my return walk home, I am amazed at the peace that I experience; Peace in the silence, and Peace in the song.
Apnader kache shanti. (Peace to you)