But sacrifice can be made into a discipline, an art of loss that can be mastered. That is how Sister Maria Deo Gratias can describe the vow of chastity as “freedom, because we can give ourselves totally to God and we don’t have divided responsibilities.” And how the women can experience enclosure as liberty, not prison: laughing instead of recoiling when one woman’s four-year-old great-niece says they live in a “Jesus cage.” They laugh because the world thinks that the metal grille keeps them caged in, but they feel that the bars keep the world out.
Reading that story and so many others in “Dedicated to God” reminded me of Philip Gröning’s stunning documentary “Into Great Silence,” which portrays a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. The film is almost entirely silent—no commentary from the director or dialogue from the subjects—until a scene where the monks go sledding, when it explodes with the sound of their laughter.
That is another one of monasticism’s surprises: where the world expects sorrow, the cloistered feel joy. Reese’s attentiveness and patience allows that joy to reveal itself. She also shows clearly that these women are not disingenuous: they know all they have left outside the cloister walls, and they acknowledge how hard it is to live together, not only in quotidian ways by sharing space and limited resources but in spiritual ways, praying for a peace that none of them may live to see.
In some ways, I envy them.