Saturday, November 10, 2007

The MovieGoer-Into the Great Silence

Impossible to overstate how much I've enjoyed this latest Netflick pick- a peep into the life of the monks from the Grande Chartreuse monastery. The life of the monks first made me homesick for my former life as a scholar. The "father" monks live in alone in cells, spending time in prayer and study. A lower order, called "brothers" who wear blue denim habits delivers steaming vegetable stew, clean laundry and letters from home through a small door in the cells. All time is spent in silence, except for the powerful words of the literary and few "recreational" visits.

The difference between these two types of monks is briefly described in their official website.

"A Carthusian community consists of cloistered monks, priests or those destined to become priests (Fathers) and monks converse or donate (Brothers). Cloistered monks live in the strictest of solitude. They do not leave their cells other than when allowed by the rule. They occupy their time with prayer, readings, and work (sawing wood to heat themselves during winter, gardening, transcribing, pottery, etc.) The Brothers ensure that the various needs of the monastery are met by their work outside of the cells (cooking, carpentry, laundry, work in the woods) It is a unique ideal, lived in two different ways. The Brothers work in as much silence and solitude as possible. They have their share of life in the cell for reading and prayer, yet it is less demanding than the Fathers. That is why their cells are smaller. Both ways of life complement one another to form the unique Charterhouse and correspond to the different aptitudes of those who wish to lead a Carthusian life."

When I rented this documentary, I thought I'd long for the life of a father. Uninterrupted time for contemplation of the sacred scripture. Time for writing, thought, prayer. Clean laundry delivered through a window in my cell. Such a contrast to my currently inability to string two sentences together in a blog post without being interrupted by a hungry baby, battling siblings, a husband who has misplaced his wallet or a dog with diarrhea.

Instead, it was the humble life of the little brothers in blue which drew me. The way they carefully cut the celery for the stew. They way they shoved snow from the garden tracks while the Mass bells were calling their fellow monks to prayer. This is the way most similar to my life as a stay-at-home mother. Watching the simple, necessary tasks done with such love and devotion had an uplifting effect on me. Even the acetic monks need clean clothes and full bellies.

The focus on solitude and silence and aspects I wish to embrace more fully in my life. In contrast to the more communal life of the Benedictine monks, the Carthusian monks embrace a more solitary life. The basic premise is this:

"It is because of this solitude that each of our cells is called a Desert or Hermitage.

The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one's soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his "self", his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit "...the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access." (Statutes 4.2) (quote from their official website.