Recently I showed some clips from one of my favorite films, Into Great Silence. It documents the lifestyle of the monks in a Carthusian monastery in France. Rather than being about monastic life, the film is like monastic life, and its slow pace and timeless sense of prayerfulness is intoxicating.
I spend enough time around the dismissive anti-religous to know that there are a lot of people who think that those monks are escaping from the real world, or are incapable of living with reality. When I watch them I know how brave they are. How could anyone imagine they are escaping? They live a life that offers no escape from who they really are. How many of us would be able to survive without the day-to-day preoccupations that distract us from the huge questions of our existence? How many of us could really let ourselves go and say to God ‘it is ok if no one remembers me. It is ok if there is no trace of me left in this world. I abandon myself to you and need no other recognition’?
Years ago I went on a long silent retreat. When I tell people that they smirk and laugh in a way that is actually somewhat hurtful. Because I’m highly verbal no one can ever believe that I spent some time in silence, but I did and it taught me a lot about being myself rather than acting like myself. I don’t think I’m built for the monastic life – like most people I am too proud to give up my pursuit of accomplishment and recognition. I envy the trust and courage of the monks at Grande Chartreuse who leave behind what they know and seek to be subsumed in God’s silence.