Moments in a Monastery – Part 4
While at the monastery I had the privilege of chatting with one of the monks, Father Giles, who I shared a name with and who had helped me on my first day. Father Giles entered monastic life at Pluscarden in 1972, the year I was born. Monks take the following 3 vows which are not listed in any order of significance:
1. Conversion – This vow involves monks choosing monastic living, a conversion of life for life. This vow does not have a direct English equivalent, because the Latin can take the meaning of both a conversion of one’s behavior and or conversion to monastic living. However in practice, this vow means both, with an emphasis on the latter. Through the vow of conversion, the monk embraces the essential aspects of monastic Christianity: dedication to prayer, celibacy, sharing of material goods in community, a life of simplicity.
2. Stability – Monks take a vow of stability to a specific monastery, thereby making a commitment to a community. This vow of stability to a monastery allows for quick and substantial growth in purity of heart and charity, while providing stability in the community.
3. Obedience – Monks take a vow of obedience to the abbot of the monastery. They no longer live by their own judgment, giving into their whims and appetites; rather they walk according to another’s decisions and directions, choosing to live in a monastery and to have an abbot over them. Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord, “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” John 6:38. The monastic way of life is one of continual learning, growing, self sacrifice and commitment to community. The monastic not only believes in the Lord Jesus Christ but abandons all monetary gain, accumulated possessions, and inheritance to follow the Lord. Forsaking the need for materialism allows the monk to cooperate more fully with God as he strives to do God’s Will
Musings of a Monk and a Minister
I asked Father Giles what his greatest struggle was, to which without much hesitation he replied living with poverty. I was slightly surprised as one would have thought that after 42 years he would have adjusted to and become accustomed to going without. But my understanding and interpretation of his answer was not what he meant, he went on to explain, turning the tables to where I was once again surprised. Here was just another reminder that so often our interpretation of what is said and meant may not be accurate. Going on, Father Giles elaborated saying “in some ways material poverty is the easy part, its the poverty of my spirit that I wrestle with, my lack of faithfulness. Wrestle with your wretchedness, coming face to face with your bankruptcy, realizing your utter poverty without God’s provision of Christ.” How many of us really get past the material to the spiritual, and come face to face with our “filthy rags” as Isaiah 64:6 calls them? May be that is why Jesus in His first sermon on the beatitudes talked first about the poor in spirit. At this point Father Giles leaned in looked me in the eye and said “what if God’s children learned to accept poverty as a gift? But that would require us learning to live life embracing the liberating freedom of Sonship. For it is the unconditional love of God that liberates not our effort. The liberating gift of Sonship means that its not about doing but being, being in His presence.” What if we really embraced the truth, grasping the gift of God? Yet so many christians do and do but never be, leading a life filled with activity yet empty of the Almighty. So much of the Christian life has become imposed instead of sought, rules instead of relationship. Today we come into His presence with our many petitions, give me this or give me that, but we walk away having missed the greatest gift, God. The gift is not in what we get its in God. Here was the question I had to wrestle with, “what are you here for to get or to God?” God is not some cosmic slot machine where we put in our request and He responds with our wants. How many of us have reduced the relationship to a request, treating God more like a genie than a gift, here to do what I what according to my whim. No, the liberating gift of Sonship is that I already have, you see my cup is already overflowing. So instead of demanding more I chose to drink deep from the cup of His already blessed provision. Father Giles then asked me a question, “do you know why so many walk away? Well the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting but that it has been tried and found hard.” Its not easy living for The Lord, but He never said it would be so why would we expect it to be. “Yes there are difficult physical things like personal poverty, not having anything that you can claim as yours or not being able to go to a concert. Or when you are not able to do something you desire because its not just about your concerns but community. Yet these are all temporary things and over forty years I have gone without many wants but never any needs.” I asked him what was the greatest blessing of being a monk, to which he replied: “the gift of living in community.” Again I was surprised by his answer but then again why wouldn’t I, for we live in a world that shuns community. We see community as a burden, an obligation that binds us, trying us down with its demands, holding us back and holding us hostage. Why because our focus is so on self, that all we can see are the restraints of community instead of the riches. Father Giles then went on to expound upon the gift of living in community. He said: “living in community there are no pretenses you can’t pretend to be what and who you are not. You see when you live in the closeness of community people get to see the real you, there is no hiding the fact that you are a fallen fallible being. You don’t have to waste your time keeping up an image, you can stop pretending. So many put their time and effort into propping up a facade, the store front looks good on the outside but inside its shelves are empty, it has nothing to offer. Community lets you stop wasting precious time propping up a picture of who others think you should be or even who you may think you want to be. Community cuts to the heart of who you really are, it gives you the facts and with that you have the foundation upon which the Father can build. Instead of maintaining an image you are free to get on with the real thing. Christianity is not about painting a picture or propping up an image its about personal change. Christ didn’t come so we could look good He came so that we could be good. Here in community we know we are all sinners, community is like a rock tumbler, the rough gem stones go in together and as they bounce and bang into each other they become polished. Today we desire the finished product we just don’t want the process, we want to be a finished Gem but we just don’t want to have to crash around in community. We see the bumps and bangs of community as a problem and yes sometimes just like a rock tumbler it gets noisy and there is heat from all the conflict and you wonder how will this ever work? But we need to live with each other, we need to bang into what and who will polish our rough edges. People see us Monks as weird, why, because we choose to live in community where we can be interdependent and serve each other. Today people want change independent of community, we want to retain our independence, we don’t want the friction that comes from family. People may say they want community but in truth they want coddled, community can be hard and the greatest challenge to it is me and my wants. But isn’t selfishness one of the rough edges that needs polished smooth in our lives? But its not just community that counts, its Christ at the center, for without Christ as the connection of community is there really any lasting change? He told me that one of the gifts of community is that we get to not just see change we experience it. One of the greatest pleasures is see other peoples progress, that novice monk who starts as a wreck and is slowly transformed. I then asked him how he gets what he needs to which he replied we go to the abbot. We ask him for what we need but only after careful consideration, and personal questioning, is this really a need or a want? The abbot then determines if we really need it, checks and balances are another gift of living in community. Something we in selfish society, don’t like because we might be told no. Today we use activity to avoid the Almighty, in an attempt to avoid dealing with our own flaws. For when we stop and sit before God we come face to face with who He is and in His light we see the shadow of our fallen self. We don’t just come face to face with God we come face to face with ourselves. That is why so few really stop and sit with the Savior for fear they might see the reflection of their own flaws. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden until sin entered in, one of the first effects of sin was hiding from God. Yet it was the grace of God that sought them out, “where are you, I have come to commune with you” it is God that clothed their nakedness and covered their sin. The same Savior still seeks, calling us to come and sit, to take time to come and commune. So today will you come and commune with Christ?