From the outset of my pioneer adventure I have known monasticism would be a significant feature. Vividly inscribed in my mind is the moment of revelation. Since then I have been attentive to developments in New Monasticism as well as to my experiences of traditional monasticism, chiefly through retreat experiences and reading.
I have been captivated by the life of the early Beguines. I hear their story as feisty independent women serving their communities, eventually becoming a semi-monastic movement. Their largely forgotten story is being rediscovered in present times. I have felt a close affiliation to the earlier Franciscans – an Order which continues to this day and provides an obvious attraction for a pioneer aware of matters of poverty. To my great surprise I have been grabbed by the Benedictine tradition. Again, I could describe the moment. Now I am trying to feel at home in an online community based on both Benedictine principles and the example of the Beguines.
New Monasticism has become a rather attractive development in recent years. It seems to hold the promise of revamping Christian life in contrast to an often struggling inherited church.
However, does New Monasticism run the risk of losing or avoiding key disciplines? What sort of Christian life is it advocating?
Let me share the latest fundamental truth to hit me: monasticism is about losing one’s status.
On one level for me this is a practical consideration. I am no longer a church minister. I do not have the status accorded by church communities to their ordained leader. (What that status might be today is probably less significant than it once was, but some status remains). I no longer have a function as someone relating primarily to churches. My colleagueship with other presbyters (ordained ministers) has changed because I do not share in certain meetings or the sense of common life. At face value I am living as an ordinary person, in an ordinary house, in a particular neighbourhood, with very few local individual connections.
On another level this goes a lot deeper. My ministry is small-scale; much of it is one-to-one spiritual accompaniment or pastoral conversations or neighbourly chat. By its nature these encounters are not seen or widely known about. I am not seeking to run projects or organise activities which could bring me recognition and approval from others. I might hope to facilitate community engagement with and among others, but my role would be more an enabling, background one. In all likelihood it would be one-to-one or small group scale.
I acknowledge that there is part of me that would love to be in the limelight. I would love to have plenty of work to do, to feel fulfilled and actively make a difference to people’s lives. I can easily crave the attention and approval that comes with doing something well. I know that what society seems to value (and the church often colludes) is what a person produces or does. Can it be evaluated? Can it satisfy a funder’s need to see results?
And yet…….. Am I called to just be? Am I called to accept my prime identity as one who is loved by God? (Whoever or whatever “God” may be). In my beingness am I called to value other people simply for who they are? And does this come at the cost of the loss of whatever status I had or might envisage having?
It is a sobering thought to ponder. I suspect that an authentic monastic journey cuts you down to size!
After much struggle I seem to have discovered a level of contentment (even joy?) as I try to accept this discovery. The temptation will always remain to seek recognition for what I do (I am only human after all!). So prayers and encouragement would be welcome……