At the centre of Carthusian life is the hermitage. The community life brings together a group of hermits. It is in solitude that the heart is deepened and inhabited. The hermitage is a place above all of communion with God and, paradoxically, with man. The monk is never less alone than when alone. Little by little his heart will be is enlarged to the dimensions of Christs love encompassing everything and every person in heaven and on earth. His cell, as it were, has glass walls. Apart from all, to all we are united.
The main room of the hermitage is the cubiculum where the monk prays, studies, eats and sleeps. It is significant that he enters it by passing through an antechamber called the Ave Maria. It is through Mary that he enters into the tent of meeting with the Lord. Equally the offices he prays in cell are always preceded by a prayer to Our Lady, the premier patron of the Carthusian Order. Her FIAT (yes) to the action of the Spirit is the model of contemplative prayer.
Our principal endeavour and goal is to devote ourselves to the silence and solitude of cell. This is holy ground, a place where, as a man with his friend, the Lord and his servant often speak together; there is the faithful soul frequently united with the Word of God; there is the bride made one with her spouse; there is earth joined to heaven, the divine to the human. The journey, however, is long, and the way dry and barren, that must be travelled to attain the fount of water, the land of promise.
Watch and pray
The monks day is structured by the liturgical day-hours, prayer of the Church, which he celebrates every couple of hours in his oratory. It is filled by simple activities all designed to help him to live in the presence of God, to let God in by all the receptive capacities he has endowed us with.
The longer the monk lives in cell, the more gladly will he do so, as long as he occupies himself in it usefully and in an orderly manner, reading, writing, reciting psalms, praying, meditating, contemplating and working. Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages. (Statutes, 4.2)
Physical and artisan work in cell is an important element of balance and will occupy at least two hours each day. The garden allows time to be spent in the open and gives access to that space of sky that is ones own.
Silence is the air the solitary breaths. The Fathers called it the language of the world to come. From being an exterior discipline it is gradually interiorised, a mystery of awareness and communion with the Real that so surpasses our busy words and concepts.
Here is Truth knocking at our door, speaking of his Love.
The fruit that silence brings is known to him who has experienced it. In the early stages of our Carthusian life we may find silence a burden; however, if we are faithful, there will gradually be born within us of our silence itself something, that will draw us on to still greater silence. (Statutes, 4.3) Ultimately our silence becomes Word, the darkness of faith is itself the Light.
The goal of the solitary is constant prayer, that pure prayer which is the prayer of the Spirit of Christ in us: Abba, Father. Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...
God has led us into solitude to speak to our heart. Let our heart then be a living altar from which there constantly ascends before God pure prayer, with which all our acts should be imbued.