On television yesterday I watched the second part of the film “Into Great Silence”. This is a fascinating film, produced by Philip Gronig, chronicling the life of the monks at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble in the French Alps.
Mr. Gronig proposed the idea of the film to the monks in 1984. They told him they would think about it. Sixteen years later they told them he could do the filming if he was still interested.
In March 2002 Gronig went to the monastery and began filming. He lived at the monastery for several months, filming and doing his own recording. He then spent more than two years editing the film, which was finally released in 2005.
When I chanced upon the film yesterday, I did not intend to continue watching it, but I found it riveting, and had to see it to the end.
There were long stretches of the film without a word spoken, or much movement. But the camera seemed to capture the intense concentration of the monks simply by focusing on a pair of hands reaching out in humble trust, or a monk prostrate before an altar in an attitude of total surrender.
The outside views of the jagged rocks or snow-filled crevices spoke of the rugged life of the monks, and of days dedicated to prayer and sacrifice without any concession to the comforts which modern life might offer.
But the testimony of one of the monks, an elderly man who had lost his sight, gave no hint of regret, but rather of a quiet happiness that he was experiencing some of the joy of heaven even here in the trials of life on earth.
I look forward to seeing the entire film, which challenged me to look again at the world in which I live, and try to see it from the eternal perspective of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse.
If you are interested in learning more about the Carthusians, you will find well-written articles on Saint Bruno and the Carthusians in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Another good source is a book titled, “An Infinity of Little Hours”, by Nancy Klein Maguire. She follows the history of five young men who entered the Carthusians in 1960, and she offers first-hand testimony of their thirsting quest for God.