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An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men…
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An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in…

by Nancy Klein Maguire

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I have never been a member of a religious community, but since the age of about twenty I have lived significantly under the shadow of monasticism, and my visits to religious houses have been a frequent and inexpressibly important part of my own growing up as a human being. This book describes the growing up of five young men who did enter the monastic life - the particularly rigorous life of the Charterhouse at Parkminster: their testimony forms the core of the book as it details the gradual collapse of their intense spiritual idealism - idealism melting in one instance into permanent Carthusian monastic life, but more often disintegrating into some kind of breakdown; the process is described always sympathetically, but the openness and transparency of the testimonies of these novices is quietly devastating as these young men begin to come to terms with the profoundest failure within themselves. Sometimes it is a failure of vision and ideals, sometimes of capacity and strength: this period of their lives is, however, one on which they all look back as having been absolutely crucial - and constructive - in making them the people who they are. Some of the monastic discipline to which they were subject (just prior to the changes which affected even Carthusian life after the Council) can be described only as deeply cruel: but what is more striking in this book is its human warmth. An ancient monk, looking back in the early 2000s on decades of his life within the Charterhouse, cites Teresa of Ávila as one of his greatest inspirations, 'because she makes you see that God loves you'; and it is perhaps this, more even than the (surely true) claims of St Bruno himself - 'only those who have experienced the solitude and silence of the wilderness can know what benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them' - it is this deep assurance of acceptance within the Love of God which is the resting place of these personal narratives. It is a deeply humane and eloquent and inspiring book - and if it encourages some of us to think that we have not been wrong to stay outside the monastic enclosure, it is also deeply affirming of the spiritual quest and the growth in self-understanding which can enrich any one of us, inside or out of the cloister, if we seek them. ( )
1 vote readawayjay | Aug 30, 2011 |
A fascinating book about the Carthusian monks. The author bases her work on interviews with many monks both still in the monastic order and those who left. She provides insight into the reasons that the men joined the order as well as what it was like to be in this most strict monastic space.

My only complaint about this book is that it was a little hard to follow. Her timeline was sometimes confusing and when the monks changed their names that got confusing as well. It made it hard to grasp continuity.

The book raises lots of interesting theological questions for me which I am still pondering. I'd definitely recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the Carthusians. ( )
1 vote shannonkearns | Jun 12, 2011 |
The Carthusian Order is the most strict of all the Catholic orders, little has changed since its founding in the 11th century, it's a time portal to see how people lived in the Middle Ages. Carthusaisn are like the special forces, it is the most challenging and has the highest drop out rate. Living as hermits in a "cell" (a small two story house) for about 21 hours of the day, the monks come out 3 times a day for prayer and singing - the longest uninterrupted period of sleep is 3 or 4 hours. Of the 36 new monks who joined around 1960, only 1 stayed the rest of his life, the others dropped out.

Nancy Maguire, who is married to a former Carthusian, does a wonderful job of describing the first 5 years (1960-65) of 5 new monks - 3 from the USA, one from Ireland and Germany. She spent years interviewing the former monks and piecing together the events and perspectives, along the way showing the reader what it is like to be a Carthusian. It's novelistic in characterization and very effective in maintaining a sense of mystery to keep the pages turning- who will survive, who will crack? My only complaint is it didn't seem to convey what it was like to spend 21 hours a day alone - most of the book is centered on social interactions. This is understandable since so much time has passed since the early 1960s, the monks will recall details of the notable events 40 years ago, while the great oceans of silent time will merge into an impression difficult to convey in words.

In conjunction with the book I also watched the movie Into Great Silence (2005) which I think is essential, it fills in the visual and auditory details.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
2 vote Stbalbach | Mar 26, 2009 |
This is an enthralling account of five men who in 1960 entered the Carthusian monastery of Parkminister in Sussex, England, and of their life there. Only one of the five remains a Carthusian today, but even those who left are affirmative in regard to their experience. After Vatican II some of the most daunting and unappealing aspects of the Carthusian life were changed--decent heating and personal facilites, for instance. In fact, one admires much the men who sought to be Carthusians. This is an inspriing book, much to be savored and pondered upon. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 4, 2009 |
Very interesting ( )
  Harrod | Dec 4, 2008 |
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Epigraph
. . . When will I come and see the face of God?
--Psalm 42:3, quoted by St. Bruno
Give up all else that you may be a man of prayer. Leave the common people on the plain and with Moses climb the mountain to pray to God.
--Dom Bonaventure, Prior
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 . . .
Soren Kierkegaard
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 158648432X, Paperback)

In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait of the customs and practices of a monastic order almost entirely unknown until now. It is also a drama of the men's struggle as they avoid the 1960s—the decade of hedonism, music, fashion, and amorality—and enter an entirely different era and a spiritual world of their own making. After five years each must face a choice: to make "solemn profession" and never leave Parkminster; or to turn his back on his life's ambition to find God in solitude. A remarkable investigative work, the book combines first-hand testimony with unique source material to describe the Carthusian life. And in the final chapter, which recounts a reunion forty years after the events described elsewhere in the book, Nancy Klein Maguire reveals which of the five succeeded in their quest, and which did not.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:08 -0400)

"This is the story of the five-year journey taken by five young men inside the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians. When the five young men arrive at the imposing gates of Parkminster in 1960, they enter a world virtually unchanged since its founding in the eleventh century." "As well as being a uniquely intimate portrait of the customs and practices of a monastic order almost entirely unknown until now, An Infinity of Little Hours is a drama of the struggle faced by the young men. After five years, each faces a choice: if he stays to make "solemn profession, " he will never leave. But if he leaves he must turn his back on a journey to find God - his life's ambition. Like a team of mountaineers, each searching for a spiritual summit, the novice monks' lives are followed as they climb out of their own age and into a spiritual world of their own making." "An investigative work, the book combines unique source material - including personal interviews with the monks themselves, and their handwritten notes, journals, and other correspondence - to describe first-hand the Carthusian life. In the final chapter, describing a reunion forty years later, Nancy Klein Maguire reveals which of the five made it to the top of the mountain, and how the others incorporated their monastic experiences as they rejoined the world outside."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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