A pilgrim to witness a 900-year-old tradition
By Phyllis Brewah
During the month of September , I signed up for a congregation trip to La Grande Chartreuse Monastery Museum. Before we embarked on the trip from the Ecumenical Centre aboard a hired bus, I had moments of nostalgia, mainly from reading the description of the museum made in the church announcements.
I couldn‘t help but admire the beautiful landscape of Switzerland and France as we snaked through villages, towns and farms. I stared in awe at the beautiful scenery, as well as the level of development. My mind went into soliloquy, comparing it to my country, Sierra Leone. After 2.5 hours of driving through curves and turns, we arrived at the monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains, north of Grenoble in Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in France.
This was among my first trips out of Geneva since I started working for the LWF. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to see in the museum, other than the reading I had done on the bus about the monks and the monastery.
Living in silence and meditation for me meant that they went about their daily chores without talking or uttering a single word.
As we navigated our way through the museum rooms, learning about the simplistic life in silence, I struggled as I witnessed a tradition that has been practiced for many cen- turies. I was at the centre of what Matthew Arnold wrote in his 1850 poem “the Carthusians’ world-famed home.” It is a tough decision, I told myself. Unable to fathom the monk‘s hard choice and preference to be neighbor to the loneliness of trees, birds and wild animals as opposed to a world we are all familiar with – that of consumerization. Their choice of isolation protects them from modernization, noise, corruption, deceit and war, I thought.
The 900 year old tradition and discipline of meeting every three hours for prayers won my admiration. Years of unwavering commitment and dedication for sure has made them survive the infiltration of modern technology.
The more I explored the rooms in the museum to share the inner spiritual ad- venture of Carthusian Monks‘ vocation of solitude, the more questions popped into my mind.
I wondered how the monks lived that simply without interacting with the outside world. Before I tackled that question, another had generated. Why we are engulfed and enslaved by consumer- ism to the extent that we doubt our ability to live with- out consuming?
The more I made an analytical comparison between ‘our world’ and that of the monks, the more I felt the need to change.
This was my second spiritual pilgrimage. The first was to the Luther sites in Germany in 2006. Such pilgrimages challenge spiritual life and the monastery visit was no different. It offered me an opportunity to be a witness to rich historical faith in Christianity.
Our forefathers were force- fully invited into Christianity from as early as 1789 without ever getting such an opportunity for witness. It is not surprising that many rejected the ‘new faith’ as it was known then. This visit renewed and strengthened my faith in unimaginable ways. Just as the monks were persecuted then but endured to become a witness of our faith, today many Christians are equally persecuted for dedicating their lives to Christ. Lately I find myself questioning things around me while I ask the fundamental question of how I serve God. Continuous reflection on the monk’s way of life has helped me acknowledge the power of silence and taking a quiet moment to listen to God’s voice in creation and His works.