Dominicans, fresh expressions, habit, Monasticism/Neo-Monasticism, Neo(new)-monasticism, neo-monasticism, spiritual disciplines

Monasticism and the habit: To habit or not to habit? That is the question.

It has been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been quite busy experiencing and exploring my new vocation. I’ve done my first funeral and first baptism, so now all that is left is a wedding… I’ll then have the trifecta or the grand slam or (insert sports metaphor here)…. Overall, I’ve been just getting used to the rhythms of parish life and trying to keep up with everything that needs to get done.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about, what is called here in the U.K., ‘fresh expressions’ vs. ‘traditional’ debate. Along with this, the idea of a ‘mixed economy’ in the Church, which the ABC has brought to the discussion. Also, I’ve been wondering what role monastic communities might play in this whole kerfuffle.

As we have all heard, new monastic communities seem to be popping up everywhere. However, that might have more to do with its usage as a buzz word, rather than actual communities being created. Whatever the case, monasticism in its various forms seems to be growing amongst evangelicals.

For some the question is whether or not these communities are ‘true’ monastic communities. Their critiques seem to be mainly focused upon the initial idea of monasticism, that is, monos – being one before God, is not found within new monasticism. However, the moment the monastic movement began to form communities, it moved away from this initial understanding. So, could the ‘traditional’ orders be considered true monasticism by this definition? Only a few, such as the Carthusians, could stand up to this scrutiny.

The second critique is found in the structure of the communities themselves; particularly that those involved are not bound by the ‘traditional’ vows of monasticism. The main cry is a need for celibacy for new monasticism to be true monasticism. However, this does not take into account such monastic expressions as the Celtic monastics. Celibacy for what ever reason, we do not have the time to address fully the issues here, was not viewed as a necessary part of monasticism for the Celts. Their understanding would be more along the lines of chastity to the life situation to which God has called you. Moreover, much of ‘traditional’ monasticism was reinvigorated by the Celtic monks who ‘re-evangelized’ Europe.

All of this to say that much of the critique by ‘traditional’ monasticism seems to fall short and sounds more like the cries of those originally opposed to monasticism and its expressions in the first place.

However, there is something that I have a question about in ‘new’ monasticism. In order to make my point, I will begin with an outward expression in order to lead us to the inward issue.

The question I pose is: Should ‘new’ monastics wear a habit?

I can already hear the outcry of denouncing these expressions as irrelevant and not applicable. But, let’s not be too quick to make these statements.

I was thinking lately about these new communities and how I’ve had two impressions about them. My first impression has been a positive one. Anyone who wants to live in community, implement the gospel and become more Christ-like, whatever that looks like, is to be commended. My second impression is that this desire is tempered by a connection with the world which could be seen to be too close. Have you noticed how certain monastics seem to sport the newest, trendiest clothes, glasses, mobile, iPod, etc.? Not that they can’t but it appears that this seems to be a conglomeration of trendy Christian-Hippie  expressions. Maybe that is too harsh. It is not my intention to attack, but rather for us to explore together. Back to my original question: Should ‘new’ monastics wear a habit?

What I do not mean by ‘habit’ is a limitation to the traditional understanding of a habit – robe, sandals, etc. Although, I do think that this can be helpful depending on the situation. What I do mean by habit is in its definition – a characteristic piece of clothing or accoutrement which visually denotes their vocation.

Let me explain. Many people argue against the wearing of specific clothing for those who are ordained. They argue that it separates, implies an incorrect understanding of the priesthood of all believers, etc. Despite this objection, I believe that wearing  a ‘habit’ can be quite helpful, for ourselves and those we encounter as we live our daily lives.

Before I was ordained, I spoke with quite a few people (pastors, ministers, priests, etc.) about clerical wear. I asked the usual questions – how do people react? does it help in your ministry? does it cause problems?  Depending on their tradition and background I received a variety of answers. However, this did not prepare me for the first time I put on a clerical collar.

The first day I wore a clerical collar I walked around excited, not because of the collar but because I was beginning the next chapter in my call. But as the day wore on, I noticed something. Behind the excitement, I felt strange. I felt exposed to all those I was walking by, talking with… I couldn’t quite place the feeling. After a few weeks it finally donned on me. The feeling I was noticing was about my own insecurities. I could no longer decide when to be a Christian or not. In whatever the situation I was no longer in control of my Christianity and its impact upon the circumstance. When people saw me I was already ‘out’. Now some would say that our speech, our actions and our behaviour should reflect our Christian faith; and they should. Nonetheless, when one dresses in a manner which separates oneself from the culture we are in, people notice. In essence we are allowing ourselves to be submitted to the lordship of Christ even before we say or do anything. We are placed into a situation, when people immediately see us, in which we are called to be obedient to Christ. Yes we are always to be obedient. But what I am saying is that our obedience is made public; not to flaunt ourselves, but rather to submit ourselves to the lordship of Christ. Until one wears a ‘habit’ we do not understand the outworking of this.

What does this have to do with new monastic communities? It leads us back to the vows of monasticism, particularly that of obedience. (Monastic vows vary depending on community – Benedictines have: Obedience, Stability, conversatio morum; Franciscians have: poverty, chastity, obedience. The interesting thing to note however is that obedience continues to pop-up no matter the Order.)

The vow of obedience firstly restores our relationship with God. As an evangelical, I’ve heard many times that I must be submitted to the lordship of Jesus in my own personal life. And probably like you, I submit myself to Christ well and sometimes not so well. But the vow of obedience takes this concept one step further. It does not leave us on the first commandment: Love the Lord your God… But it takes us to the second: love your neighbour as yourself; as Abbot Christopher Jamison notes in Finding Sanctuary: “…obedience is not just about doing what the boss says; it is about mutual love… To obey in this interpersonal way requires great inner freedom: the ability to judge what you desire and what the other desires, then to choose freely to set aside your desires for the sake of the other.” Abbot Jamison highlights that obedient freedom must meet two criteria: 1) there must be a choice to obey and 2) obedient freedom opens up possibilites rather than enslaving us. It is obedient freedom that I do not necessarily see in these new monastic communities. That being said, I have never been to or spoken with anyone from these communities. Therefore, it may be the case that this particular aspect is present in these communities and I am willing to be corrected. However, from what is shown to those outside the community, through websites, blogs, articles, etc., one could question where the foundation of the monastic life is found? Are we using monasticism, its novelty to most Protestants & evangelicals in particular, to experience a new aspect of our Christian faith? Is this simply a post-modern expression of Christian faith on which we will look back in fifty years as a phase or short lived blip on the screen of history? Or are we willing to lay the foundation which monasticism calls us to in order that we might be communities which express the monastic ideal? This remains to be seen.

As I have already stated in a previous post, monastic vows can and, I believe, do liberate us from the post-modern culture in which we currently live. Moreover, without these vows we can easily slip into a post-modern version of the hippie movement of the sixties, with hints to or sometimes explicit references to the gospel. Nonetheless, it is still no closer to monasticism than I would be through my own personal exploraiton. Monasticism is a critique of the Church, one which does not destroy but one which calls the Church to be its true self – the Bride of Christ. We must be careful that an uncritical romantic desire, formed by our culture, is not at the heart of what we are trying to do. This is why wearing a habit could be benefitial. Are we willing to take the chance?

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Dominicans, Monasticism/Neo-Monasticism

Monastic Vows

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…

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Dominicans, Neo(new)-monasticism

Is it really a flaw?

Found an intertersting blurb on “Anamchara.” It is in relation to neo-monasticism.
I’ve included it below…

The Flaw of Neo-Monasticism

(read whole article w/comments here.)

Yesterday I was talking with one of the Cistercian monks with whom I work at the
Abbey Store. I mentioned the concept of neo-monasticism to him and he
said he had never heard of it. So I told him it was a movement toward
new forms of intentional Christian communities, popular especially with
young evangelicals. He interrupted me. “Are they celibate?” He asked
abruptly. I said that I believed most neo-monastic groups neither
required nor forbade celibacy. “Then they’re not really monastics,” he
replied.

He went on to explain that a core characteristic of monasticism has
always been the quality of “monos,” or being alone, i.e. single, before
God.
He thought it was lovely that new forms of Christian community are
emerging, and pointed out that there has been a long-standing confusion
between the monastic and contemplative vocations. Perhaps in their zeal
to create new communities of prayer, the so-called neo-monastics were
simply being a bit over-enthusiastic by identifying themselves as such.

I asked him, “If these communities are not properly called monastic,
then what are they?” He replied, “just call them communities, that’s
good enough.”

(bold for emphasis)

I do have one question in response to this statement: Why did later monastics, such as Benedict, emphasise the communal if monasticism is being single before God? Yes the early desert fathers and mothers focused on singleness before God. However, later monastics recognised the need for a communal aspect to their search. Moreover, why pray the hours, if there is a need for singleness? There is a deeply rooted sense of community found in the hours which cannot be reomoved simply by praying them alone.

Just some thoughts….

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Dominicans, Ecclesial issues, Neo(new)-monasticism, Sacraments and Liturgy

Neo(new)-monasticism part 2

As I have already stated, I’m intrigued by the majority of aspects of the neo-monastic movement. However, as I reflect on this movement, it is becoming more apparent to me that there is at least one aspect with which I take issue. The irony in all this is that it comes from both sides, those opposed and those in favour of neo-monasticism. It is the narrow focus of what comprises monasticism and neo-monasticism, that is, in particular the ‘social justice’ emphasis. Some have even gone so far as to term neo-monasticism: the New Friar Movement. However, as we will see their understanding of being a friar is found in the Franciscan tradition. On the outset there is nothing wrong with this, yet it is simply one strain of monasticism and to classify an entire movement through this filter might be premature.

For those who are involved with neo-monasticism there is a deep need to address the marginalised and the stranger. These are good things. Most definitely we would all do well to do more in this regard. However, this is not the only focus of traditional monasticism, nor should it be the central focus of neo-monasticism. Their appeal to embody the Sermon on the Mount is a sincere one. Nonetheless, it appears to be a highly censored Sermon on the Mount, comprised mainly of the ‘social justice’ aspects and little else. The Sermon on the Mount is about a gospelized humanity (hat tip: Darrell Johnson). It is capturing our full ‘created-ness.’ It is what we were created for. To limit this understanding is detrimental to the entire understanding of the Sermon. In fact, one might go so far to say it creates a specific duality between the spirit and the physical. In order to over come this understanding we must centre our understanding of Christianity in worship (cf. Chan, Liturgical Theology).

As I have already mentioned in a previous post, the central focus of any Christian’s life is worship. Without this focus all emerging movements will fail. I’m not talking about a simple understanding of worship. I’m talking about an all encompassing depth, which most evangelicals fail to fully understand. One of the most glaring omissions from a majority of evangelical theology is ecclesiology. Without it no movement has the foundation to stand. But that’s a topic for another time.

Objectors or critics of neo-monasticism see it on one side as a return to (Roman Catholicism and a works based righteousness) or a misdirected movement which will not pass beyond this generation. Neither is the case. However, the critics also cast a narrow definition of what monasticism was and is.

One example is only necessary for either focus: the Dominicans. Their primary purpose is two-fold: to evangelize and disciple (to use evangelical terms). It is their belief that if we do this well, then the rest will fall into place.

If we are to embrace the possibility of neo-monasticism, which in my humble opinion could be the way forward, we must begin to embrace monasticism in all its facets.

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Dominicans, Ecclesial issues, Neo(new)-monasticism, Regent

Neo-monasticism

I’m not quite sure how many are familiar with the concept of neo(new)-monasticism, but it is one which is growing worldwide. For myself, neo-monasticism encompasses much of my own personal journey.

The formation of neo-monastic communities does centre around a variety of issues. For some, it is a way of living a life which is counter to current culture. It reaches out in radical hospitality to those on the edges of society. For others, it is about learning from communal living, being the Body together. These communities share resources to varying degrees and attempt to live out their own understanding of the traditional vow of poverty.

I do agree with much of what these communities strive for, I do question what they are centred on. Certainly there are benefits to the spiritual life when focused on community and the marginalized. However, this is where I differ with their understandings. Probably, this is why I am a postulant with the Dominicans, rather than another order.

Using the 12 marks of neo(new)-monasticism as our starting point, it strikes me that there is much that supersedes what I perceive the necessary centre to be, that is, worship. Many of the websites of new monastic communities (see resource section on Wikipedia) focus on either community or hospitality. Again referring to the 12 marks, it seems as if the ‘contemplative life’ is tagged on the end in order for there to be some sort of support for the previous eleven. I would be the first to recognise my own need to spend more time dealing with and integrating these two specific areas in my own life. However, these two areas stem from our worship.

Community is formed from an understanding of the Triune Godhead. This is the starting point for all community. Secondly, community is part of our own ‘created-ness,’ our own need to have relationship, firstly with God and secondly with others. Also, if we practise a radical hospitality it can only stem from our own receiving of radical hospitality through Christ and the gospel of the kingdom. Any other attempt to extend radical hospitality without such a foundation falls flat and becomes exertion through our own efforts. Moreover, the central act of such a gospel is the cross. Without it we lose the impetus for our hospitality, the reconciling love of God.

I remember a project I had to do for a course during my time at Regent College. We had to study, analyse and critique a ‘discipleship programme.’ The purpose was to understand its effectiveness and its shortcomings. A friend and myself decided to revisit the BCP catechism. (If you’re not familiar with it, don’t worry most people aren’t.) But what struck me in our study was the centrality of the need for a ‘rule of life.’ Amidst all the other theological assertions was the emphasis for a ‘rule of life’ which would mature a disciple, out of which all other things would flow.

I guess what I am trying to point out is that without a strong emphasis on worship/rule of life (daily office, study, etc.) we will fall short of our goal of achieving a reform of the Church. We will fall short of what my own hope is – a vital, dynamic, exciting, life-giving, radical Christianity.

I am just beginning my journey in these waters. But I do agree that it appears that neo(new)-monasticism is what the Church is desperately longing for.

Christus Victor…

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Blogroll, Dominicans

Name Change

Well, I’ve decided to change the name of the blog for two reasons. Firstly, there is already another blog by the name Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. So rather than there being any confusion I changed the name. (not that there would be) Secondly, I’ve changed the name because of my own journey. As some of you already know I’ve been exploring the possibility of joining the Anglican Order of Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominicans. This is something that would be done in conjunciton with my ordination. It for the most part does not change my current journey other than giving me others with which to travel. Hope this sheds light on the issue…

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