Starting a New Monastic Order
This book is for the average person interested in loving God and their neighbor. It is meant to be a guide on how to be "good". This is also a book for those interested in helping others be "good". The point of the book is to be a guide to renewing the monastic orders for today, for both the teachers and the taught. Both of which, in the understanding of this author, and hopefully those contributing to the development of this guide, are one and the same. Sometimes we teach, always we learn.
The guide will look at the spiritual disciples, rules of life, and the practice of the virtues at the very least. Since it is easiest for those without an identifiable faith in a higher being to engage in this discussion (and we do not wish to exclude anyone from trying to be "good") we will start there. Those who wish may continue on to discussions on the practice of those disciplines which are overtly "spiritual" in nature and how they might be incorporated into a rule of life.
What is Monasticism?
When we think of Monasticism we think of monks and nuns. Strange people wearing strange clothes doing strange things. We think of them as wholly and completely "different" than us. And this is not without their intention. The funny clothing and practices are meant to "set them apart" from the local crowd in the town square. Otherwise, why would they dress and act in such a peculiar manner? Many (myself included), often dismiss monastics as cranks, wackos, or just plain old eccentrics. We know very little to nothing of their inner lives, nor their personal lives outside of passing them in the bakery or grocery. A very few of us might harbor a vague notion that these are 'holy' people dedicated to god in some profound manner in which we, as normal people, are not.
As you might have guessed, this is not a full, or accurate, picture of what it means to be a part of a monastic order. It is regrettable to me that we as human beings so often dismiss, or even mistrust, that which is different from us. With respect to the monastic orders, this is a double tragedy. Not only does our lack of familiarity with the substance of monasticism keep the average person from forming relationships with these extraordinary people, and thus immensely enriching our own lives. It also keeps us from coming into contact with the spiritual disciplines practiced by these 'peculiar' folk. This second tragedy is perhaps the greater. A fact that is confirmed by the very fact that monastics of all types might agree that the world might or might not be better off knowing them as individuals, but is surely impoverished by being unfamiliar with the practices to which they so humbly dedicate themselves. Fortunately, this is a reversible error.
So far, I have intimated that there indeed is something of great values swaddled up in the monastic orders. Cloaked as it were from the outside, this Pearl of Great Price is indeed difficult to see, much less observe in great detail. Seeing is difficult enough. Describing is even harder. Yet, that is my task, and I shall begin, as is easiest with most difficult topics, at the beginning.
How was it historically practiced?
It is often noted that Jesus was the first monastic, but this is simply too simplistic. What or who was Jesus's example? Perhaps the lilly or sparrow, perhaps John the Baptist or even more likely the old testament saints and prophets. But there is a sense that after the time of Jesus the practice of holy living began new...
Different Forms of Monasticism
There are many forms of 'monasticism' in many of the worlds largest and smallest religious belief systems. This fact helps us make the observation that "monasticism" is not an expression of spiritual practice owned by any one sect or order, rather, it is a human trait. To many, this is threatening and sounds like syncretism. I think this danger is more apparent than real. All forms of monasticism grow out of a deep love and respect for the tradition in which it is founded (even the reformist monastics). Corruptions or non-harmonic inclusions of foreign practices, beliefs or traits will surely be guarded against by those entrusted to "keep" their various traditions in tact.
The point is that far from being a phenomenon owned (and hoarded) by any one order against the need of all. All can benefit by the practices of, in fact, any order (even if that is what NOT to practice). To make the point concrete. In some sense, it is appropriate to look at the practices of all monastics as a spiritual buffet from which we can pick and choose those practices that bring us the most spiritual sustenance. Yes, to be sure, there are dangers to this approach. Those will be addressed later. However, the point should not be missed. We can all benefit by incorporating the practices of the very devout into our very ordinary lives. It is OK to start with those practices that we most easily understand, can incorporate into our lives, and bring the most benefit to us spiritually.
=The Early Practitioners
The Major Orders
The Sisters of Mercy
Is there anything "good" about it?
Why does it need to be "reformed"?
Why would the average person want to practice it?
What is courage? This is a tough question. This can be a surprise. We all know what courage is--right? People who do scary things, they are courageous. People who show no fear when everyone else around them is scared, they too are courageous. Yet, to be able to recognize a thing is not the same as to be able to describe it. This is the case with courage as we will soon see. This is the case with all virtues.
So, let us take to the task. Is courage simply a lack of fear? This is a good start, but let's examine it closer. Can we think of a time when someone who might lack fear might also be described as lacking courage? Sure, the image of a man, asleep in his bed on a rainy night, dead to the world and snoring away as a rushing torrent careens down through a swollen river channel, over its banks, and straight towards his house and his certain death. This man is likely to be completely unaware of his impending doom, and also completely at peace though facing certain death. Yet, we are not likely to describe him as courageous.
So, a lack of fear is not to be equated with being courageous. Courage apart from merely being the absence of something else, such as fear, must also affirmatively BE something. In a way, describing any virtues is like describing the wind. It is easier to see what the wind does than to describe the thing itself. So with the virtues.
Nonetheless, that is our task. So, if we can say that courage IS NOT the lack of fear, or some other quality, what can we say that it IS? Let's again look at our previous example. Can we imagine a circumstance under which we might describe the man in his bed as courageous? Would we describe the man in his bed as courageous if he were awake in his bed? Perhaps, it seems, given our last example, that consciousness is at least one necessary condition for courage. Sleeping men do not fear. Unless, of course, they are having a nightmare, but this is a different topic.
The Spiritual Disciplines
In some religions, people speak of the fasting of the body, abstaining from food and water for a certain period of time, usually between sunrise and sunset.
However, one should also consider the fasting of the mind and soul, being mindful of one's thoughts and actions throughout the day as well.
Rules of Life
A Rule of Life is an interesting concept. It is not a mission statement. And, despite the word "Rule" in its name, it is not a legalistic or pharisaical document. It is more like a written version of wedding vows than these other concepts. Yet, there is an element of a mission statement or a legal code bound inside the idea of the Rule of Life that various monastic communities have adopted.
Principles Commitments Consequence Reward
Making Your Own
What is important to consider?
Keeping Your Own
How is it done?