Saturday, August 19, 2006

Thoughts on Monastic Life

Found Billys Blog and Phils Blog interesting, on the whole subject of monasticism.

I have some surface thoughts, as I know this is a very deep subject

I have heard a number of people who struggle with the concept of monasticism. This tends to be due to the apparent separateness and withdrawing from the world, that the word monastic implies - probably linked with a stereotypical image of anything, which is monastic portraying an image of being withdrawn from the world.

Could it be that the church in the west is monastic in the above sense?

Could the western church have withdrawn, become old school monastic, into a world that it has created for itself, with its own music, its own buildings, its own exclusive friendship circles, its own conferences, its own language and its own isolationist world view?

I like Michael Riddle’s analogy in his book “Threshold of the future” where he likens churches to groups of people huddling together on an iceberg as it slowly melts - a little negative but still interesting. Actually I find a lot of his stuff good at pointing out the problem - he must live in a negative kind of world, not the most positive chap.

We probably don't like to think of church in this way. I wonder if we are in a little bit of denial. How deeply are we affected?

We use phrases like “we need to engage with the world”, which suggests we have disengaged. We talk about the need to be present, which could mean we know we are not. We talk about needing to be relevant which means we are irrelevant.

We are desperately trying to get people to understand that mission is more than just going overseas or something zealous people do. We want to make the point that evangelism is not something we only do at Alpha or down on the street on a Friday night. We are trying hard to understand that worship doesn’t just happen in a church service and isn’t only singing songs. We are working through these issues because in many ways at a deeper level, over the last few hundred years, we as church have become in the old fashioned stereotypical sense, MONASTIC.

When we look deeper into monasticism we know that it was never meant to be a withdrawn community but a fully integrated part of the world; a group of people who championed creativity, prayer, mission, justice, learning and hospitality. Pete Greig recently used the phrase “aposto-monastic communities” which I think reflects a truer picture of what monasticism should be; a sent community, an intimate God celebrating community, integrated, functioning and taking its place in the wider community. Most of this is what churches strive to be and I know it’s not easy - maybe we need to get smaller before we get bigger, closer before we spread.

Great quote - read it before and heard others use it - nicked it from Billy’s blog: ...the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this...'-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1935)

Aposto monastic communities, now there’s a thought.

1 comment:

phil said...

I definitely recongnise something in the criticism that church bears a strong resemblance to "closed community" monasticism.

We have frequent encounters similar to the ones you describe in Ibiza on the streets of Corringham (punters maybe a bit less spaced, but no less lost and hurting). And like you, when we offer kindness, friendship, and prayer it is rarely rejected and often marvelled at. The challenge seems to be, what kind of "next step" do we offer to these people?

Personally, I struggle with "inviting them to church" because it just doesn't feel like a natural environment. But we have a lack of anything else to take it's place in providing a tangible response they can make towards God. Do I just trust that they (and the Holy Spirit) can put together a walk of discipleship without any kind of external structure? Or is there something that we should be "building" but I don't know what it looks like yet?