Michael is my guardian angel. We cross a door, then a second and still a third as in the inner castle of Teresa of Avila. My guardian angel, who entrusted me with a large pair of keys, precedes me into the immense uninhabited cloister. I enter the heart of this Charterhouse of Sélignac, a solitary jewel of architecture nestled in the outposts of the Jura mountains. I am the first “retreatant” of the summer. We were kind enough to bring forward the official opening date for the purposes of my journalistic logbook. So I will be alone with the Alone! My soul is dizzy.
I advance slowly in this virgin and mineral space which commands respect. I now have the impression of swimming: the silence is so palpable that it becomes almost liquid. Since the XIIIe century, prayer has sculpted everything down to the smallest detail. How many religious have lived in this holy “desert”? Their presence is beyond doubt to me. The Carthusian Fathers left the place some twenty years ago, but their spirit permeates the entire space like a silent perfume. In the middle of the cloister, I see a quiet garden, a few venerable apple trees and, right in the middle, the religious cemetery. Simple acacia wood crosses are planted in the middle of the wild grass. My heart is racing. If I didn’t firmly believe in the communion of saints, I would be scared to meet ghosts at every turn.
“You are entering another temporality”
We stop in front of cell “C” which belonged to a choir monk. “You enter another temporalityMichael whispers, it’s better to cut with the news! » Does he remember that I am a journalist, having just survived the legislative sequence? With a very British humor (he is originally from Manchester), Michaël evokes the torments of his mother-in-law: “Poor thing hurts herself by watching bad news on television. » In any case, no device picks up in this remote chartreuse. Fortunately, the founders of the Charterhouse of Sélignac installed in 1202 a connection with Eternity which remains in perfect working order. As my guardian angel points out, all I have to do is put down my suitcase to plug in and, with it, this fatigue inherent in the world. It sticks to my soul like mud to the soles.
My guardian angel is gone. I close the heavy door to my cell. Intense emotion. I discover a small house made up of several rooms with an adjoining garden. After entering through the “promenoir”, you can go down to the ground floor where there is a “pyre” and an old workshop with a carpenter’s bench. Michaël told me about a Carthusian Father who got up regularly at night to chop wood! He never warmed up, but he needed exercise! Is it by chance that I discover coarse dumbbells, carved in wood, placed on the floor? My predecessor was obviously a man who did more than just exercise his mind!
get rid of something
Out of curiosity, I take a look at the private garden. It is in the image of my soul: everything grows in anarchy and in this jungle you can make out a delicate rose and a few wild strawberries. I decide to get my things going through the (empty) room called “Ave Maria” where the monk recites the angelic greeting to Mary. It is a custom that I intend to adopt before entering or leaving my cell. And then the holy of holies. I want to talk about cubicle, a funny word difficult to pronounce, but which constitutes the motor of Carthusian life, in the straight line of the Fathers of the desert. I open the door and immediately breathe in a woody scent from another age.
This cubicle will serve me at the same time as an oratory, a study room, a refectory and a bedroom. In short, no need to leave, except for lauds and vespers in church or to get my “rack” in the kitchen. Tomorrow, I have to prune dead branches from the pear trees in the main courtyard. But meanwhile…
“Not really a precise objective except to be there with God”
“In the world, you can’t find rest, kindly warned my guardian angel, because you always set goals. With God, there is really no specific goal except to be there with Him. » How to do ? According to Guigues IerPrior of Chartreuse, the essential begins for me: “There is no greater labor for you than to remain laborless, that is, to leave behind all changing realities, the source of all labors. » This leaves me perplexed, having no more appointments, except with myself. I remember the advice of my guardian angel: “Rest is not taking it easy, but knowing how to get rid of something… To approach God, you must always abandon something like Moses taking off his sandals in front of the Burning Bush. We must leave room for God! »
Life continues in Sélignac despite the departure of the monks. Open since 2003 at the request of the prior of the Grande Chartreuse, this chartreuse is a unique place, since it allows retreatants to live in the famous two-storey monks’ cells. Only a few offices in the church break the silence, meals are taken in solitude. The place is now entrusted to Michaël and his wife: “The Carthusian Fathers want this place to remain accessible to Christians on a spiritual journey. We welcome those who wish to try this desert experience. When you close the door of your hermitage, you find yourself alone. » The Charterhouse of Sélignac can accommodate about fifteen people.
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What am I going to have to drop, me? I have already given up on the network; I washed in cold water (having never thought of plugging in the hot water tank); I look for wine in my rack (very well stocked), but I only find an empty glass.
“Everyone has to let go of something, Michaël warned me, it’s different for each person. »
I sit facing the window for the meal. We see, rising from the deep forests that encircle the valley, clouds of vapor that fray with melancholy towards the sky. The wild charm of Revermont has not changed one iota since the first hermits of the Middle Ages. Already they were hiding behind the thick ramparts of fir and ash trees. My wandering gaze wanders over the old orchard of the Chartreuse, where the hundred-year-old apple trees continue to bear beautiful fruit. I’m amazed by an orange patch that ripples behind the trees. It is a cow from Montbéliard, its milk is intended for the production of Comté, which strolls under my window, wagging its tail. Still a novice in my solitude, I am almost moved to tears. Why ? It is a modest but striking sign. I remember from another window it was at La Trappe de Soligny many years ago where I watched intensely cows grazing in a meadow. I was 18 and had just made the switch from atheism to faith. I repeated to myself with wonder that God was much more real than the cows that walked before my eyes.
“You have to learn to be yourself”
That said, it’s not easy to find rest when night has fallen on the Charterhouse of Sélignac. I am truly alone with the angels. A verse from Psalm 94 comes to mind: “I said these people have a bewildered heart, they have not known my ways. In my anger I have sworn that they will never enter my rest. » It starts badly. Leafing through the psalter in my cell, I came across another verse from Psalm 90 that reassured me: “When I stand under the shelter of the Most High and rest in the shadow of the mighty. » This is what I hope for.
The clock is ticking, and I can’t sleep. Am I really made for rest in God? Am I out of place in the political and media excitement of the capital? Paris and its conspiracies seem very far away. Inaccessible. By closing my eyes, the advice of my guardian angel comes back to me in a loop: “In the desert, we seek God, and then we find ourselves! You have to learn to be yourself without the gaze of the other. To no longer play a role. » This is all so new to me.
I understand that this report will be tiring. “The Carthusian life is a life of restassures Michael, but not a restful life! » I’m beginning to guess why. I still managed to last several hours in my solitude. Some retreatants return the keys immediately, victims of a strange oppression. Loneliness rejects them. Me, I cling. Instead, let’s drop: “God is simple, assures my guardian angel, but it’s not easy to get there! You have to let yourself go, that’s the most complicated thing. » Unable to take it any longer, I get up and open the Gospel of Saint Matthew. I come across these words of Jesus to John the Baptist: “Let it be, for it befits us thus to fulfill all justice.” So Jean let him do it » (Mt 3.15). And I hear a little inner voice telling me: “Samuel, Samuel…”
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Immerse yourself in silence at the Chartreuse de Sélignac
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