On Friday night, Kevin and I accomplished a great feat; we finally finished watching "Into Great Silence," a film documenting the life of the monks at the Grand Chartreuse, the head monastery of the reclusive Carthusian Order in France. It took us three sittings to get through it. I felt a bit ashamed that we could not seem to muster the discipline and interest to watch it all the way through in one night! Kevin and I don't watch copious amounts of TV; we don't play video games, and we're not people who need constant entertainment. But for some reason this movie was like penance! I had to force myself to sit on the couch and stay awake as we watched the happenings at the Grand Chartreuse: changing weather, monks praying in their small, wood-paneled cells, shaving each others' heads, chewing their food in silence, and chanting together in the darkness.
They're way of life is simple and beautiful but so foreign from my everyday existence. I can enjoy 30 minutes of silence and solitude, but a life that is lived that way 90% of the time was difficult to take in. I can honestly say that watching (or attempting to watch) this movie was one of the most humbling exercises in all my lenten activities.
In my opinion, the best scenes were in the last half hour. One segment showed the brothers during recreation in the mountains surrounding the Grand Chartreuse. They hiked the peaks in their white, flannel habits and snow shoes and went sliding down the mountainside, falling head over heels, laughing and knocking mercilessly into one another. Throughout the movie, as I looked at the faces of these men, I found myself wondering what they were like as children. Were they as silent and austere as they are now? Watching them slide in the snow, laugh, and call to each other reminded me that we all need a bit of "rough and tumble." I was glad to know that life for these monks, while very ascetic, allows for play as well.
And this video is my favorite scene. It's about 5 minutes, but so worth the watch:
Even through the screen this monk's manner, his words, his voice which is so little used, pierced me. How often do I curse God for a traffic jam or a trifling cold? "Had it been up to me, none of this would have happened!" I think. And I must remind myself that it is not up to me. That like this monk, I am invited to acceptance and joy in God's infinitely good presence. But just as you must accept or decline an invitation, the joy of knowing that God has my eternal best in mind at every moment must be accepted or declined. And Lord help me, I want to accept this truth because as the wise monk said,
"This is all one must do and then one is happy."
I believe this is true because the more I am able to accept my life as it is, with all of its tumult, the happier and more free I become. And that is why Christ came in the first place, to set us free from sin, from Satan, and from our self-tyranny.
I'm glad I did not give up. I'm glad I finished the movie. Though humbling and challenging, it was worth every moment to witness the love that God has poured into those men at the Grand Chartreuse. I may not fully understand their way of life, but I am glad they are out there, praying for all of us.