Tuesday, August 7, 2007

American Carthusians: Transfiguration Charterhouse

Vermont's hermitage, the only foundation in North America, now, as of the feast of that name yesterday, has a website. It's full of texts, photos, and the accumulated wisdom of a way of life that by its austerity and isolation inspires those who have, for the past thousand years, been separated from-- but all the more drawn to-- its power. Many criticize monks for their retreat from our bustle, but I counter (against even those in my own family!) that we skeptics and doubters need the blessings that prayer, devotion, and good works done in private by the few and the humble generate. Perhaps our own unbelief or at least in my case nagging doubt may be balanced by the intensity of a purer, more committed, and totally sincere apostolate, one that focuses inward, magnifying the Shekinah, the rush of the Divine Presence, so it can burn a few chosen souls in Vermont and the few hundred male and female "eremites" around the world, all the more. God heard not in whirlwinds but "a still small voice."

The Feast of the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor with its odd talk of huts and the sudden shock in Joycean terms of raw unwanted devastating epiphany always appealed to me. A mystical passage, suitably, from John's swirling gospel narrative. The "desert," even in Vermont, is what the monks call traditionally their place of surrender to the void. In Ireland, "Dysert O'Dea" marks such an ancient locale set apart for "the white martyrdom" of renunciation to the Force. Carthusians wear white habits to attest to the blinding resurrected landscape that this Feast illuminated. Out of a blankness, into the overwhelming oneness that obliterates all other hues, these couple dozen holdouts on a New England hillside find as those on Tabor did their annihilating, ecstatic, rapturous lover's embrace.

In a time in which the official Church has been so weakened by scandal and tainted by compromise, the Carthusian charism-- as shown by Philip Groening's acclaimed documentary on the passage of time at Le Grande Chartreuse, the motherhouse, last year (reviewed on this blog) "Into Great Silence"-- shines even more sharply, as with the heart of Newgrange pierced by the solstice ray of light. (This reminds me of the start of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill's "Feis," which I must translate here soon!) The harsh light depicted above the snowy path to the Charterhouse symbolizes this contrast. Excerpted below is sample "testimony" from one of three eloquent witnesses on this moving, purified, and genuinely simple website. (Look for more at the homepage under "Monastery.") "Elisha" writes as a psychotherapist working at the UN headquarters.

The silence of the Charterhouse is filled with an unfathomable presence. It is like heart tissue, alive and sentient, vast and deep, austere and pulsating. Through the grace of exposure and intention my life progressively has been shaped around this Carthusian heart of silence and solitude, a shaping that echoes the search for God in the depth of my own heart. I have come to know-through fits and starts and often in the midst of failure--the deep wisdom, the resolute ascesis, the intimate embrace, the hidden silent simplicity of being, the brilliant nothingness, and the whispers of Love that pour forth from the Carthusian heart.

Images from the site: Mount Equinox in the distance beyond the monastery walls; a shot with the belltower and the enormous Vermont granite blocks with which the interior and exterior are both constructed; the road in winter to the gates; "a solitary cloud, looking to the south."



virgin34 said...

Please help how can l contact them, l tried several emails for English speaking Carthusian Monastery two of them one in England. Not even one has been replied. Please help to get hold of them l think i have a vocation. Yours in Our Lady of Good hope. Daniel Henri Chenga

Fionnchú said...

Daniel, join the International Fellowship of St. Bruno for those who share a lay interest in Carthusians. The IFSB can tell you how to contact the Vermont Transfiguration Charterhouse; some on its Yahoo forum have visited it. I recall the Order itself may not use e-mail to contact us out here--it's only for necessary commerce, perhaps. Snail mail might be wiser? As for St Hugh's in England, again, that list would be the best resource for an initial inquiry about a vocation inquiry or related visit. Best wishes on your search for meaning amidst Advent's hope. Keep me posted about your quest.