Archive for October 15th, 2009

The term “monk” derives from the Greek μοναχός, monachos, meaning “solitary;” a term derived from the Greek term “monos” or “alone.”  It has its historical roots in the practice of ascetics going into the countryside away from other people except for those taking similar vows. The “aloneness,” or, more accurately, this elective solitude, captures the central goal of a monk’s life which is authentic freedom: freedom from attachments, and freedom for realization of the higher self, and daily practice of stillness and silence.

This lifestyle has traditionally taken either the path of the hermit, living entirely alone, or that of the cenobite monk, living in monastic community. In the 21st Century, many of the traditional monastic communities have languished with fewer people pursuing the novitiate. Nonetheless, there are many who long for the virtues of the contemplative experience who have spouses and families and/or secular occupations that make it impossible to do so.

Is the monastic experience all or nothing at all, or is there a way to cultivate the Cenobitic monastic lifestyle within the context of secular living?

The idea of the “monastery without walls” has emerged among independent catholic rites ( free of the authorities of Rome, Orthodoxy, or the Anglican Community) and post-denominational communities such as Taize. I am myself the abbot of one such Order that celebrates the Call to living under Rules of Life and Prayer while working in diverse professions and supporting a family or living the single life.

With a common “rule,” a small community can practice meditation and discover insights through diverse spiritual practices drawn from the world’s religious traditions. Of course, the practice requires giving primacy to  religious experience and transcending beliefs: a choice to live palpably within the “silence in the heart of God” and not subscribing to set dogma and fixed interpretations. This is a vote for mysticism over religion, and discovering common ground within the midst of an exquisite diversity of metaphor, allegory, and archetypal symbolism.

For those electing such a practice, a shared discipline would usefully center on four elements that all monastic communities have in common:

  • A rule of life: a thoughtful plan for setting a rhythm in one’s day that balances spiritual practices with the demands of other life tasks and challenges, and family obligations;
  • A rule of contemplation: a few core practices developed around personal experiences, styles of prayer/meditation, and mindfulness;
  • A rule of Sacred Study: reading and writing about sacred scriptures from diverse traditions in search of transcendent wisdom; and
  • A rule of service: a commitment to giving back to others in ways that create space for peace, healing, shared spiritual experience, and fellowship.

Our times are complex and the distractions many that confound  the silence and union for which we yearn with the sacred. The traditional churches feed many but leave very many unsatisfied. Post-modern humanity awaits forms not yet in institutional places that preserve the mysteries and the teachings while evolving with the contemporary realities, emerging knowledge, the advances of science,  and the march of consciousness.

This honors the “aggiornamento” or great opening, and embrace of the future and the dynamic systems at work underneath all of our yearning; the archetypal patterns that continue to draw the human spirit and hunger to “Know” into the fullness of the Beloved, into the silence in the Heart of God.


© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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