What is New Monasticism? 4: A commitment to spiritual practices and radical community
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?