Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Lord, you have seduced me. And I am seduced."

Back when I was young, amidst the chaos of life at some point then, I considered how the life of contemplation set apart from the world was a beautiful one. Since then, I've changed to thinking that a life in the thick of things - messy, ever-changing - is, perhaps, more holy. So I thought of this again last week when I watched a new film on DVD that had gotten such good reviews from newspaper film critics that I ordered it for the library where I work.

Into Great Silence is the work of a single filmmaker who, after 16 years, was granted permission to spend six months solo filming the monks at the Grande Chartreuse, a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. I was expecting the usual documentary, interviews with the monks, etc., but realized almost immediately that it's almost all visual. You do hear birds, footsteps, bells, but almost no talking! After 15 min., I was going to skip it, but kept watching for a few more minutes until I was thoroughly entranced. This is really a spiritual art film. I loved how the filmmaker, Philip Groning, had each of the monks spend about one whole minute just looking into the camera. Many had a completely open, calm, and peaceful face, while a few could only look for 15 seconds, blinking rapidly all the while - and one had eyes that were like wild birds in a cage!

The Carthusian monks live "one of the most austere" monastic lives - more like hermits - but they do have community and fun! Seeing them using boots as skis down a small snowcovered hillside, laughing as they rated each one's performance, was wonderful. The film follows the monks through several seasons, and the outdoor scenery is magnificent. But most of the scenes are of mundane activities - praying, eating, getting a haircut, working in the garden. It is all so quiet and filled with that beautiful mountain light.

Each of the main sections is preceded by a Biblical quotation, and one from Jeremiah 20:7 that was repeated often is the title of this post. These men must be in love with God and this silent life, but what is its meaning for the world?


  1. The cloistered life does have its attractions some days. I ususally want to join a cloistered convent on a Friday when work is at its worst. All that lovely silence in which to contemplate. I could work in the convent's garden. . . . no know-it-all teenagers either.

  2. the singing IS beautiful, i'll grant you that. funny, though...the monks are, under those robes and funny haircuts, human beings. guess what that's like! they don't put that in movies.

  3. I loved the movie. It was like going on a retreat. I wrote down some thoughts while watching it. Looking over them, they provide my personal perspective on your question: "These men must be in love with God and this silent life, but what is its meaning for the world?" They are too long to post so I will email them to you. - H


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