Archive for September, 2014

New Monasticism After More Than a Decade

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2014 by citydesert

This reflection on the past decade or so of the “New Monasticism” makes some points directly relevant to what might be called the “New Eremiticism”.

Nearly ten years ago, “Christianity Today” highlighted the emergence of “the new monastics,” referring to them as an “intentional community” of “new friars.”
Christianity today new monasticism
The September 2005 article traced the birth of the new monasticism to a conference in June 2004 where participants drew up a voluntary rule consisting of twelve distinctives that would be the guide for those communities who were voluntarily associating themselves with the movement.
The new monasticism, characterized by Robin Russell as individuals and families who “commit to follow a ‘rule of life’ . . . and they immerse themselves in community life and service,” is without a doubt an important movement in the North American Protestant church, and there is much to commend in it. The name, though, in some ways obscures our impression of historic monasticism—the diverse worlds of the Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans. Though scholars and practitioners of monasticism debate, at times, the very definition of “monasticism,” there is general agreement that married and single people living in some form of close (or even loose) community, even if they follow a rule, is not quite the historic monasticism of the Christian Church, being closer to “intentional community.”
Ten years on it is worth asking why the new monastics prefer something “new” to something historical. Though only adherents can answer this question completely, I will hazard a few guesses: Historic monasticism expects/demands singleness and (by extension) celibacy, whereas many of the new monastics (including some of its main leaders) are married. “Marriage,” of course, is not the antonym of “monastic” but it is somewhat foreign to the institution of monasticism historically.
Historic monasticism also expects individuals to place themselves under a strong authority figure (an abbot/abbess or prior) whose power and authority derives from the community’s rule (e.g., the Rule of Benedict) and customs.
Rule of St Benedict
Finally, historic monasticism mainly (though not exclusively) focuses on a life of prayer with work viewed as a means for continued praying. Much of the new monasticism is actively engaged in what might be called social justice activism.
There are a handful of historically-oriented monasteries in the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran tradition (and a few ecumenical houses, such as Taizé in France and Iona in Scotland), but there needs to be a larger vision for the reintroduction of monasticism, in its historic forms, into Protestantism. Though full justification for this claim goes beyond the scope of this article, my book “Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life” (Cascade Books, 2014) provides a number of arguments from Protestant authors as to why monasticism should be re-introduced into the Protestant churches or, more properly, why it should have never been discarded in the first place.
Reforming the Monastery
A sense that monasticism had its place in the Church and even remorse that the institution itself was discarded during the Reformation was never completely absent in Protestant writings of the past five hundred years. Whether it was the Little Gidding “monastic” community of the Ferrar family in early seventeenth century England (made known again by T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”), the Serampore Brotherhood of William Carey in India, or the Finkenwalde seminarians under Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, the spirit of monasticism (if not the institution itself) has been alive and well in Protestant communities.
In 1833, Anglican priest and Oxford fellow Richard Froude wrote to then-Anglican John Henry Newman that “the present state of things in England makes an opening for reviving the monastic system.” Those seemed like original words at the time. Yet monasticism is one of the most ancient and enduring institutions of the Church. It reached its zenith during the High Middle Ages, but the Reformers weren’t as opposed to it as is commonly thought. Indeed, the late Reformed theologian Donald Bloesch is the most recent advocate for it, but he was only expressing sentiments found in Luther, Calvin, and Barth.
Luther and Calvin both saw value in the institution of monasticism provided it did not involve life-long vows (especially those made indirectly to the pope), was not seen as a superior form of the Christian life, and did not displace baptism. Thus, monasticism was not a superior form of life since all Christian believers were called to the same high standards of holiness.
In the words of Luther, “When a [monk] takes his vow he vows nothing more than that which he already vowed at the start in his baptism, and that is the gospel.” Monasticism was simply one form of the Christian life along with non-monastic singleness or parenthood.
By the nineteenth century in England no one was that concerned monasticism would be seen as salvific, and John Henry Newman’s argument found a hearing: “Clergymen at present are subject to the painful experience of losing the more religious portion of their flock. . . . They desire to be stricter than the mass of churchmen, and the church gives them no means.”
In Newman’s thinking these more spiritually inclined church members would convert to Roman Catholicism if they were not offered the same opportunities in the Anglican tradition. Additionally, Newman believed that the antiquity of monasticism was grounds for its presence in the Christian Church. Not everything old belonged in the Church, but monasticism certainly did.
Why? Donald Bloesch offers two convincing reasons: First, an Evangelical monastery “will be a center for evangelism and world mission”; second, the Evangelical monastic community will serve as its critic and be a source of its renewal.
But I would add a third reason: God has been calling individual believers to the monastic life for nearly two thousand years—so why would we presume that he is not still doing so today, even among Protestant Evangelical Christians? If God is calling some to this life then the Church should provide them with the monasteries necessary to live out their calling.”
Greg Peters is Associate Professor at the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University.

For the original article referred to, “The New Monasticism. A fresh crop of Christian communities is blossoming in blighted urban settings all over America”
by Rob Moll, “Christianity Today” September 2, 2005, see:

See further:
Greg Peters “Reforming the Monastery. Protestant Theologies of the Religious Life”
[Wipf and Stock, 2013; Cascade Books, 2014]
Reforming the Monastery
“Richard Froude wrote in 1833 to John Henry Newman that “the present state of things in England makes an opening for reviving the monastic system.” Seemingly original words at the time. Yet, monasticism is one of the most ancient and enduring institutions of the Christian church, reaching its zenith during the High Middle Ages. Although medieval monasteries were regularly suppressed during the Reformation and the magisterial Reformers rejected monastic vows, the existence of monasticism has remained within the Reformation churches, both as an institution and in its theology. This volume is an examination of Protestant theologies of monasticism, examining the thought of select Protestant authors who have argued for the existence of monasticism in the Reformation churches, beginning with Martin Luther and John Calvin and including Conrad Hoyer, John Henry Newman, Karl Barth, and Donald Bloesch. Looking at the contemporary church, the current movement known as the “New Monasticism” is discussed and evaluated in light of Protestant monastic history.”

For St Augustine’s Lutheran Monastery and Retreat House, Oxford, Michigan, see:
St Augustines luthern monastery 2
For The Order of Watchers (“Ordre des Veilleurs” in French) is a community of hermits in the French Protestant tradition founded in 1923 by the theologian Wilfred Monod, see

The Third Age Career of the Cloistered Contemplative

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2014 by citydesert

“Up through about AD 1800, it was not uncommon for worldly men and women who had for one reason or another reached a point of closure in their mundane careers – the death of a beloved spouse, poverty, disgrace, retirement, or a profound metanoia and resulting revulsion for the mess and hurry and compromise of secular life, and a wish to be done with it – to retire in holy poverty to a monastery, a nunnery, or a hermitage, there to round out their days in prayer, fasting, worship, contemplation, and the humble work of the hands. It was understood that when one cut away all the inessential things in life, the monastic life would remain. Worship was the core and essence, the sine qua non, of a life that could aspire to propriety.
monks catholic
This ennobled and encouraged the whole society. When a noble lady or a peasant girl dedicated her life to a religious order, everyone was gladdened, and heartened; for it told them what their own lives were about, and for. “If she so small can be so valorous,” one could think, “why then I suppose I shall be able to manage my bit.”
The ostentatious presence in the midst of society of consecrated religious, then, illumines the rationality of social life, reinforcing the social order and nerving the organs of society to their duties under their proper ends.
Now it might seem that this is all some sort of reductionist account of monasticism. That monasticism has social utility, however, does not entail that its utility is at all specious. To think so is to labor under the unconscious, quintessentially modern presupposition that our convictions are all specious – a conviction that renders itself specious. On the contrary: that a thing is practically useful to us ought to suggest first that it is in fact quite likely to be really good for us in the ultimate scheme of things.
Thus the modern consequentialist approach to utility has it all backwards. Things are not good because they result in good consequences; this utilitarian explanation begs the question it purports to answer. Rather, things have generally good consequences when they are really good and beautiful in themselves. Things are useful because they are good, and not vice versa.
Nuns catholic
So far is this then from being a consequentialist or utilitarian account of monasticism, as to be the very opposite. Monasticism is not useful to us because it fools us all into thinking that our daily activities are important. No: our daily activities really are important, seeking the Good and devoting our lives ultimately to God really is the essence of goodness, value, spiritual and corporeal health, and of joy; and monasticism helps us remember these facts.
But yet, more than that, monastics really are the van of the general heavenward motion of humanity. They are blazing a trail for us, not just metaphorically, but in simple fact. Monasticism is useful to us in worldly life because it is important in the ultimate life of all the worlds. After all, we tend all in the end, willy nilly, toward the monk’s utter renunciation of all inferior values in favor of what matters most. We are all of us to be utterly impoverished, sooner or later, intentionally or not, nobly or not. We are all of us incipient monastics.
Monks then are as valuable to us as the van of our host in battle. Their spiritual warfare, of which all earthly wars are theaters, is the real struggle at the heart of all others.
So it is that, back when Israel was at war with the Canaanite idolaters of Moloch the devourer of children, the warriors at the bleeding edge of the Israelite army, first into battle, were priests in white linen, blowing shawms and singing Psalms of wrath and battle, angels of the Lord.”

See further: Eugene Stockton “Forest Dweller: An Alternative Life Style for Seniors” at
“The hermit way of life has a long tradition in the Christian Church, both east and west. But it could well borrow from the wisdom of Eastern religions, which provide for something lacking in the West, namely how to take account of retirement/old age. Are we to be just left on the shelf, waiting to die?
Hindu asceticism envisages four stages of life:
1. Student: a programme of learning after initiation (“undergraduate”)
2. Householder: engaged in family and work (“graduate”)
3. Forest dweller: free from responsibilities of family and work (recluse or semi-retired)
4. Saddhu or saint (union with God)
The third stage on retirement is not the end, but a new stage on the journey of life and one looking forward to the final graduation. Such a forest dweller corresponds to the hermit or recluse, living a virtually solitary life. The separation from the world, effected more or less obviously in a material sense, is at depth more crucially a mental or spiritual separation.”

Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2014 by citydesert

Michael Yankoski “The Sacred Year. Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice — How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life” [Thomas Nelson, 2014]
Sacred Year
“Frustrated and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, Michael Yankoski was determined to stop merely talking about living a life of faith and start experiencing it. The result was a year of focused engagement with spiritual practices–both ancient and modern–that fundamentally reshaped and revived his life. By contemplating apples for an hour before tasting them (attentiveness), eating on just $2.00 a day (simplicity), or writing letters of thanks (gratitude), Michael discovered a whole new vitality and depth through the intentional life.”
“The author starts his “sacred year” after an incident involving a 5am flight, yelling passenger, and a conference in which he was scheduled to speak. After returning home from this eye-opening experience, Michael stays a week at a local monastery and falls under the guidance of Father Solomon. After his meeting with the Father, Michael begins his spiritual journey.”
Michael Y
Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitiate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books including “Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America”.
Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are PhD students at the University of Notre Dame. Web: Facebook: Twitter: @michaelyankoski Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are pursuing PhDs at the University of Notre Dame.

What Color Is Jaded?
Section I: Depth with Self
Single Tasking: The Practice of Attentiveness
Life and Death: The Practice of Daily Examen
Daily Bread: The Practice of Sustenance
Freedom in Downward Mobility: The Practice of Simplicity
Let There BE! The Practice of Creativity
Endless Finite Days: The Practice of Embracing Mortality
Section II: Depth with God
Guilty as Diagnosed: The Practice of Confession
Is Anybody Listening? The Practice of Listening Prayer
Taste and Become: The Practices of Lectio Divina and Regular Eucharist
Resonant Loneliness: The Practice of Still, Silent Solitude

Michael Yankoski: Three Ways to Embrace The Sacred This Year
Michael Yankoski

“Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only those who see, take off their shoes.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
burning bush
“Being oblivious to the Sacred is endemic these days.
Amidst our drive by, fly by, shop-till-you-drop frenzy of a world, most of us have conditioned our capacity for attentiveness, for contemplation, for hearing the “still small voice of God” right out of ourselves.
Some blame electronic technology, others blame their family of origin, still others blame capitalism’s tendency to commodify everything under the sun.
All these factors may have infused this malady into our psyches, yet the invitation to first acknowledge and then Embrace The Sacred is—I’ve come to believe—still all around us, woven into the very fabric of Creation itself.
What we need to cultivate is what Jesus once called “Eyes to see and ears to hear.”
My eyes were opened and my ears unstopped to the “everywhere-and-everywhen” ways of the Holy during “The Sacred Year”. This was a period of time I set aside during my frenetic life as an itinerate motivational speaker, to engage a series of Spiritual Practices—some ancient and some modern—in hope of finding nourishment, rootedness, and an increasing depth in my life and faith.
Having lived and written about “The Sacred Year”, I’d commend three specific Spiritual Practices as you seek to embrace the sacred this coming year.
• Spiritual Practice #1: Attentiveness
If you’re reading these words right now, pervasive distraction and ceaseless multi-tasking is likely normal for you. While multi-tasking is a good thing for computers, the consistent conclusion seems to be that multi-tasking’s effect on human beings is anything but positive.
The simple fact is that multi-tasking fractures the attention we’re able to give to whatever is before us.
As an antidote to the epidemic of perpetual partial attention, during “The Sacred Year”, I began taking an hour to eat an apple.
It might sound strange, but how else might one begin cultivating attentiveness? Divided evenly between my five senses, that means I had 12 minutes with each to explore the way the apple looked, felt, sounded, smelled and tasted.
Surprisingly, the more apples I contemplated the more aware and contemplative (from the Latin “to observe”) I became in general. As we engage it, the practice of attentiveness seems to spread out, infusing other areas and other relationships, helping us become more attentive.
After the third apple, I stopped multi-tasking people, started becoming more available and present to the people I love most in my life. No more asking half-baked questions during a conversation where I’m only partially present.
But why not start small? Go grab an apple, and set aside an hour. (And, I’ll let you in on a mystery that you can go explore with your own apple: what common kitchen ingredient do apple seeds taste like?)
• Spiritual Practice #2: Silence
If a thing’s rarity makes it precious, silence may well be worth more than gold.
From dawn till dusk our lives are filled with noise—the sound of traffic and car horns, buzzing smart phones, the little pings of email / tweet / DM notifications, and let’s not forget the less-than-inspiring elevator music in every retail store.
Though the effect of noise seems subtle in daily doses, I’m convinced it compounds over time until our ears and very lives give us a persistent headache.
Even 5-10 minutes of “centering silence” in the morning can help counteract the toxin of our culture’s ceaseless noise.
At the beginning of “The Sacred Year”, I found it especially helpful during my practice of “centering silence” to light a candle and contemplate the way darkness has not overcome the light.
As you enter into this year, consider dedicating 5, 10, even 20 minutes to a daily rhythm of “centering silence.” If possible, do this before checking your email, before turning on your cell phone. Light a candle. Bask in its warmth and light.
As you grow deeper into the practice, notice the way the “centering silence” becomes a sort of anchor point, a place of reference and orientation that you can return to during the day, no matter how noisy life may be.
• Spiritual Practice #3: Simplicity
Contrary to the dictates of today’s reigning economic theory, Thoreau once wisely noted, “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
Simplicity isn’t about chiding ourselves for owning too much, but rather cultivating the capacity to become more thankful and content with less than we’ve been led to believe we ought to want (or deserve).
The Spiritual Practice of simplicity can take on many forms: consider giving away all articles of clothing that you haven’t worn in the last year, instituting a month-long moratorium on buying “anything new” (fascinating how removing the urgency to purchase creates space for healthy evaluation), or even trying to eat on $2.00 per day. (Around 2 billion people subsist on less than $2.00 per day in our world).
Practicing the latter (plain oatmeal for lunch, simple beans and rice for lunch and dinner) had a surprising effect on me: I began to anticipate, notice, and appreciate EVERY meal with a heightened sense of gratitude and delight. Whereas I had simply consumed food before practicing simplicity, I began enjoying it instead.
This is the pearl of great price buried way down deep in the practice of simplicity: it enables increased delight and increased satisfaction, even as it empowers us to consume less of Creation’s finite resources.
Misunderstandings of Spiritual Practice have twisted them into ways of one-upping others, or trying to earn God’s approval.
The most clarifying metaphor I’ve yet come across is that of a sailboat: Spiritual Practices are sort of like trimming the sails. Doing so is essential, yes, but well-trimmed sails are only secondarily responsible for the sailboat’s movement.
Trim your sails all you want, but if it weren’t for the Wind, there’d be no movement at all.
But—thanks be to God—the Wind of the Creating, Sustaining and Redeeming God billows throughout our very days and lives.
Grace and Peace to you as you Embrace The Sacred this coming year.

Saints, Strangers and Enemies”

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by citydesert

An excellent Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio “Encounter” program: “Saints, strangers and enemies”
ABC Encounter
“The 20th century was haunted by the figure of the enemy – that often spectral, but sometimes all-too-real threat to national well-being and way of life. According to political theorist and Nazi-sympathizer Carl Schmitt, it is the unique vocation of politics to name the enemy, to give “Evil” a face, and then mobilise national resources and sentiment against it.
Obviously, the threat of the enemy has always proven far more seductive and enthralling than commitment to the friend, in the same way that solidarity in the face of war is easier to generate than the hard work of peace. This second of a two-part series explores the fundamental drama of ethics – how to discern whether a stranger is in fact an enemy, or a bearer of divine grace, and the way that the surprising and often unconventional example of modern “saints” can expand our moral vision.”
ABC hospitality
“In our desire to be protected from harm, have we closed ourselves off from the miracle of hospitality?”

“Charles Taylor makes a very good point in his book “A Secular Age” when he says that our contemporary society is very often guilty of what he calls “excarnation,” that we have become more and more and more disembodied. We’ve kind of entered into an immaterialism. Materialism is denounced as the great evil of the age, and that’s a certain kind of consumerist commodity materialism and I agree. But actually it’s an immaterialism of living in a spectral, vicarious simulated world – which is how indeed the whole advertising commercial industry lives.
So it’s an immaterialising of matter that leads to this consumerist materialism. Because we’re not getting the thing itself. We’re getting the image, the simulacrum of the thing itself. So moving from a civilisation of excarnation of spectacle and simulacrum and simulation and so on back to a civilisation, back to, forward to a new civilisation of embodiment and incarnation. And the potential beauty of incarnation it seems to me, extremely important. But that means accepting the messiness of the body, the contingency of the body, and the frailty and vulnerability of the body. And they’re kind of terms that people are very uneasy with. Ever since philosophically Descartes, who wanted to create this little bubble called cogito that would be free of the external world, you know, which he called the res extensa the extended universe out there. And that has a substance, but it’s basically a disincarnate. Truth is clear and distinct and pretty much disincarnate. As is the disembodied cogito. And from that we gain a sense of modern security, autonomy, sovereignty, freedom – all good things up to a point. But taken out of that is our embeddedness, and our embodiment in the sheer wonderful messiness of being.”

The program can be heard on-line and a transcript accessed at:

Desert Spaces

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by citydesert

Joan Chittister “Desert Spaces” [Benetvision, 2014]
desert spaces
Joan Chittister invites you to go into the desert spaces of your own life this Lent. Accompanying you will be the Desert Mothers and Fathers, ancient spiritual teachers who grappled with the same struggles you do and whose truths and insights have stood the test of time. Desert Spaces offers you an opportunity to get to know yourself even the parts you might ignore in a new and fresh way. “Desert Spaces” includes: contemporary commentaries by Joan Chittister on wisdom stories from the Desert Mothers and Fathers other desert wisdom readings, including quotations from spiritual writers, poems and scripture response prompts for the reader.
desert 5
Desert Spaces includes:
• contemporary commentaries by Joan Chittister on wisdom stories from the Desert Mothers and Fathers
• other desert wisdom readings, including quotations from spiritual writers, poems and scripture
• response prompts for the reader.
For Sister Joan Chittister, see:

Religious Options for Medieval Women: Hermitesses and Beguines

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by citydesert

An extract from Dr. Ann K. Warren “Five Religious Options for Medieval Women” “Christian History”, Issue 30, 1991
In the High Middle Ages, Christian women found many ways to live a holy life.
Dr. Ann K. Warren is Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University and author of “Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England” [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985]

“Christina of Markyate made a formal vow of virginity at age 14, in about the year 1110. Two years later her family, an upper-class, Anglo-Saxon family in England, forced Christina into a betrothal.
Christina 1
She was kept in physical custody for a year, during which an ecclesiastical judge was bribed to set aside her vow of virginity. The marriage took place at last.
The resisting bride, however, would not consent to its physical consummation. She spent the night prepared for her deflowering recounting to her husband the story of St. Cecilia—the saint who had convinced her husband, Valerian, to live with her chastely until each could enter a monastery. Christina’s husband had other dreams. The situation was at an impasse.
Christina then fled, with the aid of a local hermit. An anchoress named Alfwen hid her for two years. Christina was then moved to a hermitage at Markyate, where some male hermits lived, and they secreted her for four more years. Ultimately her family accepted that her resolve would not weaken. The marriage was dissolved, and Christina became technically free to live a more “normal” religious life.
By this time, however, the solitary lifestyle had become established. She became a hermitess, inheriting the site where she had hid for four years. In time a group of disciples formed around her, the hermitage becoming first a group household and ultimately a convent with Christina as abbess.
Christina’s story takes us into all the types of religious life of her period. She was in turn a consecrated virgin, a recluse, a hermitess, and a nun. A traditional anchoress figures in her story as well. As her life illustrates, to be a bride of Christ was not necessarily to be a nun. Especially in the later Middle Ages, women pursued the religious life in a variety of forms.”
• Hermitesses
Occasionally women chose to be hermitesses. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, some women of religious bent rejected the communal and regulated life of the convent for the desolation and difficulty of a solitary life in the wilderness. Like many men in this period of religious revival, they took to the forests, the deserts, and the bogs. Alone or with a small group of like-minded individuals, they lived in makeshift dwellings and sought a mystical relationship with God. These hermitesses stood largely outside the formal organization of the church, unless they chose to accept the counsel of a caring clergyman.
The nunneries of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the hermitages that grew in this same period, were aspects of a society almost completely rural. There remained abundant land, yet uncleared, on which a pious noble might found a convent for his daughter; there were forests within which an enterprising hermitess might establish herself. Towns were few, the distances between them long.
These religious movements of withdrawal, paradoxically, gradually tamed and eliminated the environment to which they had fled. They cleared the land and provided outposts of civilization, encouraging and aiding the growth of towns and cities. By the thirteenth century western Europe was considerably deforested. The eremitic age was over, and new religious vocations for women emerged. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a more urban age, was the age of beguines and tertiaries.
• Beguines
The beguine was merely a religious woman, “mulier religiosa”. She took temporary vows, usually of chastity and simplicity of life, donned some kind of identifying habit, and dedicated herself to good works. The beguine, a product of the growing cities of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Europe, worked in those cities, answering the needs of the displaced poor and sick. She was bound to no order. She might live at home or with a group who shared her values. She could later renounce her vows and marry without difficulty.
Beguines 1
The beguine movement was the only religious current of the Middle Ages that was female in conception. It did not owe its impetus, its main support, or its direction to men.
Pressure for the beguine movements (and the tertiary movements) was generated in part by an imbalance in the numbers of men and women of marriageable age. From this pool of unattached women arose more women who wanted to assume religious lives and more women available (because unmarried) to lead them. They awaited only the right stimulus to aid them in focusing their lives religiously.
That stimulus emerged in late twelfth-century Belgium, from two women: Ivetta of Huy and Mary of Oignies.
Ivetta of Huy (1157–1228) was born to an affluent family near Liege. She was married at 13 and widowed at 18, already the mother of three sons. She resisted the demands of her family to remarry and with the support and encouragement of the Bishop of Liege, she was allowed to take widow’s vows. She gave the care of her children to her father and spent the next ten years using her home as a hostel for pilgrims and travelers and working in a nearby leper colony. Still feeling too much contact with worldly affairs, Ivetta then moved to the leper colony, enclosed herself in a cell, and lived there as an anchoress until her death forty-eight years later, by then famed as a mystic.
Mary of Oignies (1177–1213) also was born to wealth in the Brabant region. She was married at 14, against her will. More successful than Christina of Markyate, she was able to convince her husband that they live in continence and share a religious vocation. They worked together caring for lepers. Mary’s reputation spread, and she became the center of a group of women who lived chastely and worked among the sick. In 1207, after about fifteen years of work with the lepers and of exercising a kind of moral leadership over the amorphous community that had grown up around her, she retired to an anchorhold near Oignes. She lived in the cell only six years before dying at the age of 36.
Mary and Ivetta both began their religious lives in the world. Though both gradually withdrew from the world, the concept that a religious life could be lived in the world was central to their perception. Poverty was also a tenet of their ideology; the families of these women had to constantly stand guard that they not decimate the family fortune with excessive almsgiving. Combining apostolic poverty and service in the world, they thus shared characteristics of the movements spurred later by St. Francis.
Beguine 2
From these women the beguines developed. The movement swept through the Low Countries and Germany in the thirteenth century, centered in the cities. The beguine movement accommodated women of more middling status than those who filled the nunneries. The beguines lived in the world, supporting themselves with any manner of honest work and spending the remainder of their time in charitable works. They served the poor and the sick in the urban environment. They banded together, unattached women of the cities, living separately or communally in houses (later called beguinages) built or bought with their own resources.
To get a sense of how many there may have been, by the end of the fourteenth century there were about 1,500 beguines living in Cologne, a city whose general population was only about 20,000. Over a two-hundred-year period, on average, perhaps one in ten residents was a beguine.
Beguine 3
While acknowledging the social and demographic components of the movement, it is important to stress that this was essentially a religious happening, a great outpouring of religious fervor. These women, who stood apart from hierarchy and structure, were degraded by many. The word beguine itself was a smear meaning “heretic.” Yet the movement could not be stopped. It offered women a wide range of charitable employment with a minimum of complication, a self-regulated balance between outreach and contemplative withdrawal, and the freedom to change one’s mind and later marry or assume another religious role.”
Anchorites and their patrons
For a review of “Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England” [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985], see

See further:
Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser (eds) “Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth-Century Holy Woman” [Taylor & Francis, 2004]
“Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser present a vivid interdisciplinary study devoted to the life, work and extant vita of Christina of Markyate, which draws on research from a wide range of disciplines.
christina 2
This fascinating and comprehensive collection surveys the life of an extraordinary medieval woman. Christina of Markyate made a vow of chastity at an early age, against the wishes of her parents who intended her to marry. When forced into wedlock, she fled in disguise and went into hiding, receiving refuge in a network of hermitages. Christina became a religious recluse and eventually founded a priory of nuns attached to St. Albans.
Beautifully illustrated, this book provides students who regularly encounter Christina with a research compendium from which to begin their studies, and introduces Christina to a wider audience.”

Wolfgang Riehle “The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England” [Cornell University Press, 2014]
Secret within
“Spiritual seekers throughout history have sought illumination through solitary contemplation. In the Christian tradition, medieval England stands out for its remarkable array of hermits, recluses, and spiritual outsiders, from Cuthbert Godric of Fichale and Christina of Markyate to Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe.
In “The Secret Within”, Wolfgang Riehle offers the first comprehensive history of English medieval mysticism in decades, one that will appeal to anyone fascinated by mysticism as a phenomenon of religious life. In considering the origins and evolution of the English mystical tradition, Riehle begins in the twelfth century with the revival of eremitical mysticism and the early growth of the Cistercian Order in the British Isles. He then focuses in depth on the great mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: Richard Rolle (the first great English mystic), the anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”, Walter Hilton, Margery Kempe, and Julian of Norwich. Riehle carefully grounds his narrative in the broader spiritual landscape of the Middle Ages, pointing out both prior influences dating back to Late Antiquity and corresponding developments in mysticism and theology on the Continent. He discusses the problem of possible differences between male and female spirituality and the movement of popularizing mysticism in the late Middle Ages. Filled with fresh insights, “The Secret Within” will be welcomed especially by teachers and students of medieval literature as well as by those engaged in historical, theological, philosophical, cultural, even anthropological and comparative studies of mysticism.”

Ancient Faith Radio: “In the Heart of the Desert”

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2014 by citydesert

Ancient Faith Radio has made available “In the Heart of the Desert”, January 2014, 3 episodes:
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From November 15-16, 2013, Saints Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Boulder, Colorado, hosted an Advent retreat titled “In the Heart of the Desert.”
The speaker was the Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, an author and theologian who serves as advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues, and topics included “Creation Care and Spirituality,” “Living with the Desert Fathers and Mothers,” and “Learning from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.”

Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis “In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers” (World Wisdom Books, 2nd revised ed. 2008)
“The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was born in Australia (1958), where he matriculated from The Scots College (1975). He received his degree in Theology from the University of Athens (1980), a diploma in Byzantine Music from the Greek Conservatory of Music (1979), and was awarded a research scholarship to St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary (1982). He completed his doctoral studies in Patristics at the University of Oxford (1983).

After several months in silent retreat on Mt Athos, he served as Personal Assistant to the Greek Orthodox Primate in Australia (1984-94) and was co-founder of St Andrew’s Theological College in Sydney (1985), where he was Sub-Dean and taught Patristics and Church History (1986-95). He was also Lecturer in the Divinity School (1986-90) and the School of Studies in Religion (1990-95) at the University of Sydney. In 1995, he moved to Boston, where he was appointed Professor of Theology at Holy Cross School of Theology and directed the Religious Studies Program at Hellenic College until 2002. He established the Environment Office at the same School in 2001. He has also taught as professor of Patristics at Balamand University in Lebanon. A member of the Office of Ecumenical and Inter-Faith Affairs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, he coordinates the Social and Moral Issues Commission of the Orthodox Churches in America. Currently, he serves as theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues.
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The author of over twenty books and numerous articles in several languages on the Church Fathers and Orthodox Spirituality, Fr. John’s most recent publications include “Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction” (Holy Cross Press, 2000), “In the Footsteps of Christ: Abba Isaiah of Scetis” (SLG Press Oxford, 2001), “The Body of Christ: A Place of Welcome for People with Disabilities” (Light and Life, 2002), “Letters from the Desert: A Selection from Barsanuphius and John” (St. Vladimir’s Press, 2003), “Cosmic Grace, Humble Prayer: The Ecological Vision of the Green Patriarch” (Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 2009), “Light Through Darkness: the Orthodox tradition” (Orbis Books, 2004), “John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain” (Ashgate, 2004), “The Ecumenical Patriarchate: A Brief Guide” (Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2005), “The Reflections of Abba Zosimas” (SLG Press Oxford, 2006), “Beyond the Shattered Image: Insights into an Orthodox Christian Ecological Worldview” (Light and Life, 2nd ed. 2007), “In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers” (World Wisdom Books, 2nd revised ed. 2008), and “Diakonia: Remembering and Reclaiming the Diaconate” (Holy Cross Press, 2009). Two volumes with the full correspondence of Barsanuphius and John appeared in 2006-2007 in the “Fathers of the Church” series of Catholic University Press. He is the editor of three volumes containing the select writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Fordham University Press, 2010-2012).”