Recently I reflected on the fact that many people attracted to Benedictine life today seem to be middle-age seekers. While that is certainly true it isn’t the whole picture by any means. There is a whole set of people who also seem to be finding our monastery in particular and Benedictine spirituality in general to be something that feeds a deep hunger in their souls.
We have always had a trickle of young adults coming to the monastery and that trickle seems to be on its way to a small stream. People come and then they come back and bring their friends. This summer we have had a very good response to our first “Monastic Immersion Program” with several young women participating.
It makes me wonder what appeals to 20 and 30-something women and men who come and spend some time with a group of women who are the age of their grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Our music isn’t the same, most of us think social networking is something that happens at parties and all of us not only remember typewriters but we used them well into adulthood and very few of us even know how to spell much less connect to YouTube. So what is the attraction?
In general younger folks seem to be fascinated by the idea of a whole way of life that is structured around faith and the desire for God. Praying three times a day, having time and space for silence, living simply, being committed to a community, these are all novel and impressive characteristics to younger people. This is appropriate since the life tasks in our 20’s and 30’s are mostly about engaging in the external work of becoming a competent adult in the world. During these decades we need to learn how to handle relationships, work, independence, how to be a competent, self-sufficient adult. In other words we need to build ourselves up and create the inner and outer structures that will allow us to be mature and be successful.
Maybe that is why it seems to be the lifestyle and structure that is so appealing to these youngsters (there comes a point in life when anyone under 40 seems like a youngster!). Patterns and habits are still being set. Common questions involve how do I develop a prayer practice that works for me, how do I hold on to my values if they aren’t shared by my peers, is there a way of life that values faith as central rather than peripheral? And these are all questions and issues that are central to monastic life. Perhaps the genius of monastic life and the reason it has survived for centuries is that it addresses the faith questions of every generation. When we are younger we need structures and common values. When we reach middle age we need the support to undertake the inner journey of dismantling the hard won ego accomplishments of youth. In old age monastic life will help us sort through the struggle to make sense of what our lives have been.
It is wonderful to see a parade of young adults participating in our Benedictine balance of prayer, work and community. Those of us who will still be here when they leave are reminded that we offer an experience and vision of a life focused on God for people of all ages and backgrounds. That is a wonderful experience even for those of us who remember when computers required punch cards.