Monday morning, as I made my way to St. Anselm’s Benedictine Abbey in Washington DC for two days of retreat and planning with the abbot for a weekend I am running for them later in the spring, I began to wonder, again, why I never went to the monastery for good. I have been a student of Benedictine monastic life (and now Buddhist monastic life) for some 45 years and have had a strong contemplative heart for that amount of time as well. Why wasn’t I ever called to the monastery? Why aren’t I a monk.
Then I began to reflect on our rather chaotic yet still meaningful, Morning Prayer service in Church House yesterday because there was no heat in the church, and I realized THAT is why I am not a monk. What that service represented, in content and form, is what I am called to.
Sunday was vintage Christ Church, Lucketts. No panic, no renting of garments. We just said ‘let’s go next door; we can make it work.’ Then we stuffed 30 people into the dining room, hallway and part of the parlor, had our usual beautiful service with feast of a coffee hour thanks to Linda and Tim which followed, and in the end we were no worse than if we worshiped in a cathedral. Christ Church, yesterday proved the church is the people, not the building.
That being said, as those who know me well will attest, I do believe monastic life can teach us a lot and can offer us tools for our life with Christ. The simplicity, the balanced life, the ordered life, can be something we have too, that we can use to get closer to Jesus as we try to follow him.
Most people think monks all take poverty, chastity and obedience for their vows. But Benedictine vows are stability, obedience and conversion of life. We can find value from these vows even as lay people.
Stability for a monk or nun is staying in place. It is a promise to live the rest of their lives in the monastery they join and to follow the Rule of St. Benedict for life. For us, that stability can be broader. For us it can be stability in our faith, in our commitment to our church community, the commitment to our family.
Obedience is usually seen as something negative. We, as Americans, naturally say ‘don’t tell me what to do.’ But obedience for the monastic is obedience to Christ and obedience to the rule and the abbot. It is a freeing concept, actually. For us this could be obedience to our Christian way of life. You often hear me say at Christ Church we wish to make our religion our lifestyle; this is what I mean. To do that we must be obedient to Jesus and what he asks us to do as we follow him.
And Conversion of life ( my favorite) just means, as I said in my message Sunday, things change. We must be able to remain obedient and stable in a world that changes constantly. Conversion means we see value in that change, we see growth in change, we see Jesus in change.
Becoming a monk or nun may not be for any of us a long-term goal. But monastic life’s principles can be. Anything that gets us closer to Jesus is worth adopting and the silence, simplicity, stability, obedience and conversion can be beneficial to all not just those behind the cloistered walls.
Peace and all good,