Monastic life and the call to live totally unto God and separate from the world has a rich and long tradition in the church. The practice began with the Desert Fathers who set out to live a life of asceticism around the third century c.e. Some say that the tradition goes back to the time of heavy persecution of the church. Christians would simply move to the desert to be safe. However, there is another understanding that monastic life as it is now practiced is inspired by others who, unhappy with the Church’s capitulation to and friendliness with culture and government, set out to live a life of asceticism around 300 c.e. The history of monasticism is interesting because, just as with all areas of the church, you can see swings of great faithfulness followed by periods of profound unfaithfulness.
From my time with the monks, I want to share a few points of focus:
- Rhythm – Cathching the rhythm of life in the monestary was difficult. Up at 3:15am for Vigil. Worship seven times throughout the day. How does anyone get anything done? The answer is that life is simple. They focus intently on prayer, work, and spiritual reading. Those three, in fact, become the life of a monk. Therefore, worship and prayer are the priorities, and the rhythm of the day actually captures thos priorities. What would a more faithful rhythm in your life look like? Is there a way to incorporate times of focused prayer in your daily routine?
- Spiritual Reading – There is at least some measure of suspicion regarding the spiritual life and mysticism among monastics. Some hear about Thomas Merton’s interest in Buddhism and believe the fascination was unbiblical. Some monks are interested a great deal metaphysics and cosmology. There interests scare some evangelicals who believe the fascination is unhealthy. Well, monks generally chant around 20 Psalms each day, and that only counts times of corporate worship. They are, by schedule, in prayer and spiritual reading for at least three hours a day. There is plenty of time for faithful Bible reading and critical interest in other spiritual, metaphysical, or ontological areas.
- The Wall – Brother Christian, the current guestmaster at Gethsemani, made it clear that the purpose of the wall is to keep noise, not people, out. Distractions are left in the world, but people are invited in. In fact, it is a rule in the monastic order that there must be accomodations made for retreatants, folks coming to the Abbey for spiritual renewal, guidance, and refuge. The wall is mostly symbolic, but the symbolism is strong.