02 July 2009

mY tHoUgThS oN mOnAsTiC LiFe...


I opened the mount of oak blog and I noticed its title : "Monastic, Life-giving, Eco - community"...
It is in itself a prophetic definition of this place as there's not really an established community yet...so far, I'm the only one committed to live here on a long term basis... it has been an itinerant community of different groups of people who come and go... I still wait for those with the same desire to commit to live a monastic life together...
But what stuck out to me was the word "MONASTIC", and this rough meditation started... (sorry for the length and english mistakes)

"Monastic"... what does that mean in my mind ?
yes, this will be simply my definition, or simple thoughts about it as I let my brain storm...and most probably it will not sound as mystic as some people may see monasticism... so, I apologise in the first place for my ignorance and demystification of this term...
When I think about monasteries I think about communities which emerged in times when "the church" was going through some big crisis of identity, when its structures and institutionalisation were suffocating what Jesus intended the church to be (if ever Jesus intended the church to be as it became, an institution)... After Peter said to Jesus that he is the Messiah, the Son of The Living God, Jesus replied : "on this rock (and I'm sorry to say but I don't think Jesus is referring here to Peter but the declaration he just spoke), I will build my church"... So the church should be of Jesus ONLY, and ONLY Jesus is able to build it (sorry "church planters", but you should change your occupation's name) ... If it's not Jesus building His church, gathering men and women who know deeply in their hearts that Jesus is the Messiah, The Son of the Living God (this men and women includes prostitutes, handicaps, thieves, gays, business people, etc...even politicians), then, it is not church ...(I hope you excuse my terms and a bit of humour)... It is easy to do churches, or plant churches, even playing churches, but who knows who is the church of the Living God... only God himself I guess... and I guess we'll all be surprised when we figure that out one day...
Anyway, in times when men and women felt far from being the church, far from being a simple fellowship of broken brothers and sisters, friends of the Messiah, there was a tendency to retreat from the world/system and the institutionalised church, to simply get focused on GOD ALONE... and monasteries emerged ... these were probably people who were well involved in "church activities" and "successful ministries", but who were feeling far from the Source and the simplicity of the Gospel : " to love God above all things and to love your neighbour as Jesus Loves us." (interesting the word "neighbour" in portuguese means both "the one who is closer", or "the one who comes after us"... but I'll leave this meditation for another time)...

O.K, I went too far already on the introduction here, sorry about that...this will be a long post I warn you...

I was reminded by God about why I wanted to live in a community in the country side... it was not only because I love to live in/with nature; it was not only because I wanted to escape the world/system (Babylon) and find a refuge myself; it was not only because I wanted to live together with other people... But, I dare to say , I felt called to live this life this way...
For many years I desired to live like this, but the time was not the right one yet... when I came here I was going through a journey of questioning what "the church" is about and I really felt we were (and are) in such times as the ones I referred before... We need monastic communities to emerge... both in the country side and in city contexts... and I know it is happening already... we need voices in the desert calling out the church to BE the church...
Yes, we need to go out into deserts (where there's nothing to distract us) , to refocus on God ALONE and in what God called us to be in this world...
There is a need of places of prayer and devotion to God where people can stop their busy lives to hear the quiet and still voice that cries out inside of each one and keeps calling us to be who we're supposed to be... children of The Living God...
A sign that this is a real need in our days is that thousands of people are attracted daily to go to places like "Taize" to pray, or walk the "Camino de Santiago" ... even those who say not to believe in God...

In my opinion, a monastic life should be a calling from God (either for life or for a season), it shouldn't be only for the "mystics", it shouldn't be a thing of the past, but it should be a reality today, it shouldn't be only for institutionalised monks or nuns, subjected to an official Order and obligatory vows and strict structures... (just a note here: I believe we should not make any extra vows besides the one to follow Jesus, loving God above all else and loving all fellow human beings)
Here's my small brain storm on the word "Monastic"...


I noticed that most people who pass by here feel uncomfortable with some of the major aspects of a monastic life (again I remember that this is simply my ideas on a rough meditation)
This things are : REST, SOLITUDE & SILENCE.

A monastic life, in a way, confronts the church and society life styles, which are often very BUSY, LONELY in the midst of crowds (different then solitude) and very NOISY... (so in a way is understandable that people feel uncomfortable... it's not a bad thing, but it is a bit like a cultural shock)

But let me go through some of these aspects:
REST...
It is important and healthy to work (which should also be part of a monastic life), but we shouldn't let the work become overwhelming nor stressful... work should be a blessing, and should never be done expecting anything as an exchange... we should work as a simple attitude of service and love (unfortunately some monasteries become businesses and loose the main focus of devotion to God)

I can tell you that living in a farm in such a pioneer stage, work is something that never ends, we can constantly see things that need to be done... It is a discipline to stop working (and for some that's really hard)...
So, REST is the key to reach this discipline. A rest which does not make you feel guilty or lazy because there's so many things that need to be done... But a rest that tells us we are choosing the best part (see Martha and Mary's story)... there should be times to work and times to stop working... cuz work will never end... I take this really seriously here...

Next one...SOLITUDE...
It is vital for a community to have fellowship with one another (the purpose of COMMunity, right?! something in COMMON which brings UNITY :-)...), but we shouldn't let fellowship occupy ALL the time of the day (some people really like that)... we need time and space to be alone and to be with God (that freaks out some people as well), in order for our fellowship time to be of the best quality... Being always surrounded with other people, or any sort of "noise" is a way to avoid our inner self (sometimes our own emptiness), and to prevent God to lead us into the growth we're looking for. Being with our inner self should be part of a monastic living and our growth into God's likeness (both individually and as a body)... Of course, our relationship and fellowship with others confront us with our inner self too (one of the best gifts of community, but also the most painful sometimes)...but we need to set ourselves apart in order to process the actions and reactions that take place within us when we are confronted with others... our instant and human reaction is to always think it's the other people's fault... but it is not even about who's guilty or not... all confrontations are but opportunities for us to look at our inner self and allow God to show us what to do or change (and not just expect others to change)...
So , for me, SOLITUDE is as vital as fellowship... I often say that if I don't have my time alone, I have nothing to give when I'm with other people...and I've prove this to be true in my life...so, I really take it seriously...
people look for company, that is understandable...but if we don't feel comfortable with our own company, we'll always have expectations that others cannot meet...

And at last, SILENCE... which for some can be seen as lack of communication...
Some people need communication ALL the time... either for lack of self initiative, or because they're so uncomfortable with themselves that they cannot bear neither silence nor solitude... or maybe because they lack patience to let silence speak...
yes, silence also speaks...
I agree some things are to be communicated at the right time, on the right way... but if we communicate things only with our spontaneous emotions we may not transmit exactly what we want to say and this often leads to lots of misunderstandings...
If we allow silence to process the thoughts within us, we will have more discernment of when to communicate the right ideas or words...
I do agree though, that there are things (specially when it comes to issues between 2 people) that should be communicated and resolved as soon as possible (preferably with a mediator)... forgiveness should be the breath of every community life...

So, these are some aspects I have in mind when I think about a monastic life in community:
...Living together with a small group of people who know/desire how to appreciate and live in solitude, rest and silence...
...Living together with people with a loving and humble heart, ready to confront and be confronted in love... to forgive and be forgiven... being honest and transparent...
...Living together with people who seek above all else, to be devoted to God, who makes us One with each other...
...Living together with people who are submissive to the basic structures and rhythms we need to function as a body ... yet, being aware that structures and rules are only a skelleton of the body and should not be what is seen... it should be something intrinsic in the life of the community...

But there are other aspects about the monastic life that I have in mind... The fact for instance, that we are not called to live ONLY inwardly but also outwardly focused... (either simultaneously or in specific seasons)
And this makes me think about 3 other things that should be results of a monastic life ( not the life in itself, but fruits of it) , which are :
HOSPITALITY, TEACHING/LEARNING, SERVING THE POOR AND NEEDY (mercy and justice)...

whatever we have to give/offer to others, needs to come from a place where we have received ourselves : either in our individual devotional lives to God (solitude, rest, silence) or in our communal lives with one another...

We cannot offer HOSPITALITY when we lack hospitality within the community (if we don't love and accept one another in grace), or if we have any doubts that God accept us and welcomes us in "the House" the way we are...

We cannot TEACH/LEARN, if we don't receive it from God with an open heart to practice it in our own lives (again coming from solitude, rest and silence)... In the same way, we cannot TEACH/LEARN if we don't have humble and teachable hearts to learn from one another... that's one of the richest gifts of living in community, that each single person has something special and unique to share with the others...

And at last, we cannot SERVE THE POOR AND NEEDY unless we recognise in our own inner self that we too are poor and needy, and that Jesus is in the poor and needy... Not that "they" are less and "we" have something to offer that "they" don't have, but that WE are equals and WE can be compassionate in our own poverty and need...
This realisation need to be also present within the community... not that there's a need for a vow of poverty ( I already shared my opinion about vows), but that there is a need to constantly acknowledge that WE ARE poor and needy...

In all this (and I know it's getting way too long), my ultimate goal is to reach this balance, between my time of prayer and devotion, my time of work, my time of service and my time of rest... to reach a state when is not a matter of time given to one or other aspect, but that it is all one and the same : my life with God.
I want all this to be intrinsic in my life... for I know God has called me to live this life... And if God called me , God will enable me.

O.K, this has gone too far by now... and I myself will have loads to chew on here...
I hope it does speak something to you too, and be free to comment about it...

It's been great to be alone here for the last couple of weeks and to have the time to rethink about all these things again...to have the time to write...and also to enjoy the company and take care of the animals, of the plants and of myself :-)...
Somehow the last years on this place have been a bit busy for me... too many people coming and going, too many changes, to many "issues" to resolve, too many things to think about... And I realise I haven't got enough time for myself , even though some people think I retreat myself too much and I'm too quiet... but the truth is that I need lots of time alone and with God to be sane and to have something to give to others... I'm slow, and I easily get drained when there's too much action around me, or when people seem to demand action from me... and maybe this is just me and my personality... but I'm ok with it...
I'm finally having time to do things I wanted to do for so long... like taking more time to meditate and write... like organising my stuff that was still in boxes since I left Lisbon 3 years ago... like replying the long e.mail list I have (I'm still working on that)... and above all, I'm enjoying simple things like watching the sun set, reading a book, watching the animals, swimming under the hot summer sun... I was doing all this things in some extent, but there is a degree of contemplation that I was missing... It feels like holidays :-)...

I'm really appreciating these weeks by myself... I do love when people are around , don't get me wrong :-)... but I needed this time to refocus myself...
There was only one guy here this week (he leaves after tomorrow), and I felt a bit sorry for him when he said it is too quiet for him... he walked the "camino de Santiago", but in the end of each day he always had lots of people to chat with... we had to laugh noticing how people are different... here am I, so thankful for the quietness, and this guy is stressing out because of it... oh well, as I said in the beginning, I think a life of solitude, quietness and rest is not meant for all (or not at all times)... some might even be resisting it, but hey, I don't have an answer to that, this is all my opinion anyway...

I'm also really grateful for having so many beautiful people passing by (some for longer or more often than others)... I love serving others and I've been served as well... I've received and learned a lot with all...
Now I really feel God is leading me to think back about the "vision" for this place ...I don't want to claim I have it all figured out, but I'll only speak about the glimpses I've had so far... I might be totally wrong as well...
When I wrote the description of this "not yet" community, I wrote it in faith, as what I've seen in the spirit, and not what I see at the moment...
It's a bit like what I'm doing now with the permaculture design of the land... I first designed the land as it is, and now I'll put the layers on top of it as I want it to look in the future...
It might be confusing for some, but I wanna live by faith anyway...I believe in the God who calls out things which are not yet, as if they were...
And I love this God :-) sometimes I think God is too crazy... but anyway, I trust ...
That's why I'm here doing what I'm doing... being who I'm called to be...

I recently asked people to pray for more faith in my life... so I wanna thank all those who did pray...it seems to be working :-) eh, eh,eh...

Ok, I'm gonna finish now, with some words my good friend Andy
shared with me this morning...

"PEACEFUL IS THE ONE WHO'S NOT CONCERNED
WITH HAVING MORE OR LESS...
UNBONDED BY NAME AND FAME,
SHE'S FREE FROM SORROW
FROM THE WORLD
AND FROM HERSELF"
(Rumi)

A Monastic life should lead us to this kind of peaceful life...
A peace that doesn't depend neither on our circumstances, nor the environment or the people surrounding us...
A Peace that comes in our inner self and it's given by God alone...

BE PEACEFUL...

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

...alone...all-one...solitude?...yes, there´s faith to be lived and grace to be recieved...many ways...all mirroring the same goal...at the end: all-one...glimpses come and gone...the beauty of the moment...contemplating...what?are there always both sides?...God´s way..alone...

Baba said...

what a vague comment!!! a bit too much for my simple mind...sorry...but thanks anyway, whoever you are...
alone , different then all-one , different then solitude...in solitude there's peace and joy on being alone...
there's also grace to be given...
yes, many ways mirroring the same goal...i simply tried to express mine...
contemplating...simply...
didn't get the "sides" part...
neither "God's way ...alone..."
don't need to get it anyway... it's just too spaced out for me... but thanks again for leaving your comment...

David Juan said...

Even though you say several times that it's too long, it's not. It is good to read your thoughts.
I wonder what shape the community will take when others gather around in a more permanent way, or even if that is what you want. Kind of suspect that there are people who have a call to join together in community (Both at Mount of Oaks and elsewhere) but they are not responding yet.

clara porfĂ­rio said...

long ....but simple & awesome.
Thanks. See u soon. May this time be truly refreshing & peaceful for u sis. Hug.

The Winters said...

yeah baby. that's what it's all about. Shanti B the post modern nun. Love it. Something's shifting pretty fast out there in the world we left behind. not sure anyone really knows what's going on, except that it's a changing! you are, along with others across the planet, pioneering a new way to live, free from many of our previous inherited constructs, in balance with the land, with each other and somewhere, somehow along the road with God herself. In the awareness that we have everything, lack nothing and aren't going to be arriving anywhere other than where we are right now, we can chat with God without constantly being restricted, blinded and deafened by our own fears. From your kindred Monks over the mountains. Love, love, love along with faith that seems to be already flowing. See you soon. We love you. Us. xxxxx

Baba said...

Thanks Andy for your comment...good thoughts... I really liked the part "with God HERSELF" :-)... I've been trying as much as possible to avoid referring to God as HIM all the time...we shouldn't actually use HE nor HER, but even our languages are so limited...
eh, eh :-) I think God must laugh a lot as well :-)
I hope to see you soon anyway...I really miss you...
hugs
I love you
shantii b

anne said...

This question,how to involve monastic lifestyle into everyday-life out in the "world",I wonder...Maybe a possibility could be to be at the community on a regular basis for a month maybe,and then return and bring in insights you would never have had because of all the other stuff going on?!Could be a way for me...I think me too,I am a person that needs a lot of time to be by myself,and it doesn´t seem to fit into this world´s attitude..It is sometimes not easy to find the right balance..Miss Mount of oaks,miss you,baba!
anne

Anonymous said...

oh my! I have been harping on to others for sooo long, on how I want to live in a Christian community, outside somewhere living in the countryside flowing with the rythms of nature, living off the land, etc. I didn't think there was any other Christians who would be up for that kind of lyfestyle yet you seem to be doing it.... good for you :) I am so pleased I have read your blog, now I know I'm not alone with my vision