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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