What is it? What is the journey? What is happening in the quietness of the cell?
Within us there is the question of what is our purpose. We answer this question throughout our lives. We get the answer wrong or to some extent right. Not having the answer, or all of it, brings uncertainty and fear. This fear has developed over the days of our life. The more it grows and the older it becomes the less we function properly if it is not addressed. What are we fearful of? We are fearful of being hurt, of not knowing what to do (our purpose), of not being accepted, respected, and ultimately loved. We fear the mystery of what we are. We fear the unknown.
These unanswered needs unconsciously influence our lives. These unanswered needs need answering in order to live productively and happily. What we turn to, to answer them, can be termed as God, or gods. Believing or pretending that we do not have these unanswered needs ensures that they are not answered. To acknowledge such needs a certain amount of courage is necessary. Such courage is often never found and some live their whole lives pretending or believing that there is no greater depth to themselves. When these people come to die they find the process difficult.
We can attempt to answer these needs in many ways. We can turn to family, churches, nationalism, sex; we can turn to power, to wealth, to hobbies, to pets, to forms of drugs, societies, to anything that helps to some degree to answer these needs. The unanswered part of these needs we can pretend doesn't exist, or we can just except that we have the best on offer. This is happiness limited.
Making Jesus our God and turning to him opens us up to our needs being completely answered. This is perfection. This is unlimited happiness. This is real and this is what Christians stand up and witness to. This is experienced, this is IT, it is experienced on the Journey, it is the Journey, the Way. It is Life.
The Carthusian life is a particular expression of the Christian life. The Christian life is one which puts faith wholly in God (as shown to us by Jesus) to answer these needs. Sharing all our pain, anxiety, disappointment and fears with Jesus will alleviate them. This is healing. This healing not only heals psychological needs, it also heals our physical health.
In cell the Carthusian is not alone. Though it seems to the contrary, Carthusians live in cell to share themselves. The cell gives them the environment to commune more easily with God. Though physically alone the life of the Carthusian is one of continual relationship and communion. Outsiders without faith do not see God and look upon the Carthusians as being alone. The Carthusian is never alone. If the Carthusian was alone the life would be inhumane and intolerable. Certain people who have wanted to be alone and have tried the Carthusian life have failed miserably at attempting to live the life. These people have either ran away quickly, become psychologically unstable, and/or even killed themselves. The Carthusian life is one of joining with all that is. The Carthusian life, the Christian life, is one of surety and happiness, of maturity and stability, of peace and knowledge. From this comes the ability to love others as these Christians experience the love from God. Carthusians monks are not monks because they themselves are better than others. It has nothing to do with their abilities. They are no better than others. They have been given the gift of seeing God, though dimly and undeservedly. They are only responding to an offer nothing or nobody else can match. Where is their glory in this? The glory is God's. Having seen what is on offer, why should they turn to anything else!
Not long ago I was asked if I regretted having spent the time I had done so in the monastery. This question often comes up. The one asking felt it was a waste being all alone. Especially because during those years I was in my prime (yes - she was talking about sex). So I have the choice: to have sex with women here and there, to party, travel, meet people, train, get work experience or just sit alone in a cell! It is easy to understand why she felt it was a waste of time. As it happens from the age of 16 I had a lot of what she called a proper life. Here was somebody who didn't know about God. One of many who seek to answer their needs (above) by turning to other gods; e.g.. to romance, jobs etc. etc. How far has she got? Divorced and still looking. Looking to the same things that have done her no good to date - her gods. Yet these gods have done a little good. Enough to entice her to keep her faith in them. The media encourages her to keep hoping. Use this cream and you will look young - why? to meet your man and find your meaning in life, your purpose. This is very sad. She knows no better. She can see her own failure yet will not let go of her gods. She is one among many. So I have wasted my time with Jesus? I have a joy from Jesus that is inexplicable. I have purpose, happiness and surety. Yes I can die, get ill or run over by a car. Yes I am in no way better than this women. But I have seen a gift. One of eternal life that is not a hope in the future, but experienced now. Something to be very happy and thankful about.
Why don't I therefore tell this women my experience. Really! She doesn't want to know. Oh she does, it will answer her needs, but God converts and draws to himself - not me. When she wants she will ask and she will be welcome, as all of us are.
So the IT is a way of life that makes God God. It is the inner life, or spiritual life. Carthusians express this inner life dramatically in their daily affairs, clothes, customs and buildings. It is simply their way of living what all Christians live - with God. (It is accepted that there are many who profess to be Christian but by their actions appear to be otherwise, and make their gods up to suit themselves.) The purpose of the Christian life, the Journey, is self evident when entered. It is truth. It is joy. It is communion.
This I remember being the most important and beautiful thing about my days at Parkminster. This is what I still carry with me - that which carries me - the Way.
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