Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Pathway for Remonasticisim

Christianity Today has an article that discusses whether a Protestant form of monasticism would help or hinder the church. In the article, CT points out that many areas of the church have been infiltrated with the influence of the world. How are Christians distinct today from other people who are not Christians? If we followed the lives of 10 random people for a day, would we be able to pick out the Christians by anything more than a prayer at meal time and a visit to church throughout the week? Perhaps…but maybe not as quickly as we’d like to think.

There are a whole host of reasons why it is wrong for Christians to be indistinguishable from the world. The greatest in my mind, however, focuses on the person of Jesus. It seems clear from Scripture that if you engaged Jesus on a religious topic, that it was impossible for you to leave Him without being affected. Maybe not always for the positive, but you were going to leave Him changed.

Less scripturally based is a hunch I have. If I came in contact with Jesus and spent the day with Him and didn’t talk one ounce of religion with Him, my guess is that I would still leave at the end of the day affected. Again, maybe not for the positive, but I must leave Him changed. Now, if you don’t feel there is enough Scriptural evidence for this or you just utterly disagree with the statement I have just made, then you can simply stop reading here because the rest of what I will say is going to be predicated on that premise.

We are to be like Jesus. That means that if people talk to us about religion, we should be able to challenge them (holding to the Truth, but still invitingly and lovingly speaking to them) so that they leave us affected. But just being around us should cause them to know we are different. Are people coming in contact with us – whether they speak about religion or not – and leaving us affected? If not, then we still are not impacting them the way our Master impacted people.

This is where I think that a remonking of the church would help. I believe that the prevalent influence of the world has infected Christians to such a degree that an objective observer would have a hard time figuring out who are believers. Instead, it should be so obvious that it is without doubt. Generally, I think we believe most of the right things (though there is always room to grow, expand and change – semper reformada) – I don’t think we practice it. Well…let me not condemn you. I don’t practice it. So, my hope is that this blog, as we dialogue together, will help us to take the doctrine that I know too well and begin putting into a practice that is appallingly lacking.

I liked many of the thoughts in the CT article that gave some parameters of what it meant to remonasticize the church. Here’s a summary:

- Remonasticism must involve community. It would mean regularly coming together as a community of individuals that are on the Way together to confess, encourage, and worship.
- Remonasticism is not trying to remove itself from the world. Unfortunately, this became the end result of many of the older monastic orders. This is unacceptable. However, much of the church in North America has made itself so enamored with culture that there is no distinctive. This is just as unacceptable. The goal of remonasticism is to see the distinctiveness of believers again on display, wherever God has placed the person, for God’s glory.
- Remonasticism is not to draw attention to oneself but should be designed to point people to Jesus. Dan Allender in his book ‘To Be Told’ notes that God writes a unique story into each person’s life. However, if the story that we tell others does not point them to Jesus, then we are not telling God’s story. Remonasticism’s goal is neither obsession with personal purity (though personal purity is an aim) nor spiritual pride (though spirituality is an aim). Instead, it is living our life in such a way that it is impossible for people to walk away from us without being changed…much like the impact our Savior had. This impact on people must be done in such a way that when they walk away, they are changed by Jesus and not by us.
- Remonasticism’s goal of holiness is for the further goal of calling others to holiness. The Old Testament example of this would be the Nazirites. The vow that the Nazirite voluntarily pledged themselves to was an example to others of setting oneself aside for purity before God. Remonks would be a reminder to other believers to ‘be holy as God is holy’ – to continue to strive to live up to the calling that the church has been given.
- Remonasticism is not trying to recreate the older monastic orders. There is much to learn from those who have gone before us, so this does not suggest that we will not be influenced by earlier orders. Instead, it is designed to learn how to live holy lives in the midst of the world we live in. There are no unchanging rules in the remonastic path because we recognize that the world continues to change and so our expression of holiness will change with it. To this end, unlike older orders, the markers along the way would be periodically reevaluated on the basis of whether they are still appropriate to the world that they are being engaged in.
- Remonasticism must recover the life of prayer. For some, this will be easy. My guess is that for many it is something that is desperately needed in their lives. This will probably mean a departure from some of the busyness and hectic days that define North American living. If, in its place, it puts times of silence, devotion, and interaction with God, then the exchange ought not to be a difficult decision (though acting on it may be harder than we can imagine).

For lack of a better name, I’m going to call this journey Hodos. Hodos is the Greek word for ‘the way’ and represents the pathway that we are taking as we walk with the Lord. I am also going to avoid the language of older monastic orders that spoke of rules. Partially, this is because of the world we live in and the meaning affixed to that word. But even more than that, rules tend to suggest the only right or accepted way of doing something. When Benedict first wrote his rules the world took a lot longer to change. Today, changes occur in months, sometimes years….forget about decades. So, my hope is to develop a path that can be changed as the times change without changing the purposes. Thus, we will speak of markers along the path that give us direction.

I welcome your input. I don’t presume to have this path blazed yet and so I am learning as I think these things out through my keyboard. Your input into all this would be greatly appreciated. We begin as travelers. Perhaps in time, we will become sojourners. Eventually, if we continue, we will be called to be guides to others who will walk this path.

I don’t know where this will lead me. I’d like to believe that I’ll even follow the path that I set out here. Ultimately, however, I’m not sure where God will bring me through this – my prayer is that I walk neither ahead nor behind, but hand in hand with Him….


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my perspective as Catholic, the Church hasn't been "unmonked" in a good 1700 years! So, I am not sure that "remonasticism" would be an appropriate word.

I see you mentioned St. Benedict. I am considering joining a Benedictine abbey. I recently completed a month long Observership in a benedictine abbey in new mexico. You can read about my experiences here:
its called "A Day in the Life of Christ in the Desert."

No abbey follows St. Benedict's rule in all points to the letter. Besides which, strictly speaking the Benedictines are not an order. Also, each abbey will have its own "customary" that will lay out how they apply the Rule to their community.

If you consider Anglicans and Lutherans as protestants, then there already are protestant Benedictines. There even is, or at least used to be, a Presbyterian(sp?) monastery in Minnesota.

Also, Benedictines have "lay associates" called "Oblates". Some of them are entirely open to protestants as members. I know of one abbey here in Canada that has a couple Assemblies of God members as oblates. mind you some dont, but thats usually a manpower thing rather than a lack-of-ecumenism thing.

Anyway, just some random thoughts.

3:38 AM  
Blogger PhilThreeten said...

Dunmoose - Thanks for the input. I had not heard of the Protestant monasteries and that seems like something that could certainly have an impact on what we are trying to do here.

I also didn't mean to suggest that the Catholic church has stopped the work of monasticism - they have and remain to be at the historical forefront. However, I don't see the idea of long-term seperation from the world, for whatever spiritual benefits, as being the Biblical goal of monasticism.

I think what we are trying to talk out here is what happens if a person were a monastic without going away to the monastery? Not that solitude, silence, contemplation, etc. would not all be part of this remonking, but seeing it as something more than something to go to and making it an ongoing part of our everyday life in the faith communities that we are already active in...

I hope that explains it better. Your experience, however, could be a great benefit to our conversation. I hope you'll consider returning consistently to check in on us... :)

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The possibility of being a monastic without going away to a monastery is certainly possible. That too has a long history in the Church. For example, the Desert Fathers (and mothers!) would disappear for months, even years, and would return and give fresh spiritual insights into living the christian life and also act as advisors and spiritual directors.

Silence and solitude are indeed important. The monk is to cultivate solitude so that God may speak. the monastic's cell becomes a place of special encounter with God and the silence and solitude help to foster that encounter. The purpose of the withdrawl from the world is to engage the world on a more basic and real level: the world of spiritual reality.

Another thing you might want to look into is the "poustinia" communities started by Catherine Dougherty. "Poustinia" is a Russian word meaning "desert". There, individual members can retreat into little retreat houses for short periods of reclusion, and when they return they are expected to share their experiences with the community.

I think this is a great idea. I used to be fundamentalist. I have a great regard for fundamentalism as a whole and remember those days mostly fondly. But I thought one of the things it was missing was a sense of stability in so many of those faith communities. Maybe this sort of monasticism would give rise to that stability!

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops! that was me again.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Fr. Daniel said...

You might give careful attention to terminology--specifically, such words as "monk", "hermit", "solitary", "religious", etc. As a one-time temporarily professed member of a Protestant order (and who may one day return), I came to understand the importance of distinguishing such terms.

6:53 AM  
Blogger PhilThreeten said...

Dunmoose - we're excited about it too!!

Fr. Daniel - can you help us by giving how you would define each of those...we certainly don't want to trip over words that import tremendous meaning that we're giving different meaning to...

7:29 AM  
Blogger Fr. Daniel said...

Phil, here are a few terms that have already been used or implied. I think an effort to "remonasticize" should begin with an in-depth study of monasticism as already constituted.

religious: single men or women committed by vows to the evangelical counsels of perfection (poverty, chastity, obedience) in some form and lived out either in solitude or in a disciplined community

hermit/recluse: a religious who lives alone, physically separated from the general population

solitary: a religious who lives alone but is not physically separated from the general population

monk: a religious who lives in a cloistered community

There are also friars and other medicants who are not cloistered but who travel or work in secular positions as an emphasis of their vocation. (Some monks also travel or work outside the monastery but those positions are typically closely linked with the monastic community or directly controlled by the community.)

These are very simplistic defitions of my own and a broadening of our knowledge of religious life would expand our understanding of these and other terms.

6:32 AM  
Blogger PhilThreeten said...

Fr. Daniel - Thanks for those descriptions. To some degree they help to point out why we felt there needs to be a remonking (and perhaps it would be best just to drop that term all together if it becomes too confusing). Recognizing the need for silence and solitude, we want to propose that a modern monk would not be cloistered. But, as you've shown, that means completely redefining the term into something it was never intended to be. I think in our conversations going forward, we'll probably simply focus on the term Hodos and see where that takes us rather than on remonking...

Thanks for the input though and hope to see you back. Your input could be of great help to us!

5:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a cool concept. Have you taken this idea somewhere else? I hate to see it flounder.

10:23 AM  

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