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Quote of the Day
Monday, November 14, 2005
Songs of Experience and Innocence
Today was one of those days where you feel like you were busy all day but accomplished nothing. The bureaucracy and hierarchy around here are inpenetrable. I spent all day trying to gain access to an archive -- the archive I came here to see. I have been assured for two weeks that I'd be able to get in, no problem. Not so! Everywhere I turn there is another form to fill out, another person to talk to, another meeting, another website to look at for further information. Every person I talk to has "only been in this job for a few weeks" or "is recovering from a long illness and not up on the latest procedures." Either that or the person I need to talk to is "very important to the organization" and "usually does not speak to researchers."
I think I found a way to circumvent this system, but involves a lot of charm on my part. Let's hope I can muster the charm early tomorrow morning, and in a foreign language.
There's a German film out in Europe now called Die Grosse Stille(roughly, The Great Silence). It's a film about the Grande Chartreuse, a strict monastery in the French Alps. For many years, the producer yearned to make a film about this place and the men who spent their lives there, praying, and he asked them for permission: 16 years ago! They finally, after almost two decades, allowed him to film them, and the resulting movie is a cinematic masterpiece.
The monks in the Grande Chartreuse are not allowed to speak, except for a brief period on Sundays or during religious holidays, when they are also allowed to take long walks outside the monastery walls. The film follows them through a year, and the audience watches them work and pray. There is no background music in the film. There is no climax or conclusion. There are only the monks, reading and studying their manuscripts, washing the floors, shaving each others' heads, sewing new cloaks, repairing their shoes, planting and harvesting their gardens. The film is startling for both its careful re-creation of monastery life and its beauty: the French Alps are the backdrop for the film, and so the shots of nature are truly breathtaking.
Now I want to learn more about this monastery, and learn more about religious life in general. I've done a bit of reading about convents and the nuns who live in them and have had many nuns for teachers in elementary and middle school. On some simple level, I can understand why some women choose to become nuns. I cannot understand, however, why these men chose to become monks at this remote, strict monastery. They have no contact with the outside world. They do not teach, they do not sell anything, they do not perform any "service" for the outside world. They live for themselves and they live for God -- to me, they are either completely selfless and holy, or a bit egotistical and selfish. I consider myself a prayerful and religious person, but I think that part of my religious "purpose" is to serve others -- to improve the world. I don't understand what the "purpose" of the monastic life is at the Grande Chartreuse. Perhaps their mediations are, without anyone knowing, improving life for the rest of us?
(Bright Star, I thought of you as I was watching this. You would have really enjoyed this film, both for its religious aspects and the gorgeous nature photography.)