fresh expressions, Monasticism/Neo-Monasticism

The journey continues….

Over the last few days I’ve had several conversations which have ended up leading to a discussion of my vision for my future ministry and where I see my call leading. It has been helpful in the sense that it has made me push in again and discover what God is saying. However, as it many times is for me, the vision that I sense God is calling me to is overwhelming. Mainly it is overwhelming because I don’t know where to begin.

The vision itself is to start an Abbey church. For the time being this is the best description I can come up with. The vision is not to start a new monastic community, but a church which is formed by the monastic life. The community itself would take on a rule of life, commit to certain vows, daily prayer, etc. Those that can would join in on-site, particularly in the daily office.

Most of those who are currently attempting to form an ‘Abbey church’ are along the neo-monastic lines. I believe that they are meeting people where they are. However, most I have heard of or read about seem to have the perennial problem inherent with post-Modernity, that is, a strong sense of personal autonomy, which leads to an avoidance of things such as vows; particularly the vow of obedience.

In many ways, I don’t even know where to begin. But the encouragement is something a friend of mine said to me, “God does not desire an ‘Ishmael’ ministry for any of us, but rather he desires an ‘Isaac’ one.”

Where to go from here? God only knows….

Book of Common Prayer, Evangelicalism, Monasticism/Neo-Monasticism, neo-monasticism, spiritual disciplines

What I’ve been reading…

Now that I’m back into the swing of things at work, after my P.O.T. residential last week, I’ve been trying to catch up with my reading. Most of it consists of other blog articles and a select list of books. In my reading, I’ve come across a site called Even from the blog title I could tell that I’d enjoy it. But one of the articles I most recently read is here. As I read, I felt like I should have been looking over my shoulder, so that no one would see me. At the same time, I felt a twinge in myself, which resonated with my own journey. One book I read a while back is Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard.  Both the article and book highlight what I’ve been feeling for quite some time. When are we as evangelicals (I can’t bring myself to capitalize it) going to see what is happening? Or have we, as Internet Monk notes, lost the plot? Are we too caught up in consumerism to separate the gospel from our inculturated, dare I say it, gospel idol? When are we going to pursue the disciplines needed to mature our own faith, let alone the faith of others?

I received an email today asking if I knew of any good confirmation courses. I could not recommend one. All the confirmation courses I’ve found are so watered down that I couldn’t recomend one. What I had to say was what about the Catechism? The previous times I’ve taught confirmation classes, which is not many, I’ve used the catechism as my basis.

When are we going to return to the disciplines which disciple and mature followers of the Way? For instance, I know that many of the evanglical anglican priests which I’ve spoken to do not hold to a literal praying of  Morning and Evening Prayer. Why not? Because, I’ve been told, it’s about spending time with God, a quiet time, rather than joining with the form and structure of Morning and Evening Prayer.

But if you read the canons about Morning and Evening Prayer, (C24 to be precise – Every priest having a cure of souls shall provide that, in the absence of reasonable hindrance, Morning and Evening Prayer daily and on appointed days the Litany shall be said in the church, or one of the churches, of which he is the minister or see C26 – Every clerk in Holy Orders is under obligation, not being let by sickness or some other urgent cause, to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer, either privately or openly; and to celebrate the Holy Communion, or be present thereat, on all Sundays and other principal
Feast Days. He is also to be diligent in daily prayer and intercession, in examination of his conscience, and in the study of the Holy Scriptures and such other studies as pertain to his ministerial duties.
), it is to be publicly proclaimed. What ever happened to the process of saying the Office as a church? Isn’t this the reason Cranmer reduced and simplified the Office, so that we could all say it?

If we want to remove the shallow, consumer-driven, Christianity-lite, which evangelicalism has become, then a return to our heritage as Christians is needed. No matter your ‘brand’ or background this is what is needed.

Whoo…. I feel better. Read the article.


Monasticism/Neo-Monasticism, spiritual disciplines

Advent reflection from- Why We Are Waiting…

I’ve been receiving Advent updates and reflections from one site  in particular that is intriguing. It is called: Why We Are Waiting… It has been very helpful so far.

What I would particularly like to highlight is today’s Advent reflection excerpted from Abbott Christopher Jamison’s book Finding Happiness. Unfortunately, this excerpt rang true about some Christian groups I’ve been a part of in the past. Moreover, if we are to really pursue/be pursued by God then does it not stand to reason that Abbott Jamison’s suggestions would be the case? In a culture that is obsessed with physical exercise, could we not pray that we would have such devotion spiritually?

I’ve included the entire reflection below.

May Christ the Daystar continue to dawn in our hearts as we await his advent!

The interior world of human beings is a mixture of irrational and rational forces. The spiritual exercise of reason was the ancient and monastic response to this world, with daily reflection on the workings of my innermost soul; from such exercises flowed the solutions to life’s challenges and temptations. By contrast, in our culture, we are brought up without explicit and systematic spiritual formation, being informed that we can do and think what we like providing we don’t harm others. Spiritual practices such as meditation are considered purely optional extras for an eccentric few and so we are subtly led to understand that the spiritual struggle is not worth the effort.

While we want music with ‘soul’ and condemn ‘soulless’ bureaucrats, we have created a culture of spiritual carelessness that neglects the disciplined life of the soul. This state of mind is often accompanied by statements such as ‘I have not time for that sort of thing’, where having no time means both not having enough hours in the day and not having the inclination.

…A parallel can be drawn with the world of medicine. Before the discovery of germs, hygiene was not considered essential so many deaths were caused by infections that nobody could see. Once the existence of germs had been identified, physical hygiene became rigorous and lives were saved. Similarly, the cause of much unhappiness lies hidden from view but is truly present. Our demons are unseen thoughts that make us unhappy and spiritual hygiene is as necessary as medical hygiene if these diseases of the soul are to be healed. But we are a spiritually unhygienic society. While we know we must find time to brush our teeth, to visit the doctor and to take exercise, we have no such shared conviction about the need for spiritual exercises.

Finding Happiness. Pp56-57 by Abbot Christopher Jamison. Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson

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?

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…