Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Friendship and Community in Monastic Life

John Armstrong has posted a very intriguing series on a monastic community, St. John's, which I believe is in central Illinois. He explains how he became friends with several of the monks there, one in particular, and describes their live in the monastery, especially their prayer life (mostly in the third part). I found this series to be so interesting that I thought I would post links to each of his posts:

Friendship and Ecumenism in the Community at St. John's, Part 1
Friendship and Ecumenism in the Community at St. John's, Part 2
Friendship and Ecumenism in the Community at St. John's, Part 3
Friendship and Ecumenism in the Community at St. John's, Part 4

I love reading about Protestants like John Armstrong experiencing a taste of monastic life. I first ran across this kind of experience in Kathleen Norris' excellent book The Cloister Walk in which she describes her extended stays in a midwestern Benedictine monastery and eventually becoming an oblate. Wikipedia defines an oblate as:

An oblate in Christian monasticism (especially Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican) is a person who is specifically dedicated to God or to God's service. Currently, oblate has two meanings:

Oblates are laypersons or clerical members of a religious order, not professed monks or nuns, who have individually affiliated themselves in prayer with a House of their choice. These make a formal private promise (annually renewable or for life, depending on the house with which they are affiliated) to follow the rule of prayer in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit. Such oblates do not constitute a religious order as such.
The Cloister Walk is a beautifully-written book. Norris is a poet, so her writing has an otherworldly sense that permeates the chapters and melds extremely well with her subject matter. I first read the book shortly after reading Thomas Howard's Evangelical Is Not Enough and both works revealed a depth that was missing in my spiritual life, a depth that I have been exploring in the years since I first read these works. There is a peace in the monastic life, a devotion to prayer, especially to praying for the world, that is often missing in my evangelical experience.

Since reading The Cloister Walk, I have desired to spend several days, perhaps a week, in a monastery. I don't know if I will ever be able to realize that desire of focusing on God so completely for an extended time, but I still hope to do so. The Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside is perhaps the most likely place to visit; we'll see if it ever happens. It's difficult to have that kind of focus at home with four kids around 24/7 with their schedules, routines, needs, etc. But as the kids get older, I hope to be able to get away for an extended stay in a quiet place and completely focus on God. I've had wonderful weekend retreats with Lake Murray and a couple of day-long contemplative retreats at the Mission San Luis Rey, also in Oceanside. Those days were absolutely amazing, and I hope to spend an extended time with God sometime in the future.

And John Armstrong's posts make me hunger to spend time with God in a monastery more than ever.


Jenny said...

Sorry, there was a terrible typo in my first attempt at a comment... I do hope you one day realise your desire to be cloistered with God... me too! When the children have grown! I do enjoy reading your blogs and must thank you for the link to Oswald Chambers' My Utmost. Isn't Kathleen Norris a wonderful writer? Acedia&Me is also on my "to read" list. Every best wish.

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks so much for commenting, Jenny. I love Kathleen Norris' writing and hope to be cloistered (at least for week), probably also when the kids are grown, which for my kids is not too long. :( My oldest will be starting her senior year of high school in the fall.

Let me know what you think of _Acedia and Me_ when you get to it. I hope to read it this summer, but who knows?


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