by Pastor Doug Kings
Christian monasticism has been one of the most important movements in church history, yet is still little known. (Monastic practices can also be found in most of the world’s religions.) Christians are known to have adopted monastic lifestyles as early as the 2nd century, and in the 3rd and 4th centuries monasticism became a vitally important part of the church’s life.
Monastics initially lived-in solitude (monos means alone) but gradually came to live more often in community with fellow monks. This culminated in the 6th century with the organization of such communities with the Rule of Saint Benedict, written for the abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy. (The sight of a famous World War II battle, the original abbey was nearly destroyed in 1944 by allied bombing. It was rebuilt after the war.)
Saint Benedict’s rule continues to guide monastic life today. Its purpose is to provide rules by which a person can live as closely as possible to the basic tenets of Jesus’ teaching, such as those found in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. The rule guides both monks’ personal devotional life and their relationships with each other and the world around them.
In the past century, most monasteries have seen their populations age and shrink. Nonetheless, many remain quite active, often by creating new relationships with people outside their walls. Monasteries now often offer retreats and other activities for spiritual renewal and to introduce people to the monastic lifestyle.
In keeping with this there has been growing interest in adapting monastic rules for Christians living in the modern, secular world. This past week, Richard Rohr shared one such rule in his daily devotional. It was written by Beverly Lanzetta, a theologian and leader in the movement to create monastic principles for the ordinary lives of people across the spiritual spectrum. It comes from her recent book, A New Silence: Spiritual Practices and Formation for the Monk Within.
- Be faithful to the Divine in all that you do. Put the Divine will before your own. Ask, “What would God do?” and wait for the answer. Do not allow personal attraction or gain to cloud decision-making, or your soul’s intentions to be compromised.
- Be simple of purpose. The basis of simplicity is centering on God. The heart of the monastic life is to live in God’s presence.
- Love all of creation with Divine compassion. Total commitment brings change. Give to life your unparalleled commitment, and complete love, one that is without self-interest.
- Offer yourself as a place of prayer. May your presence be one that heals divisions and expands hearts.
- Be attuned to the splendor of creation, and the gentle web of existence. Celebrate embodiment. Actively work—both within yourself and in the world—to make the holy manifest.
- Refrain from possession. Remember the transient nature of earthly life. Possession can occur on all levels: physical, emotional, psychic, spiritual. Love expands the spirit, possession contracts it.
- Pray daily to grow in humility, and to be empty of the false self. Offer over to the Divine your regrets, sorrows, doubts, motives, and unresolved desires.
- In all you do, practice nonharm. Make a small footprint, tread lightly, become aware of the impact your actions have on others. The refusal to reflect on your motives leads to suffering (for others and also one’s self).
- Treat all religions and spiritual paths with honor and respect. Enter silence. Keep faith alive.
- Create community wherever you are. Make of your heart a home for the homeless, a refuge for the poor. Pray for the well-being of your monastic sisters and brothers.
At first glance, such a “rule” might seem overwhelming. Yet there is nothing here that doesn’t have ample support in the gospels and in Paul’s letters. That such a list might be a shock shows how far we have drifted from taking Jesus’ teaching seriously. Often, we think of it as an impossible ideal, yet Lanzetta shows that Jesus teachings were actually very practical. As English author G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
In conclusion, Rohr offers some questions to help us reflect on our own lives in the light of Lanzetta’s contemporary monastic rule. Engaging in such reflection reminds us that in addition to teaching “the crowds,” Jesus also pointedly confronted people individually saying, in effect, this is what it would mean for you to be my follower. A gospel that doesn’t affect our daily—and even hourly—life, is really no gospel at all. Such reflection certainly has a place in this Lenten season.
Without judgment, reflect on how you spend your time, what you pay attention to, and where your energy goes. Does the rhythm of your life honor the relationships and values that are most important to you? Is there some degree of balance between work and rest, solitude and community? Be open to the movement of the Spirit. How might God be inviting you into greater freedom, integrity, and love through the rhythm of your daily life?
Blessings in your life and ministry.