I had dinner with some friends tonight. We got talking about a lot of different things. But one thing that came up is my interest in monasticism (though my experience is mainly limited to the Dominican expression). But then the discussion migrated towards neo-monastic movements and their relationship to monasticism as a whole.
At one point the comment was made that neo-monasticism is monasticism-light. Or to put it another way, which was pointed out later, neo-monasticism likes the idea monasticism except for the ‘vow’ stuff. As we were talking, I began to think about the ‘vows’ one takes upon entry into an order. For myself, my novice promises, which I have yet to take, consist of 1) obedience, 2) chastity and 3) simplicity. These are the expression of the original intent of most monastic communities.
However, what struck me is that our generation has a deep need for all three, but runs away from them full tilt. We have a need for obedience, yet we rebel against all things that have even a hint of authority/hierarchical tendency. We would not even consider some sort of spirituality which limits our own autonomy. Ironically the call of the Gospel is to bear our cross and take Christ’s yoke. Neither of which lead to an autonomous lifestyle. Moreover, in a society saturated in all things sex we have a deep need to realise that our definition as human beings is not base solely on our sexuality, nor does it dictate who or how we should act. We have a deep need for chastity to help define who we are. Beyond sexual chastity, we must realise the need for chastity in all things: food, work, sport. We must be willing to present our bodies as living sacrifices in all areas, not just in our sexuality. This is not a unique thing, but rather it is an expression of the identity crisis inherent to our ‘post’-modern culture. Lastly, one does not need to spend much time thinking about the obvious need of our culture to adopt the vow of simplicity. If we don’t, we will have a radical impact upon ourselves, each other and our planet.
We could spend hours on each (i.e. obedience = placing oneself within the parameters of authentic community). However, it strikes me that if neo-monasticism is to take seriously what it proclaims then there is no way forward without the vows. Moreover, without the vows neo-monasticism is truly monasticism-light.
The deep desire of our current culture and of many emergent voices is to be fulfilled in monasticism. The question is: are they really ready to engage and commit to what is required of them? The monastic vows are what can lead us to a deeper spirituality. But are we willing to abandon all for the pursuit of a true, intimate, mature Christianity? That remains to be seen…