Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Pastor's Perspective: Of Monks and Men

Sanctuary at St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN,
Ever since I was first exposed to Friar Tuck as the beer swilling, happy-go-lucky badger in a monk robe (voiced by Andy Devine)  in Disney’s Robin Hood, I’ve been fascinated with monks.  There is just something alluring about the life of intentional community or solitude, work as a devotional practice, and the ordering of one’s day according to the rhythm of prayer and scripture. 
I’ve had several opportunities to learn and worship among monastic communities.  One of the most formative experiences in my spiritual life was my week long stay with Brother Aidan, a Greek Orthodox hermit monk in Wales.  Aidan is also an iconographer, and he inspired me to later learn that spiritual discipline. 
I’ve also had a couple occasions to spend time with the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN and the nuns of their sister convent in St. Cloud, MN.  St. John’s is where Kathleen Norris (another Protestant enamored with the monastic life) wrote her well known book about that monastic community, The Cloister Walk (available to borrow in our church library with some other books by and about famous monks). 
So, I’d like to share what I have learned with you and hopefully learn something new with you.  Beginning Sept. 12 at 5pm, we’ll begin a 5 part study of monasticism and new monasticism from the Christian Reflections series that we’ve used before.  The study guide is available online at our church website.  We’ll finish the five part study the second week of October, then the following two Sundays, we’ll have field trips that are available for everyone to attend.  The first will be to an afternoon workshop on “new monasticism and intentional community” with Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution and founding member of the “Simple Way” community in Philadelphia.  Shane grew up in the United Methodist Church in Tennessee, and was attracted to the same things about monasticism that I mentioned earlier—except Shane put those interests into action by starting a non-sectarian community of faith committed to Jesus’ command to “sell all your things and give them to the poor, then come and follow me.”  One difference between the Simple Way and traditional monastic communities is that the community incorporates married people and families fully into the community life of the group.  We’ll have a chance to hear from him on Sunday Oct. 17, leaving the church at 1pm, and then if you wish, to spend a few days at Canyon Camp learning from Elaine Heath, who has studied New Monastic groups like The Simple Way around the world and has developed an interesting theology of evangelism (called the Mystical Way of Evangelism) based on what she has learned (she’s a professor at Perkins School of Theology on SMU campus). She and Ray Buckley, a storyteller and specialist in Native American Spirituality are the featured speakers at this year’s Spiritual Formation Seminar hosted by our conference Oct. 17-22.  Spaces are available at the seminar for a discounted price for members of Oklahoma Conference churches at $200.
The following Sunday, Oct. 24, we’ll have a group from the church visit the Benedictine monks at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Shawnee.  We’ll leave the church at 2pm, and have a tour of the grounds with the Abbot, and then join the monks at the Vesper’s service at 5pm.  Prepare for some beautiful singing!  All are welcome on both of these field trips, but if you want the most “in-depth” experience, participate in the study beginning Sept. 12.  

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