Continuing with my weekly New Monasticism reflection….
It might be a very obvious thing to say, but you cannot think yourself into being a Christian. It actually takes a lot of formation, intentionality and experience of God to be able to even begin to comprehend what it means to commit to following the way of Jesus.
One of the great problems of the Church in the West is that the Church is still thoroughly affected by modernist culture that was obsessed with the Scientific method as forms of Truth. And when I say Truth I mean objective Truth. They truly did believe that absolutely everything could be explained in a hypothesis and it was only a matter of time before Science will be able to explain and know everything. By implication then, there would be no place for subjective experience, art or spirituality. Now looking back from our current Post-Secular Culture we know that to be a lie.
So weirdly some Churches and some in the Churches believe that Christianity is a ‘belief’ system, a way of thinking. I have never understood this. Christianity is so much more than a way of thinking, it is about a way of life, of living, in obedience to the way of life explained by Jesus as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible.
The Early Church understood this, for them, they understood the implications of the Jesus as a way of life, a calling to human community, of sharing material possessions, of giving away generously with those who had little and seeking to pray and encounter God through forms of prayer and worship.
So Christian formation in the Early Church was pretty serious. You didn’t attend an Alpha or other course, you had to live, breath, and serve God with others to begin to get to know what it meant to know God. The Christian Monastics, seeking to escape the excesses of the Roman Empire, escaped into the Deserts to live this way, who are our inspiration right up to today.
For example in Christian Formation, there is an obsession with ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘dogmatic truth’, or what is sometimes said – right thinking. This reflects this same obsession with thinking. Where is the place for encountering God? Where is the centrality of living it – sometimes called ‘orthopraxis’ and also the central and starting place of ‘orthopathy’ or what is called right feeling or right being…
This takes us right back to the central teaching Jesus in what is called the Great Commandment which draws on the central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Great Shema – Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One, you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body and strength, and love your Neighbour as yourself. Or as a wise Benedictine Abbot said – Learn to receive the love of God, to allow this love to transform your heart and being so that you can truly love others, even those who are strangers. This is sooooo much more than thinking.
New Monastics take this level of formation and living out a whole of life approach to Christianity very seriously. My good friend Andy Freeman of the 24Prayer Community once described formation as the Living Room, the Boiler Room and the Class Room, and that seems so right for me. Heart, Mind and Body….. Otherwise how are we being transformed?
So in a Church so obsessed with words and thinking, a depth of spirituality expressed in life, in prayer, in encountering the love of God is I think a crucial corrective, and this is a commitment that many New Monastic Communities think is essential.