An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order (Hardcover)
by Nancy Maguire (Author) 288 pages
Publisher: PublicAffairs (March 6, 2006)
Nancy Klein Maguire has written a book I could not put down.
This is the story of five men who entered Parkminster at the start of the 60s. I kept track of their names – and the changed names within the monastery, and significant details, on a small bookmark.
In the 60s, only one monk is described as having electricity in his cell. There is no power in the church. The monks, surprisingly, write their scripture, quotes, notes, and reflections on scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, and magazines.
The story begins, Chapter 1, with a Trappist novice ringing the bell rope of the Gatehouse. He is described as wearing “the white and black habit of a Trappist novice”. Trappist novices wear white – no black. It made me wonder for some time about the accuracy of what was to follow. But from then on we are presented with a carefully documented and at times, I found, deeply moving account of five men journeying to the eleventh century in order to journey to God. It is the result of years of emailing, interviewing, and research. Only in one phrase can you work out which of the five she is married to. [The only other possible error I noticed was St Bernard is quoted p103 – I recognise the quote from Eckhart – did St Bernard also say this?]
There is much in the book that is familiar, for those of us who have been interested in Carthusians. For those new – this might now be the best place to start. There were new things I did not know: four candlesticks by the altar (p57). I had never heard of Antiquior. There was mention of a stage when Vermont only had 1 monk (p15)
Don’t read this book if you want your Carthusians plaster-cast “saints”. Here they are “warts & all”: fights over chanting, petty misunderstandings, breakdowns, “Dom Columba” stating Dom Leo “is no monk”… Don’t read this book if you want to think of the present Carthusians as never reformed. I did not know that the broken sleep & Night Office so central to Carthusian charism and life is only of fifteenth century origin, not from their foundation.
The book is written as an account of a lifestyle that in its view since Vatican II is no more:” Maguire has produced a vivid, gripping, and deeply touching picture of a world that is now lost.” (back cover)
Read this book if you appreciate real people living messy, complicated lives like yours & mine & trying to find God in this – in the book’s case with heroic focus. Read this book if you are more concerned with a small eternal solid core than ephemeral changes on the surface.
The book begins with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard:
“Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestantism in general may need the monastery again, or wish it were there. The “monastery” is an essential dialectical element in Christianity. We therefore need it out there like a navigation buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it. But if there really is true Christianity in every generation there must also be individuals who have this need.”
That quote was a gift to me from this book. The people in the book live it. And the book shows how we too can be part of the story.