Redefining monasticism - an option for shared life.
As a Minister in Charge at St Augustine's, recently I more and more incline to think that what our small prayer groups are doing is a kind of 'new monastic awareness'. Grahame Park, as an environment, is 'wild'. This is an urban wilderness with all the underlying challenges of an 'abandoned urban landscape'. At the moment this is a 'wounded part' of London as part of our globalised world. It is the same 'wilderness' that the first Benedictines faced when they built their monasteries on the hill-tops. They started transforming the surrounding nature into a culture. They turned infertile forests and marshlands into fertile lands and gardens. Then, down below the monasteries, villages and towns developed. All this was done through prayer, through the continuous effort to form a family according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Praying at St Augustine's is a humbling experience. The interior of our church and chapel share the poverty of the surrounding houses. As a Biblical venue, however, our church teaches us a different vision. Through our prayers, our 'monastic refocusing' on people's life and God's life, we can grasp the beauty of the Kingdom of God. We work hard that Grahame Park should not miss this sustenance!
Towards a 'new monastic commitment'?
A new 'monastic commitment' (Ecclesiasticus 4,11-18; Acts 4,5-31)
'He that holdeth her fast shall inherit glory; and wheresoever she entereth, the Lord will bless. They that serve her shall minister to the Holy One: and them that love her the Lord doth love. Whoso giveth ear unto her shall judge the nations: adn be that attendeth unto her shall dwell securely.'
A 'new monastic commitment' is needed in our times. 'Monastic', in the sense of the discipline of the early religious communities. The word comes from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, "alone". The early monks lived separate from the noise of the world in order to focus on theessential, the person's union with Jesus Christ, their Master. It is in this sense that Christians need a renew 'monastic' culture. Our world is desperately in need of re-focusing on God again. It is this new monastic discipline – intense friendship with God's son – that will enable us to 'judge' rightly where we are.
'If a man commit himself unto her [Wisdom], he shall inherit her; and his generations shall hold her in possession. For at the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws. Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets. But if he go wrong, she will forsake him and give him over to his own ruin.'
These lines call us to an important realisation. On a personal level, we need to learn that 'love' is not an option. The mentioned monastic tradition focused on re-gaining the sense of the real. The monks made a constant effort to keep their sense of the Sacred (meaning of life) over against the pressures of the world in which they lived. The above dialogue between the soul and its Source embraces us into what is real. Love is real alone; life spent in a permanent effort to love and being loved is real alone. When we raise the need of a new monastic focusing on the essentials, we are facing something vital. In a world which is full of replicas, when 'false selves' are promoted, when the virtual spaces and times replace real life we should witness to what is real. There is a twin to the recognition (which is our starting point) that Love is not an option. Namely, the life or the decline of our soul, as options, is not a virtual reality. Christian communities either make their monastic efforts 'to be' or everything is going to be replaced its anti-world.
The Acts of Apostles, in today's reading, clearly show the Church's very first 'monastic effort' to witness the real. 'Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.' The 'resourcing' is clear. First, just like Peter and the first Christians we need to contemplate the vitality of the faithful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus' message. This 'monastic vision', as a resource, has to be attained first. Without developing this spirituality of our parishes – observance will be consumed by virtual realities that we do not even observe. But if we have this, we have the courage to grow in a fuller way into the Kingdom of God and into its healing potentials. 'And now Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.'