Friday, June 22, 2007

on monasticism

Yesterday, I had a very slow day.

In the morning, having heard about the fire at the Simple Way from my friends at Justice and Compassion, my first thought was for Shane - who is a remarkable and sweet and lovely guy - and his friends in the community who have lost everything they own.

I also heard that my friend Tiffer, who is also a sweet guy - currently in training to be an Anglican (Episcopalian) Priest - is going to be going to a monastic community this Summer for a placement. I'd not heard of Pilsden before. It is an Anglican foundation and characterised by the fact that it is primarily for families and singles (as opposed to traditional Monastics).

So I spent a fair proportion of the day thinking and daydreaming about monasticism and how it might fit within our family and community life where we are. As you might or might not know, there are currently various groups experimenting with forms of 'nu monasticism' in the UK, including Andrew Jones, Mark Berry and his gang, MayBe, hOME not to mention the existing communities such as the Iona community, the Northumbria community, and the communities formerly known as Bruderhof communities.

These are clearly at various stages of development - ranging from thinking about how they might build a community, through to a full-on intentional community living in a particular place.

Not wishing to put anyone down, it strikes me that there is a pronounced differential between what the communities are trying to do. Some are simply 'new forms' of church, finding new names to call people and new ways to run worship services. Some appear to me to be efforts to run from the world.

Take my friends at the communities fka Bruderhof, for example (don't worry, I've said this to their face so I know they can take it). These communities exist functioning as fully enclosed villages - with the only connection with the outside world being the businesses they run to make money, the private schools they own, etc. Members become absorbed into a community mindset which has difficulty understanding how others think or even dress (they tend to wear the same clothing because they buy a 'joblot' from the same supplier). Being in community tends to take away all your individual identity - even down to the strange mid-atlantic non-specific twang that members all have. Leaving the community is very difficult and very traumatic.

That said, they are beautiful people and think wonderful thoughts of peace and justice. The world would be a far better place with more like them.

In a way, I suspect these relatively modern (well actually the Bruderhof have a history going back several hundred years, but never mind) expressions are mirror reflections of traditional monastic communities and their priorities, so it is probably nothing new.

Personally, they don't grab me. If I was forced to chose, I would want to be in a community more like Catholic Worker or Simple Way, living in the wider community and attempting to change it from the inside out. More like the Friar model, I suppose.

And it strikes me that living together in community in order to be committed to social change has a lot of advantages. If everyone takes part time jobs, but the fincances are shared with the community, this clearly creates a lot of space for social action. Of course there are also disadvantages - for example, what happens if you want/have to leave? But then, how much change could we actually be if more of us chose to live in this way?

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Blogger Karin said...

Interesting thoughts, Joe.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Hey Joe... (always wanted to say that ;-) ) Your picture of "Friars" actually reflects what our community looks like; we don't live together, we do come together and when we do the focus is on how we each live, individually, in pairs/families/groups and corporatley in the communities we find/are called to be in... so very much mission and ministry (in terms of personal, sommunity and cultural transformation) from the "inside out".

On Pilgrimage last year we visited a couple of monastic sites on Strangford lough (Belfast) - Grey Abbey, which had the classic cistercian structure, high walls with a central cloister... and Nendrum, a Celtic site, which consisted of concentric circles with low walls, on a hill - so exposed and visible - each circle has its own chapel and the life of the monks was lived out in the community. It was Nendrum that we felt reflected our dreams - a community that had at the "core" a place of vulnerability, intimacy, accountability and confession in order to sustain us as we live in the "wider community" - we therefore talk about Community - Pilgrimage (Pergrinatio - walking with God in God's world) - Mission as our "DNA".

2:09 PM  

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