Monday, May 30, 2005

what does 'The Monastery' have to tell us about evangelism?

i, like many others, have thoroughly enjoyed watching the mini-series 'The Monastery' the last 3 Tuesday evenings. for those of you who missed it, it was a kind of monastic 'Big Brother' type of reality show. (and BTW i think i am just NOT going to watch any of the latest BB - i think you have to make an upfront decision cos once you start watching it it kinda sucks you in and destroys your soul). 5 guys from diverse walks of life (one worked in the soft porn industry, another was a Buddhist scholar, another was involved in the loyalist paramilitaries in N Ireland etc.) who all went and spent 40 days with the Brothers at Worth Abbey in Sussex.
Anyway, it seemed to me that what happened with these guys had quite a lot to say about how we 'do' evangelism. normally, evangelism takes the form of The People In The Know dispensing The Knowledge (not in the London cabbie sense) to the great unwashed; whereas what was happening with the guys in the programme was that they were being invited to be part of the pray with the community, work with them, just be with them doing whatever they did. and the monks certainly weren't seeker sensitive in terms of adapting their worship to make it more 'intelligible'. and these guys were really impacted with many of them having a profound experience of 'the other'.
Now, I know that we are supposed to know all about 'belonging before believing' and all of that sort of thing but it was nice to see it in action. in my experience 'belonging before believing' can mean that we include non-churched people into our social networks but it doesn't often mean that they participate in our worship with us. as these guys were 'bathed in liturgical rhythms' and included in all aspects of the community they were changed.

But i do have a nagging question. a lot of us have been inspired by the monastic tradition in recent years - i certainly have been. and a lot of us are exploring monastic values and practices in our communities - we certainly are. and i am convinced that there are few things as potent as living in (monastic) community to really change us as people. but in our re-contextualisation of monastic values and practices have we left out the really life-changing stuff?? is it the raw experience of living in residential community, corporately praying together 5 times a day (including the middle of the night), working together etc. etc. that carries the ability to transform us; and do our attempts to take the ethos, the values, and the practices of monasticism and transplant and 'virtualise' them into the context of contemporary culture rob them of their power?

I mean, it's all very well to be called to prayer in a dispersed community by an SMS message rather than the chapel bell in the cloisters, but is it just missing the point?


Peter O said...

In answer to your two points, on the first you have to note that although the 5 lived among the brothers and "belonged", there was still the spiritual guidance by the abbot and his pals, so the need for "The People In The Know dispensing The Knowledge" was simply played out in a different mode than an Alpha Supper. At some point in all evangelism there is an educative event (or number of events) otherwise there would be no sense of really belonging to a community of faith, for that faith would never be transmitted.

On the second question, it is the regular rhythm of prayer and worship at the centre of the Monastry that makes it what it is. That's why there's communal living, so all can be in the same place to pray and worship together. To simply use the language of "monks" and "monastry" without practicing what they actually mean is like trying to make 2 + 2 = 5. Now, there may be a place for developing new christian communities, but if they differ from the pattern of Anthony and Benedict then they won't be monastries, they'll be something else.

Jim said...

Cheers Peter...

I, like Matt was both amazingly encouraged and challenged by 'The Monastery', and really felt it had lessons for us in both how we do evangelism and community.

In terms of evangelism I was really touched by how much the monks used silence and listening skills in the spiritual guidance (although it was only Tony's times we were able to examine in any depth). To me it was saying that unless we allow the Spirit to do his work, often in silence and pain, then we can hinder the word of God rather than provide fertile ground to encourage it's growth. My fear for Alpha and other such models is that they are simply becoming other alternatives in she supermarket of spiritualities..!

In regard to communities, I think I probably agree with you. There is for us a temptation to borrow the language of Monasticism and some of the ethic (which can be of real validity) but you are right it is something different. But something different from 'Christian' Middle Class communities centred on muted consumerism is desperately, desperately needed.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rees,

Re: " our re-contextualisation of monastic values and practices have we left out the really life-changing stuff??"


But BLESSED are you, because there is one who is near to you can tell you what you exactly what you are missing.

But first go here:

Read it, print out a copy, take it and your questions to:

Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, 1 Canterbury Road, Oxford OX2 6LU

and ask to speak with His Grace, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia who is a wonderfully kind and erudite shepherd (and formerly of the C of E).

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the URL got cut off.

You'll need this: /ai_n9374344

as in: ...200404/ai_n9374344

Anyway, go see Bishop Kallistos!

Anonymous said...

Here's a bit of what gets left out by re-contextualization (aka taking monasticism out of its proper context within the ascetical-sacramental life of the Church):

"A person consists of a soul and body, and therefore his life’s path should consist of both physical and spiritual activities — of deeds and contemplation.

The path of an active life consists of fasting, abstinence, vigilance, kneeling, prayer and other physical feats, composing the strait and sorrowful path which, by the word of God, leads to eternal life (Mt. 7:14).

The contemplative life consists in the mind aspiring to the Lord God, in awareness of the heart, focused prayer and in the contemplation of spiritual matters through such exercises.

Anyone desiring to lead a spiritual way of life must begin with the active life, and only later set about the contemplative, for without an active life it is impossible to lead a contemplative one.

An active life serves to purify us of sinful passions and raises us to the level of functioning perfection; at the same time it clears the way to a contemplative life.

For only those cleansed of passions and the perfect can set out on that other life, as can be seen from the words of the Holy Scriptures: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8), and from the words of Gregory the Theologian: "Only those who are perfect by their experience can without danger proceed to contemplation."

- St. Seraphim of Sarov

Anonymous said...

Also in Oxford:

Matthew C. Steenberg
Fellow in Patristic Theology and Church History
Greyfriars Hall, The University of Oxford

Mr. Steenberg’s wonderful resources on Monasticism and dynamic discussion forums:

(Monachos: Greek for “monk”)

Matt said...

in response to Peter, i wonder whether a distinction can be made between 'a monastery' and things which are 'monastic'. 'lectio divina' as a way of reading scripture, for example, is monastic in the sense that it comes from that tradition but one doesn't need to be in a monastery to practice it.

Suzie said...

Although I feel slightly daunted at entering a theological debate (putting one’s head above the parapet seems an apt analogy), Pete’s comment about ‘educative event (or number of events)’ got me thinking. Speaking as one who has been trained in developing the brain, I fear that we are missing something (although this may not be what you mean, Peter) when we focus on developing our minds, or even, to take it further, regard the mind as the seat of the faith decision. It seems to me – and I draw heavily on Watchman Nee, particularly The Normal Christian Life – that we are body, soul (mind, emotions, will) and spirit, and it is the spirit that needs to be touched, and then developed, if we are going to produce any fruit, or build anything that will withstand the fire. ‘…when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message…I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you’.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."


Anonymous said...

The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament:

RichardH said...

I tend to agree with Suzie, I feel daunted by this discussion. Not that the intellectual is wrong(!), but after a while, for a lot of people, it becomes unsatisfying and no matter how much you learn or are taught or "educated", what really needs to be touched is the heart and the soul.
I suppose what I found comforting in the programme was not just the teaching and wisdom the monks imparted but the peace that exuded (even strangely enough through the medium of television). I long for that peace and inner calm, and sometime experience it, but not enough. My question would be can you achieve this in a world that is so busy (Oxford is a classic example of business as a way of life that has also been adopted by the church there) that you cannot hope to spend the amount of time emmersed in Gods peace and love that one dwelling in a Christian community of this sort can? There are lots of off the cuff answers to this one of course but sometime they are not enough...