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He who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give to others. He will communicate to them only the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, and his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. Thomas Merton
So this is my first of ten important thoughts for spiritual reflection. For the last year, I have been influenced by the incredible wisdom and gift of the 12-Step movement throughout the world. One of its core insights, indeed the thought akin to many forms of contemplative religions including Christianity for which I am a part, is the key idea that the violence and problems of human society and systems, comes from within each one of us.
Many have written about the importance of the human ego as an essential tool for survival. But it is a two edged sword. The human ego can also be that which becomes obsessed with the seven deadly sins of Greed, Anger, Fear, Lust, Envy, Pride and Sloth. If we become fixated with these things, then we literally become ‘adult children’ and we literally become distorted and addicted to these various intense behaviours that lead to forms of insane narcissistic violence.
This is why in the Christian contemplative tradition, forms of Buddhism, Sufism and other mystical religious traditions, the taming of the ego is an essential human discipline, because if we stay too aligned with the ego it leads us to put our identity into a false-self.
Merton makes clear that the self-proclaimed autonomy of the false self is but an illusion:
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.
This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.
My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.
We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves—the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 34-5.
In fact, what ever we do no tame and immerse in the love of God to enable us to find spiritual freedom in our deeper true-selves, then we will unleash egoic violence on those around us and the natural order. What ever we do not own from within ourselves, we wreak on others and the natural order of this world. This is why we have so many adult children who struggled with boundaries and power in the world of Donald Trump and Boris Johnston as examples. This is why we increasingly find ourselves in forms of society with increasingly authoritarian regimes. This is why we have seen forms of the worlds religions formed for being vehicle’s for the love of God, human cooperation, peace and for the stewardship of nature, have been distorted by the violence of religious fundamentalism advanced by the egoic tendency to the deadly sins. This is why our human societies seem impotent to face the drastic threat of global warming and ecocide. We are destroying the planet and self-harming all people and all life through the deadliness of the unrestrained human ego, which ultimately has to be expression of madness and evil, and we are often so ensnared we can not see it.
I believe the only true escape is by appealing to the Higher Power of the 12 Step Movement, the God of world religions, that through the love of God, and through our desire and intention to live another way, that we can reveal and face the consequences of egoic selves through self-awareness, prayer, meditation and spiritual practices, and then through forms of healing and formation, shift our focus of life away from the ego to the true self, or away from the brokenness and self-harm of the deadly sins, to the virtues or the focus on the true-self, through endurance and by being immersed in the love of God. without this focus, I have no hope for this planet, as the evil dark violence within us, can only be subdued through the power of love and humility.
This is why I am so committed to the Christian contemplative tradition and the 12 Step Movement. Both have been for me essential for me to shift away from a life time of self-harming egoic forms of behaviour and living, to something more self-loving, more peace-giving, and more in harmony with the natural order of things.
If we do not face this, then we will continue to destroy, setting up even more despotic regimes, violence to all living things, and an insatiable and unmeetable hunger for power, experience and greed.
I do believe this is what people mean when they say they are spiritual not religious, because they are seeking to go deeper with this striving to take the egoic into the the true self, but I don’t believe you can only do this out of self-will, this is the lesson of the 12-step process. And we are so obsessed with our thinking and feeling and blind to our delusions, that we need forms of loving contemplative spiritual practicing communities who are transformed by the love of God. This is my one hope and trust.
The essential truth is, that only true surrender of the human heart and will can lead to non-egoic spiritual freedom, for which, we all need to do the work.
But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasure and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 35.
Over the next few weeks I am going to post 10 thoughts that I believe require some reflection about the way things are and the potential for change in the future. I hope these will promote some deep searching and engagement. The first will begin in a few minutes
2.- The world financial system is not morally neutral
To give people the heads up, I will be running two online courses on New Monasticism starting in September, the first I am facilitating on my own which is a 4 week introduction to a more contemplative and missional understanding of New Monastic Community, and the second is a course for people wanting to set up New Monastic Communities which I will be leading with MarK Berry of the Safe Space Community. So see below details for the Intro course and please do send this onto anyone else who may be interested. Intrigued and what to know more about contemplative and missional new monasticism?? Why not try out this short online course I am leading. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/intro-course-to-new-monastic-missional-communities-by-ian-mobsby-tickets-115539526835
This wellbeing prayer and meditation is a contemplative form of spiritual discipline that attends to who we are and hope in God as the source of all being. This is really good if you are struggling with anxiety or mental health issues.
This contemplative prayer is aimed at helping us become centred, and attending to the different parts of us to and with God to help us again find our strength and centre in the source of all life. Again this is a great form of prayer and meditation if you feel anxious and find it difficult to switch off before sleeping.
We live in tough times, made even harder by the current viral pandemic. If you like me struggle a bit with anxiety and getting overwhelmed, then I commend this form of contemplative prayer. It’s approach of focusing on emotions, the body and surrendering elements of your life to God a powerful combination of embodied meditation and prayer that bring spiritual relief, wellbeing and deep connection to and with God. I highly commend this, so please do see the audio below and the attached doc in words.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by what is going on, I recommend doing this form of prayer at least twice a day
This podcast was recorded on the third sunday of Easter 2018, where Ian Mobsby explores the implication of the Gospel text Luke 24: 13-38 which explores the familiar stories of the Road to Emmaus and the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. These texts are crucial for our encouragement and hope looking back from the 21st Century, and says something about the calling to demonstrate that we are truly following Jesys by the way we live our lives.
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?