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, 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…