Friday, February 18, 2011
People today are spiritually hungry. That insight has almost become a cliché. We know it, we say it, but what are we doing about it? If we aren’t careful we are in danger of being like the people that the Letter of James warns about, walking by the hungry and naked while encouraging them to be warm and well fed. Monasteries especially might need to be careful to look at whether we are hoarding food in the midst of a famine.
So what is the purpose of a monastery? What are these places of prayer, silence and community doing in our increasingly fast-paced, individualistic and secular world? What is the meaning of this odd, counter-cultural place and way of life? Monasteries today are not well known or understood. People often seem to think a monastery is a place for the spiritually elite to escape from the world or simply an anachronism from the middle ages.
But perhaps the purpose of monasteries is something that both our hurting world and the declining numbers of monastics need to look at. A monastery is not just about the small number of people who live there and take vows. A monastery is salt, light and leaven in a dark, flat and tasteless world. A monastery is a dynamic center for the spiritual journey, a place of hope and prayer. The monastery is provides support and community for people who are called by God to go deeper in their faith, in their relationship with God. Today monasteries are called to be all night buffets in a spiritually starving world.
Monasteries have always been places for people who have felt a call to put God before all else in their lives. Monastic life has always been centered around God, a life of prayer and service in the context of community. Both in the past and still today this monastic way has been seen as something where only a few could dedicate their life in a company of a small group of others. Monastics have traditionally been seen as a hidden, spiritually elite few.
A monastery is a collection of people, whether sisters, monks or oblates, who commit themselves to put God at the center of their lives. They aren’t people who have perfect spiritual lives, people who don’t struggle and sometimes feel like their relationship with God is in need of some relationship counseling. Monastics are simply people who are committed to the spiritual journey above all else.
Today our ministry as monastics is changing. Monasteries have always been of service, in the Dark Ages providing hospitality and learning in the chaos of the time. More recently many monastic communities have provided services in education and health care. But today those of us who are monastics need to share not just what we do but who we are on a deep level. We need to share the banquet of our spiritual life. It is time to open the doors to our banquet table through retreats, spiritual direction, expanded ideas of membership, forming people in their relationship with God.
It is a time of famine in our land, a time of darkness when all food has lost its savor and lies flat and unleavened on our tables. Into this time of starvation the monasteries of the world need to throw open their storehouses, reveal their light and become a salty, yeasty presence on the banquet tables of the world. Where there is spiritual hunger the monasteries need to become the 24 hour buffet table to feed a world that does not always even recognize its hunger for God.