It’s all very well to talk about monasticism as something we COULD learn from today. But is anyone ACTUALLY learning? Short answer: Yes. This is the last clip I’ll post from the monasticism chapter of my Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis:
For much of this chapter, I have been treating modern appropriation of monasticism as a “What if?” The truth is, however, that despite the plunging statistics in traditional Roman Catholic monasticism in the West, recent decades have seen a renewed and widespread interest in adapting parts of the medieval monastic heritage for modern use.
Do the spiritual resources of the monastic tradition have anything to offer to the person who has made commitments to spouse and family, or is pursuing a secular vocation—or someone who simply does not desire, or does not sense God’s call—to make the lifelong vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience required of monastics? History gives a resounding “yes.” After all, monasticism was never intended to encompass a different set of spiritual values than those followed by all Christians. It offered a means of living the Christian life with more single-minded intensity.
For nearly a millennium, there have been people (one might call them “monastic groupies”) who have connected themselves to a monastery in a less formal way, dedicating themselves to certain spiritual disciplines while remaining in the world. Continue reading
Well, I have my computer back, fixed and ready to go again. So, as we cruise down the home stretch of the monasticism chapter from my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: Explorations with C S Lewis, we come to a few reasons modern Christians would do well to learn from the medieval monastics:
We need something like monasticism because we are physical beings who need a holistic spiritual discipline
Against the stereotypes, Christian asceticism still holds the body to be a good thing – and Benedict’s Rule demonstrates this, for example, in its close attention to the needs of a sick monk, who should be given more food and more sleep, and of course its strong insistence on hospitality to the stranger and the guest.
We’re talking about spiritual dieting here. And diets that work still allow you to eat things you like, but in a more controlled manner. Christian asceticism is spiritual dieting, not spiritual anorexia. Anorexia is a complete construction of food as evil and disgusting, and an aversion to food. Monks did not believe that marriage and procreation (for example) were evil. They believed that by doing without them, they could train themselves toward a higher good. Continue reading
What did monks do all day? Columba Stewart tells us in his marvelous little book Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Orbis, 1998):
The Work of God
At the center of the Benedictine life was the daily round of liturgy called by Benedict the “Work of God” (opus dei). The Rule specified eight such ‘offices’ per day. The first, very early in the morning, was “a comparatively long service of psalms and readings called Vigils.” Then came Lauds [“lawds”] followed almost immediately by four other brief offices during the day—Prime, Terce [“terse”], Sext, None [rhymes with “bone”], an evening office (Vespers) and a brief bedtime office (Compline [“COMP’-lin”]). All told, this amounted to nearly four hours per day spent in communal prayer, during which the monks would work their way through all of the psalms once each week.
Important to the monastic life was the slow, meditative reading of scripture, called the lectio divina. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Benedict, Benedictine, Bible, hours, lectio divina, Middle Ages, monasticism, monks, opus dei, Order of Saint Benedict, prayer, Scripture
Today I begin posting bits of the “Monasticism and asceticism” chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis.
Why this is the hardest topic in this book for me, and maybe the most important one for American Christians today
There is no chapter in this book where I am “preaching to myself” more than this one. I fear that living in a place as comfortably materialistic and hedonistic as America makes our need for some form of ascetic discipline even more urgent than it has been in other ages and places. I feel the force of Neil Postman’s book title (if not the book itself), Amusing Ourselves to Death. How easy it is just to sit in front of the glowing screen, sipping the extra-large high-fructose corn syrup beverage, after the manner of the bloated inmates of the Buy ‘n’ Large corporation’s starliner Axiom in the movie Wall-E.
I have struggled to really “own” my faith, and part of that has been that I have had little clear sense of how the faith should be changing the way I work, do leisure, raise my family, and so forth. But mine is not just a failure of knowledge. It is a failure of commitment and discipline. So, honestly, I don’t want monasticism to hold any truth for me. I want it to be wrong. And I suspect this is true of many moderns who dismiss medieval monasticism without examining it—going no further than the Monty Python caricature of monks filing through the streets, intoning the missal passage Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem and thwacking themselves on the forehead with boards. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged asceticism, Benedict, C S Lewis, Creation, hedonism, monasticism, Monty Python, Neil Postman, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual practice, super-spirituality