Monastic Spirituality has a wealth of potential to curb or alleviate many of the spiritual weaknesses that currently hinder my Christian walk. Monasticism’s teachings concerning prayer and solitude/silence are the most beneficial things I have gleaned thus far. The concepts of listening prayer and Lectio Divina (sacred reading) have revolutionized my prayer life. Though I have affirmed it before, prayer is a conversation; it is not a monologue. If I come before Christ and merely repeat a list of things I desire or need without ever listening to him or being silent before him, I have not prayed. I have merely commanded the Lord to do things I want him to do. Though I am not called to the monk’s ministry of prayer, my ministry includes, is shaped, and sustained by prayer. From what I have learned about monasticism’s emphasis on prayer, it is not merely the listing of commands or actual, audible talking. It is a holy awareness and ongoing conversation with one who loves infinitely. Prayer is a cultivated and expectant attitude of reverence, submission, and intimacy that one has with a person who is always near. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury said, prayer is a lot like bird watching.
The true disciple is an expectant person, always taking it for granted that there is something about to break through from the master, something about to burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light on the landscape. The master is going to speak or show something; reality is going to open up when you’re in the master’s company and so your awareness (as has often been said by people writing about contemplative prayer) is a little bit like that of a bird-watcher, the experienced bird-watcher, who is sitting still, poised, alert, not tense or fussy, knowing that this is the kind of place where something extraordinary suddenly bursts into view.
Furthermore, to curb my distinct personality type and fickle prayer life, I have decided to implement regular times of silence into my day. Within the monastic tradition, silence and solitude hold an important position for monks and those attempting to cultivate monk habits. Solitude is a time of silence and physical inactivity where one focuses and dwells upon the existence, nature, and person of God. Monastic living emphasizes slowing down and turning inward where one can find the still small voice, the voice of God. Silence and solitude are hindered by the internal and external “noise” which prevent and stifle our contemplation. Silence and solitude are where we touch the hem of his garment by turning inward and reflecting upon his good and faithful presence within our life. Contemplating the perfections, actions, and attributes of God while listening for the still, small voice can only further my relationship with him. The command to “pray without ceasing” is one that can be obeyed more fully by way of what I have learned from the monks.
Monastic spirituality has a lot to say about community and the value of it: there is no community without vulnerability, community is a choice, being in a crowd is not being in a community, and that we are meant to share both our joys and sorrows in, with, and for the community. Within my life plan, I included ways that I could foster and build up the community which I find myself in. I enjoy writing so I plan to write at least one encouragement letter a week along with encouraging people daily. Monastic spirituality’s emphasis on listening for the Lord through our brothers and sisters has also challenged me to become a better listener. Instead of thinking of what I am going to say once someone is done, I have learned to listen, to really see them as people with real, valid experiences and feelings. The command of loving your neighbor as yourself includes listening to your neighbor and seeing them as more than their words. As Buechner said, “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.” Community is the antidote for loneliness and the medicine for my arrogance. My life of prayer, silence, and solitude cannot be some rogue entity but linked to a local body of other grace-led believers.
I usually view work as a means to get more money so that I can do the things that I love to do. Monastic spirituality’s emphasis on working because the Lord worked and realizing his divine presence has encouraged me to view work as more of a blessing than a burden. Though my work includes “thorns and thistles” because I am outside of the garden, the Lord is near and wants me to work with humility and appreciation. Reminding myself of the blessings of work will help my attitude during it. I am a human being; not a human doing. Work is not a result of the Fall but a blessing that the Father enjoyed during Creation.
Within my simple yet sustainable life plan, I included the five “pillars” of cultivating the monk within that Brother Michael mentioned but also expanded it to include both my study and health. I believe that monastic spirituality has a lot to say in regards to my study. Through cultivating an attitude and life of prayer and silence, my time of study can become time spent with the Lord. Studying who he is from various angles will help me to appreciate and acknowledge his ever-near presence. Furthermore, the diet of the monks and the emphasis on health has also led me to think more concerning my own diet and exercise. The monks grow their own food and cut out things that are not healthy. My spiritual health is invariably linked to my physical health and should be attended to just as regularly. As Martin Luther said, “It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that by its soundness and well-being he may be enabled to labor for the aid of those who are in want, and thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member.”