Kassie Rose, WOSU's sublime book critic has a terrific blog called www.thelongestchapter.com, and on it she provides a list of 54 of the "Great Books". She did this for her own birthday, as a present to herself, offering the titles that have changed her life. I recently hosted an Open Line broadcast where Kassie was a guest,and she reiterated that "An Infinity of Little Hours" by Nancy Klein Maguire is a must read.
I read it. I'm so glad I did. My long standing attraction to monasticsm and the cloistered life turns out to be a lovely fantasy. After reading this I realize now I could never live the life. Maguire uses records, archival material and interviews to reconstruct the path of five novices in the Carthusian charterhouse at Parkminster, England. Soldiers for God are one thing-these are full scale warriors. The life of silence is lonely and demanding, and one either finds the fortitude to continue or one does not. It seems one is always cold, tired, hungry and dirty. Four of these men left. All went on to successful lives, as did the monk who stayed. The monks live alone in cells-really multiple room dwellings, however modest. They leave the cell three times a day for offices in the church. On Sundays the community eats together-vegetarian, no dairy during Lent. There is no conversation. You could live years in the cloister and barely recognize the men around you, much less know them. Quanitaevly figure 20 hours of alone time per day. Its a life or prayer and mediation, and it is the life of a warrior, of an athlete, of a strongman (and woman-there are Carthusian nuns). Several of the monks break down. And I'm glad I'm not the only one worried about passing gas in church. The very, very few people in this world suited to such a life are either very blessed or have a screw lose. I'm thinking blessed. If you type in Carthusian on youtube you'll get some compelling video, but I doubt Maguire's book would have been possible fifty years ago. There was simply no access. Even now the Carthusians have web sites (!) but among the "FAQs" about visitors the reply is always, Not Possible.
All of us can live a life of prayer and many of us should strive to pray more, and mean it. The Carthusians, who were brutally persecuted as Henry VIII was wooing Anne Boleyn, have a legacy of courage and strength on which to draw, and they find the way to persevere. I'm so glad I read "An Infinity of Little Hours" by Nancy Klein Maguire, and I hope you'll read it too. I didn't feel cheered or comfy or encouraged at the end. I felt unsettled and disoriented and a little sad. Which may be the point!
Again, Kassie Rose's blog is www.thelongestchapter.com