Monday, February 18, 2008

Into Great Silence

For some time I have wanted to see the movie The Great Silence, a two and a half hour glimpse into the lives of the monks of the Great Chartreuse in the French Alps. The Carthusians are one of the strictest orders – living in solitude, but with prayer and a weekly meal in common.

Yet this asceticism is not dour, nor is it world-denying. What impressed me about the film is the care the director, Philip Groning, took to show the details of the life of the monks – from the box of buttons in the tailor shop to the fruit that accompanied the simple meals the monks eat in their cells.

Groning paid particular attention to water –we see the monks dip their fingers in the holy water font at the entrance to the church; we hear the rain on the monastery roof; we even hear the monks during their weekly time to talk together discussing whether the custom of a ritualistic washing of hands before dinner should continue. The baptismal image is just under the surface – dying with Christ, we rise with him.

The film is deeply sacramental – as are the lives of the monks. All of creation can show the glory of God, from the incredible landscape surrounding the monastery to the drops of water on a plate that has just been washed.

Toward the end of the film the monks in choir are singing the “Benedicite,” the canticle of the three young men in the fiery furnace, in Daniel 3:52-88. All creation is called to bless the Lord – fire, water, whales, humans. Let all that is, bless the Lord.

If you have about three hours and want to experience a Lenten discipline of silence, take time to watch this film. And then take time to bless the Lord.

However, I was a little disappointed in two of the translations into English. The text of Jeremiah should read: “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced.” The Gospel text should read, “No one who does not deny himself and follow me can be my disciple.” Minor details, in a film that is almost free of words.

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