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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.
What is New Monasticism? 5: . A commitment to missional loving service as an individual and as an ecclesial community.
In this the fifth blog on the essentials of New Monasticism – we look at the element focused on loving service.
As New Monastic Communities draw on a mixed vocation of Monk and Friar, they hold onto contemplative prayer and missional loving service. This is why sometimes New Monastic communities are called ‘small missional communities’ as a particular focus on ‘prayerful action’.
So here loving action has a number of elements
– the alleviation of the suffering of the poor in sharing food, money and resources. Social and economic justice.
– hospitality in terms of friendship, kindness and human dignity.
– opening up the gospel in relational approaches to sharing the Good News of Jesús and the love of God.
– challenging injustice, oppression of people, the environment, other animals and the planet. Social, economic and ecological justice.
For those of us who are Anglican – this loving service is deeply tied into the Missio Dei – the mission of God or more accurately – Missio Trinitatis – the mission of the Trinity. Which is summarised as the marks of mission:
– To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
– To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
– To respond to human need by loving service
– To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
– To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)
It is vital then in an New Monastic Community that individuals are committed to mission and loving action just as much as they are committed to community and contemplative prayer. These need to be shared by the whole community and well as individual actions.
What is New Monasticism?
Following on from the last three blog posts, this blog attempts to explore what is New Monasticism regarding Spiritual Practices and Radical Community.
Spiritual practices in traditional religious communities relate to the vows the individual is expected to make – such as poverty, obedience, chastity and stability. These then relate to a Rhythm of prayer, work, rest, being community and aspects expressed as worship, community and loving service.
In New Monasticism spiritual practices or disciplines will relate to the seasonal vows or promises an individual is making together with others as an expression of the charism or calling of a particular community. There are therefore spiritual practices related to these vows. As said earlier these vows create a construct into which the individual grows and lives like a plant growing up a lattice. So in the Wellspring Community of which I am a part – these spiritual disciplines are:
– prayer and devotion
– learning and reconciliation
– service and hospitality
– work and wellbeing
Now each of these disciplines relates to a whole host of practices that the individual seeks to consider in a pattern that relates to them, and also in a pattern that reflects to daily and weekly flows of the community.
For example for prayer and devotion this includes a whole set of practices that need consideration…
Will you follow the way of Jesus Christ through the practice of prayer (in listening and in stillness; in silence and aloud; individually and in community; daily and within a weekly rhythm), and the practice of devotion (in meditation; in contemplation; in leading and participating in communal worship; and in the giving of time and resources)?
Now moving onto Radical Community. Being and doing human community is tough. We have all grown up in such an individualised, consumerist, commodified and egoic world, that makes mediating being a human community really difficult. It is true to say that we all as individuals bring our strengths, weaknesses and wounds. That is why in all the New Monastic communities I have been part of, everyone is expected to have their own external spiritual director and also therapist if needed, as there can be a danger that people play out their stuff in community. Community can lead to the best or the worst of us as individuals. This is why the fruits of the spirit are essential – kindness, gentleness, patience etc and also the need for humility and mutual vulnerability.
One innovation I think that is crucial are different spaces of belonging. There is need to mark different spaces for the spiritual journey. In traditional communities these are known as Aspirants, Novices, Professed. In New Monasticism I think we use some of this language – for Aspirants, Participants and Professed. All part of the New Monastic Communities but different spaces.
So coming back to what is community – this is where I am going to disagree with a lot I have seen. With so much of our culture minimising real community – community does mean I think the need for residential community – people actually living together and minimally people living dispersed but near by. In my community in Peckham there is a mixture of the two – but where we do want participants and the professed to love nearby and ideally with others.
So the internet website Facebook and all the rest are great reaching out into the world – but they can never be a real relational community because you don’t have to face your false self or your shadow side through a cyber connection… these are networks not a form of religious communities. I do believe New Monasticism needs to be localised if it is really committed to radical community that does worship, mission and community together. These communities are called to contemplative (or prayerful) action – prayer and service as real people in real contexts where all religious communities are called to serve the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the searching. These are all needed if there is an attempt to be an authentic and radical New Monastic Community.
What is New Monasticism?
Following in this series building on my two previous posts, I want now to make a case that a form of contemplative prayer is essential if this is really New Monasticism.
Whether you read the work of Shane Claiborne, and American New Monastics, or those coming out of the Catholic Worker Movement and liberation theology in South America or Europe, a recovery of contemplative prayer is for me, essential.
Contemplative Prayer is a commitment to a form of prayer that is about encountering God, and it starts with silence. There is nothing like silence to have to face who you are beyond the ego, pride, entertainment, immaturity, that forces you to face who you are, and an openness to encountering God on God’s terms. Prayer is so often dumbed down in todays world, where at its worst prayer is uploaded as God as heavenly counsellor who then downloads answers back to the individual. This is so utterly individualistic and consumerist it misses the point. Ultimately prayer is a medium of encounter with God. It is inherently mystical, uncontrollable, and other.
Too often I hear people say – I am an extrovert – contemplative prayer is not for me – because it is for introverts. This is just so wrong and a collusion with the shadow or false self (see the work of Richard Rohr and others on this subject). There are different forms of prayer, ones where we encounter God from nature, from mystical experience outside of ourselves, but importantly here, also encountering God from within ourselves, where God often speaks through the details of our lives. The bible often uses the language of the followers of Jesus as having ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’ within them. This then requires us to seek God from within as well as without.
New Monastics I think therefore draw on different forms of contemplative prayer. For some more into mystical theology and a bit more catholic draw on the Benedictine, Franciscan and Ignatian. Others draw on a revitalised Celtic tradition of nature inspired Christian prayer, and others draw on more contemplative prayer coming out of the charismatic movement descovering spiritual practices. All these traditions draw on a similar root of contemplative prayer. Without this focus on getting beyond your thinking and feeling, the individual is too locked into their own self. True contemplative prayer seeks to get beyond this as part of a call to prayer as part of ‘Prayerful-Action’. This form of prayer is about seeking to catch up with what God is doing, and less about ego-consumptive gratification – the curse of so much of modern Christianity.
To be able to love God, love yourself and love your neigbour (Summary of the New Commandment of Jesus) each Christian needs a healthy, nourishing and sustaining form of Christian spirituality. This comes from study of the Bible, dialogue amongst Christians and importantly here – from Prayer.
In the ancient prayer traditions of the Church, there are two forms of prayer – the Via Positiva – the sense of the presence of God, and the Via negativa – the sense of the absence of God. When we encounter God, then this can lead to joy, warmth and that sense of contentment. But sometimes God feels very absent, which is hard and painful.
Some very unhelpful writers have said that pain is an aboration to the spiritual prayerful path. This I would say could not be further from the truth. Pain is part of the human condition, for us to grow in our spirituality from infancy through adolescence into maturity, minus the false self and ego, change is painful. Infact the mystics teach us, that without pain we would not change. This is the challenge of going deeper with the path of Jesus, and prayer is very much part of this process.
Given all of this, I am convinced that contemplative forms of prayer are not just desirable for new monasticism to be real and deep enough to sustain such a way of being s Christian disciple, I want to argue it is essential. Otherwise New Monasticism just becomes one more romantic fadism that had great promise, but did not deliver.
If New Monasticism is going to be focused on ‘contemplative action’ then it is essential that those who are activists don’t just act out of their own strongly held convictions, but God MUST be the source of the action. And equally that Prayer that does not lead to loving service, is again wrapped up in self-serving Christian spirituality, looses the DNA of Jesus who reminds us that he came in the very nature of a Servant.
So if there is no contemplative prayer, I want to argue its not new monastic, and it is therefore not following the path that leads right back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers who began Christian Monasticism on a focus on prayerful action in the deserts of Alexandria, Syria and Palestine.
What is New Monasticism?
Traditional religious communities follow a rule of life which has elements of prayer & worship, work, rest, eating and so on. This has set times of prayer which can be as many as six to even eight set times a day. New Monastic communities hold onto this concept of a Rhythm of life which is less prescriptive about when but encourages the follower that there should be some form of Rhythm of work, prayer, rest, participation in community and loving service to others – but this needs to relate to the personality, vocation and life situation of the individual. In this way New Monastic communities are like what are called ‘third order communities’ in that a Rhythm of life (ROL) is more tailored to the individual. However New Monastic communities commit to seasonal vows, promises and practices that are usually written together by a community, and not like third orders who have a totally individual ROL that was written by an individual. These communal and shared seasonal vows tend to be committed to every year in New Monastic Communities.
Further the ROL of the communities will have certain charisms – values and understandings particulatly catered to the particular calling or vocation of the community. For example the community I am part of sees itself as specifically urban, also a learning community, and seeking to serve God in the context of Peckham.
Like traditional religious communities, New Nonastic communities structure their ROL around spiritual practices. In this way a ROL creates a structure for an individual to thrive – like a plant growing into a lattice or frame to allow it to flourish. In this same way a ROL seeks to be a deep way of following the way of Jesús as seen in the Gospels, seeking to be faithful to Jesús’s teaching to the disciples. In this way the structure of a ROL allows the follower to be open to the Holy Spirit in the context of life. Not unlike the ability of musicians to be spontaneous in a Jazz Band. The focus then of a ROL is to engage with the question ‘How should we live to be faithful to Jesús’?’ This then is a deeper question than ‘What should we believe?’ Because it is about application of belief to tie practice of living well.
Put another way the high point of the Gospels for religious communities is the New Commandment – To love God love yourself and love others as put by a former Benedictine Abbot. In this way New Monastics see a ROL as essentially a structure to promote:
1. Orthopathy – right feeling or being – wellbeing
2. Orthopraxis – right living
3. Orthodoxy – right thinking.
So a good ROL needs to include the head, heart and life…..
What is New Monasticism?
Many people have said they don’t get what New Monasticism is. I therefore thought it would be good to start to blog to explain how I think the term is being used. The first thing to say is that I have never liked the term because it has caused so much confusion, however, for some reason those outside the Church do get it, so this is why I think the term has got used. The confusion I think is for those who have some form of churched experience, and therefore it is confusing and conjures up an idea of people being over pious and wearing mediaeval clothing – this is absolutely far from the truth.
This being so I am going to define as simply as I can what it is:
I will unpack each of these key elements before proceeding with exploring key elements.
Following the success of the convention weekend, please find below some of the outcomes and resources coming out of the 14-16th October 2016.
Feedback form for those attending the weekend
We are keen to hear your feedback ONLY FROM THOSE WHO ATTENDED, so please do complete the link to let us know what you thought and to help us plan for the next time here
Summary Report from the Facilitators for the questions and issues identified
Please find the link to the report presented on Sunday morning at the convention, which identifies key issues and questions that we in the network need to consider. closingsummaryreport
Results from the completed Questionnaire
The results from the questionnaire completed by attendees of the Convention can be found here.
Address from Phil Potter, Archbishop’s Missioner & Lead for Fresh Expressions & Bp Jonathan Clark, the Bp of Croydon.
Address from Phil Potter, Archbishops Missioner, philpotteraddress and link to Facebook Group that includes Video Recordings from Bp Jonathan Clark, the Facilitators reflections and the prayer and some of the times of prayer and worship sessions here.
Handouts for Stream 2
The link to download the handouts for the three sessions for Saturday in .pdf form click the link here. These are available also for anyone in Stream 1 who may find them helpful
Schedule and Menu for the Gathering/Conference
Please find linked here, a pdf of the current draft plan for the conference with details. We need people to attend all of this to maximise our time together, so click here for the conferencefacilitatorsplan participantlist conferencemenu
Group participation in Streams 1 and 2
For those already involved in NM groups you will be in Steam 1, and we have divided you into 3 dialogue groups A-C. For those who are interested in setting up a NM groups then you will be in Stream 2, and you will be in 6 working groups. Please download the following document for both Stream 1 and Stream 2 and note which room you are in for the Saturday: participantlist
Position Papers for the Conference to read before you come
1. Paper compiled by Ned Lunn (York) anunderstandingofreligiouslife
Papers from Previous Gatherings that are important
1. Renewal of the Religious Life by Etienne Veto, Lambeth Palace Gathering
2. New Monasticism and other new religious movements by Ian Mobsby (St Lukes) Chris Neal (CMS)(1)Acknowledged Religious Communities, Briefing Paper
3. Acknowledgment Process in the CofE
(2)The Advisory Council Acknowledgement Document
Menu for Lunch and Dinner for Fri & Sat
All here: conferencemenu
Relevant Book Resources UK Context
This weekend gathering in Southwark South London from Friday 14 to Sunday 16th October, is the first gathering of those involved in new monastic communities with some relationship to the Anglican and the Church of Scotland – coming from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, USA and England. The event has been facilitated by the working group of the New Monastic Network UK. Over the last couple of years, sponsored by the charitable group Anglican Religous Communities (ARC) have sponsored dialogue between the leaders of emerging and traditional religious communities. It was Archbishop Justin’s Chaplain Jo Bailey-Wells, now the Bishop of Dorking encouraged the need for a gathering for new monastics to talk to new monastics.
So at the weekend 90 representatives will engage in dialogue from communities such as the St Anselm Community in Lambeth Palace, the Iona and Northumbria Communities, as well as those small missional communities such as the St Lukes Community Peckham. Further, a number of people interested in starting new monastic communities will spend some time reflecting on what, how and why this can be done. We are very pleased that Phil Potter, the Archbishop’s Missioner and Leader for Fresh Expressions will be joining us on the Saturday, and Bishop Jonathan Clark, the Bishop of Croydon will be joining us on the Sunday.
This has been a dream coming together, and we look forward to catching up with what God is doing through this first gathering in the UK.
For more information on the New Monasticism Network UK See the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1420721808180123/
Dear Friends. First a big apology for blog silence. We have been amazingly busy launching the whole new venture of the Moot Community at the Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary, and in particular, gearing ourselves up for the Lounge Project, an attempt to have an arts and spiritual and cafe space to promote wellbeing, right living and the Christian faith and spirituality. Nothing like starting a big project in a world resession!!
So I am pleased to say I have the good fortune of going back to Australia to have a bit of a rest and catch up with friends, and do a bit of speaking and encouraging of emerging/fresh expressions/new monasticism. I will post more about this when it is clearer… I will be in Oz from 23rd July to 4th Aug.
Really pleased to say that Moot will be doing 3 services at the Greenbelt Festival on Sat, Sun and Mon, and I will be speaking on one panel and one meditation and prayerful session in Soul Space on the Friday night.