Bernard Bangley “A Little Daily Wisdom from the Early Church” [Paraclete Press, 2014]
“By the fourth century, many ordinary men and women with a strong spiritual awareness retreated to the desert following Christ’s example. These early Christians around the Mediterranean became known as Desert Fathers and Mothers. They preferred long hours of solitude and quiet but they still accepted visitors and people wrote down the things they said. “A Little Daily Wisdom from the Early Church” gathers the best of these sayings and anecdotes, expressing it in clear, modern English. With brief daily meditations throughout a year, we can experience spiritual nurturing from the Desert Fathers and Mothers in our own quiet corner of this busy world.”
Archive for December, 2014
Bernard Bangley “A Little Daily Wisdom from the Early Church” [Paraclete Press, 2014]
““Walking It Off” was the title Doug Peacock gave to his 2005 book about returning home from the trauma of the Vietnam War. The only solace the broken Army medic could find was hiking the Montana wilderness in the company of grizzly bears. Wild places proved strangely healing — echoing a wounded wilderness within.
Cheryl Strayed sought a similar remedy in her decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone in 1995. Her mother had just died of cancer. Her marriage had collapsed. She’d been seeking escape (and self-punishment?) in heroin and random sex. Nothing worked for her. A thousand-mile trek on the desert and mountain trails of California and Oregon suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Her book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” (2012), has now been made into a film by director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”). Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed in the movie. Laura Dern is her mother. The film version of a book is seldom as good as the original, but in this case both are effective in reminding us that “mistakes are the portals of discovery,” as James Joyce once said.
Wilderness wandering — with its blisters, missed trails, and soggy sleeping bags — teaches this truth with supreme artistry. With its endless opportunities for fucking up (as Cheryl would say), it mirrors a lifetime of failure for one’s regretful review. It forces us to find resources we never knew we had.
As she impulsively hits the trail, Strayed commits all the sins that backpackers try to avoid: Packing far more than she needs, wearing boots that are too small and not broken in, sleeping in bear country with food in her tent, forgetting that a gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds (when you need considerably more than a gallon a day on desert trails). All these are necessary mistakes, as are all the mistakes in our lives. We won’t get to where we finally need to go without making mistakes.
That’s why wilderness backpacking can serve, in so many ways, as a spiritual practice. It teaches the importance of paying attention, traveling light, savoring beauty, and not wasting your time blaming yourself over what can’t be fixed. “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right,” says Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr. The mistakes that Cheryl Strayed makes on the trail — and her ability to survive them, with the help of others — suggest the possibility of her finding healing for the larger mistakes she’s made in her life.
The wilderness is her teacher. Its combination of astonishing beauty and uncaring indifference prove as healing as they are unnerving. She’s been wholly absorbed in the intensity of her own pain and anger. But the desert doesn’t give a shit. Its habit of ignoring all that bothers her is curiously freeing, inviting her outside of herself. She’s able to imagine new possibilities by the time she reaches the end of the trail at the Bridge of the Gods. As Andrew Harvey says, “We are saved in the end by the things that ignore us.” All Cheryl Strayed has to do is walk for miles, “with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets.”
“You can quit any time,” she keeps telling herself. But she’s already been quitting too many things in her life. Something in the wild feeds her soul, enabling her to go on. She had started with a desire to “walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.” Walking back into her family roots was important. But even more important, and a gift she finally receives in the end, is walking her way back beyond all the mistakes she has made. “What if I were to forgive myself?” she asks at one point on the trail. And, on even deeper reflection, “What if all those things I did were what got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?” In the end she’s able to review the agonizing memories of her life and regret nothing, letting it all pour out into widening canyons beyond the trail.
That’s the ability of wilderness to absorb and heal pain. It’s been attested to by wilderness saints throughout the centuries. From the Desert Fathers and Mothers to Hildegard of Bingen to John Muir, they discovered a wild glory, a disarming indifference, and an uncommon grace that brought them to life in a new way. “Empty yourself of everything,” wrote Lao-tzu in the “Tao Te Ching”. “Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.” Wilderness, as Cheryl Strayed learned, is one of the best places for doing this.”
Belden C. Lane “Wilderness and redemption in Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild’” at http://blog.oup.com/2014/12/wilderness-redemption-cheryl-strayed-wild/
Belden C. Lane is the author of “Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice”(Oxford University Press, 2014).
He is a Professor of Theological Studies, American Religion, and History of Spirituality at Saint Louis University. Lane has written a number of books, including “Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality” and “Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality”.
Belden C. Lane “Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice” [Oxford University Press, 2014]
Doug Peacock “Walking It Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness” [Ewu Press, 2005]
Cheryl Strayed “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” [Vintage Books, 2013] See further:
“The desert is anyplace where we go to find ourselves.
Thomas Merton writes: “The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself – that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent on no one but God.” (From “Thoughts in Solitude”)
The desert was once thought of as the dwelling place of the devil, the place where the insane would wander in delusion.
“Thirst drives a man mad and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence – lost because he has immured himself in it and closed out everything else.” (From “Thoughts in Solitude”)
Entering the desert is the only place we find ourselves, because nothing else is there.
“The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit.” (From “Thoughts in Solitude”)
People wandering in the desert die, not because of the desert itself, but because they fail to recognize that the desert will provide them nothing to sustain them. Even those who think they are prepared often find out that they are wrong. For life in the desert is not given – it is earned. It is a life of effort and cooperation between the person and God.
Our desert is no longer the wilderness, but the life of despair, struggle and fear that is our modern life. This we must wander into, face down and not give in to. It is only in confronting life in this way, struggling against our foes in our own desert that we participate in the grace of God.”
Re-Monking the Church
A New monasticism
From “Christian History & Biography”:
Many Catholics and Protestants are looking back to Benedict for the community and spiritual intensity they can’t find in modern culture.
Chris Armstrong January 1, 2007
“Christians struggling for sanctity in a too-comfortable world should pay attention to this observation by Mark Noll: “For over a millennium, in the centuries between the reign of Constantine and the Protestant Reformation, almost everything in the church that approached the highest, noblest, and truest ideals of the gospel was done either by those who had chosen the monastic way or by those who had been inspired in their Christian life by the monks.” Can Western monasticism’s “father,” Benedict, still give us an antidote to cultural compromise?
At first blush, this might seem unlikely, at least in the Western church. Between 1978 and 2004—nearly the entire span of John Paul II’s pontificate—the number of men in monastic and religious orders (not including priests) decreased by 46% in Europe and 30% in the Americas, while the number of women decreased by 39% and 27%, respectively. Compare this to the trend in the global South: During the same period, men in monastic and religious orders increased by 48% in Africa and 39% in Asia, with women increasing on those two continents by 62% and 64%.
A number of the Catholic writers in the 2006 volume “A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century” frankly wonder if “monasticism as we know it” is, in God’s providential plan, destined for obsolescence in the West. Yet most suggest that new and powerful forms of the monastic impulse may even now be arising.
This is certainly the impression given by the 21st annual Monastic Institute, held in July 2006 at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. There, Catholic Benedictines and members of established communities such as L’Arche and the Catholic Worker Movement joined with leaders of new Protestant communities with names like the Simple Way (Pennsylvania), Rutba House (North Carolina), and the Church of the Servant King (Oregon) to mine the riches of Benedict’s Rule. This strikingly diverse group—50% Catholic, 50% Protestant—discussed the topic of “new communities” with high hopes that, indeed, God is still in the monastic impulse.
Many signs buoy this hope. Even in the midst of declining numbers, Benedictine monasticism is still thriving on a wide spectrum from the modernized (seen at places like St. John’s) to the traditional. In 2000, American monks re-established a Benedictine monastic community in Benedict’s Italian hometown of Nursia, now called Norcia. American Catholic monasticism has seen new life from an unexpected quarter: young men committing themselves to a very traditional form of Benedictine monasticism at the recently founded Clear Creek Monastery near Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Clear Creek Monastery: http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/
Clear Creek’s monks celebrate the Latin Mass, cultivate Gregorian chant, and practice not only the gospel demands of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also the distinctly Benedictine gift of hospitality. Many Americans, struck anew with the yearning for holy community rooted deep in the church’s history, have come to visit—and a few to stay.
But what if someone does not desire—or does not sense God’s call—to make the lifelong vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience required of monastics? Do the spiritual resources of the monastic tradition have anything to offer to the person who has made commitments to spouse and family, or is pursuing a secular vocation? History gives a resounding “yes.” After all, monasticism was never intended to encompass a different set of spiritual values than those followed by all Christians. It offered a means of living the Christian life with more single-minded intensity.
For nearly a millennium, there have been people (one might call them “monastic groupies”) who have connected themselves to a monastery in a less formal way, committing to certain spiritual disciplines while remaining in the world. The option of becoming a monastic associate or oblate has enjoyed a recent surge of popularity as both Catholics and Protestants have sought in monastic spirituality something they feel is missing in their own lives.
Also more numerous within the Catholic fold—and arguably no less in the spirit of Benedict himself—are members of a cornucopia of mission-driven “ecclesial communities”, such as the Christian Life Movement, Chemin Neuf (A New Way), and the Emmanuel Community.
Chemin Neuf http://www.ccr.org.uk/archive/gn0705/g06.htm
In June 2006, the same month that the Monastic Institute met in Minnesota, Pope Benedict XVI met with over 100 new ecclesial groups in St. Peter’s Square.
Each is committed to following a disciplined pattern of life—some communally and some in the regular spheres of family and work—and to serving the world in its own way. Many include married couples along with priests and individuals who have taken vows of celibacy and poverty. Though the ecclesial communities are not deliberately “monastic,” they are meeting needs that in previous centuries could only have been met by joining a monastery.
Many of us yearn to be deeply rooted in Christ in a way that reflects his holiness, and to share this rooted, holy life with a community, but we find this hard to do in the modern West. Our culture pushes us to strive for individual fulfillment, to consume more and more, and to spend much of our lives working to pay for that consumption. The result has been a world of constant mobility, alienation, and loneliness. Quasi-monastic movements like the Catholic ecclesial communities reveal a deep desire for connectedness—a sense that we need to live a regular, disciplined life of devotion to God, and that we can’t do it alone.
In Protestant circles, this monastic impulse can be seen especially in the phenomenon of “intentional communities”. Among these, the self-described “new monastics” have taken their cue from philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. In his influential 1981 book “After Virtue”, MacIntyre compared the state of the West to the decadence of the late Roman Empire, and called for “another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.” In 1998 Jonathan R. Wilson picked up MacIntyre’s ideas and put them into more explicitly Christian form in “Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World”.
He fleshed out a call for a “new monasticism” that would allow the church to truly be the church in this troubling, fragmented age.
In a time when, it seems to Wilson and the new monastics, “many parts of the church are sinking with the culture and doing so without any resistance,” Benedict’s wisdom has again become a fount of inspiration and guidance. In “School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism” (which emerged from a 2004 meeting of “new monastic” communities) leaders concluded that at least some Christians must engage in some form of separation—not only from the “culture at large,” but also from the increasingly compromised church—to model a life of true devotion and obedience to Christ.
But historically, of course, monastics have not stopped at separation—nor do these “new monastics.” Benedict founded a monastic way in which hospitality to the stranger and the needy is a prophetic witness to the world. Thus these new quasi-monastic communities have dedicated themselves not only to contemplative disciplines and submission to a communal rule, but also to solidarity with the poor, racial reconciliation, and peacemaking.
One Protestant who attended the St. John meeting, Bethel Seminary graduate Jan Bros, was driven by the difficulty she experienced pursuing true spiritual formation in her old megachurch to start a new monastic community in Minneapolis called Abbey Way, founded on Benedictine principles. When Bros asked a Benedictine sister what she thought of Protestants seeking to start such communities, to her delight the nun replied, “Benedict would approve.”
Abbey Way: http://abbeyway.org/exgelumuk9fviaxrnxv986iznw9ltz
Even in the midst of such celebration, members of new communities, both Catholic and Protestant, are aware that the current love affair with monastic forms of worship and life can amount to another unhelpful “fad” as people run after books and retreats. A few candles and a few chanted prayers do not a prophetic community make.
Church of the Servant King’s Jon Stock says, “It’s awful hard for us Westerners not to approach Benedict as another technique, another consumable, another path to self-actualization.” Stock also admits that the new monasticism, focused as it often is on social activism, can lose its connection to the larger church and to worship practices anchored in the church—a concern shared by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Asbury Seminary’s Christine Pohl admits that Benedict’s four pillars—”life under a rule, life lived in commitment to a particular people and place, obedience, and ongoing conversion”—present a challenge to modern Western Christians, with our “wariness of vows and commitments, and our individualistic and mobile lifestyles.”
Time will tell whether the “new monastic” communities will survive, whether the traditional Benedictine monasteries will continue to thrive, and what new forms of counter-cultural, prayerful, prophetic community will arise to inspire Christians and shake the culture. But for now, the future of Benedict seems as bright as his past.”
Chris Armstrong is Associate Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary and a senior editor of “Christian History & Biography”. The author thanks Dennis Martin for his guidance on the current state of Roman Catholic monasticism.
Patrick Hart OCSO (Editor) “A Monastic Vision For The Twenty-First Century: Where Do We Go From Here?” (Monastic Wisdom Series) [Cistercian, 2006]
Alasdair MacIntyre “After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory” Third Edition [University of Notre Dame Press, 2007]
Rutba House “School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism” (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship) [Wipf & Stock Pub, 2005]
Jonathan R. Wilson “Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: Lessons for the Church from MacIntyre’s “After Virtue”” (Christian Mission and Modern Culture) [T&T Clark, 1998]
Patrick Hart OCSO (Editor) “A Monastic Vision For The Twenty-First Century: Where Do We Go From Here?” (Monastic Wisdom Series), [Cistercian, 2006]
An ancient lifestyle which has been adapted, renewed, and is still being followed today, monasticism appears to some outside it as a quaint anachronism and to others as the sanest of all ways of living. Can it survive in the post post-modern world? A dozen insiders and outsiders ‘monastics, academics, clergy, laypersons, hermits, cenobites, poets, and writers ‘offer their reflections on the future of the monastic life of prayer and community.
“Christian monasticism has entered its third millennium, and some wonder what is going to happen to it. This book, edited by Br. Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O., is a collection of essays by those living the monastic life in the Cistercian and Benedictine orders and those who are very familiar with monasticism. Most of the authors are Roman Catholics, but essays were also requested from some Protestant authors like Kathleen Norris and Bonnie Thurston, adding an interesting twist to the collection.
Some authors suggest that monasteries might experiment with the idea of allowing men or women to live with them for a few years and then move on in their lives, something similar to what occurs in Buddhist monasticism. Others suggest that some monasteries may become double monasteries where there are men and women, but of course separated in proper ways. The vow of celibacy is really not an issue to be done away with, since celibacy or chastity is an important part of the monastic life.
Several authors say that true monastic witness is important for the Church and for the world. This witness is counter-cultural, but it should be real and not fake; people can see through a fake witness. So it is that essayists encourage monastic men and women to live up to their calling; the world is hungry for spirituality, and it must be taught authentically, not in a commercial-like way. Monks and nuns should not give in to the world and use slogans to recruit new members or people to attend their retreats or guest houses. This is part of being counter-cultural and not commercializing spirituality or the monastic life.
Monastic membership rolls will not be large except in Africa and Asia, where Christianity is growing. The authors agree that monasticism will survive but adapt to the times and places where it is lived, as it ever has throughout time. This may require reformers or charismatic leaders to move a monastic community forward instead of letting it stagnate and die. The consensus that monasticism will be present in the Church as long as God wishes it to be a living part of the Church.
“A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century” is highly recommended to those interested in the future of Benedictine and Cistercian monasticism. The authors of the collected essays include
• Dr. Bonnie Thurston, an ordained Protestant minister and professor of scripture who did her dissertation on Thomas Merton and currently lives the life of a hermit.
• Fr. Michael Casey, O.C.S.O., a Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia, is a well-known author of books and articles on monasticism and is a much sought-after lecturer and retreat master.
• Kathleen Norris is the author of the book “Cloister Walk” (1996) and other books and is a Protestant oblate of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota.
• Fr. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk of Assumption Abbey, North Dakota, editor of the “American Benedictine Review”, and author of books and articles on monasticism.
• Dr. Lawrence S. Cunningham is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame who has written and lectured on monasticism.
• Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., a Benedictine sister from Erie, Pennsylvania, was prioress of her community and has written several books and articles on monasticism and other topics.
• Bishop Robert Morneau is an auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay and has written articles and books on spirituality and given retreats to monastic communities.
• Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, O.C.S.O. is the former abbot of the Genesee Abbey in New York and superior of a monastery in the Philippines.
• Abbess Gail Fitzpatrick, O.C.S.O., is the abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Iowa and is the author of “Seasons of Grace” (2000).
• Abbot Francis Kline, O.C.S.O., the late abbot of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, authored “Lovers of the Place” (1997).
• Fr. Daniel P. Coughlin, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, has written articles on liturgy, prayer, and spirituality.
• Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B., is a Benedictine sister of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she was prioress from 1985 to 1993. She is the executive director of the Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue and the author of “Thoughts Matter”, “Tools Matter”, “Humility Matters” and “Islam Is”.
• Sr. Miriam Pollard, O.C.S.O., is the prioress of Santa Rita Abbey in Sonoita, Arizona, and the author of many books, articles and poems.
• Br. Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O., edited this collection essays. He is a monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky who has been involved with Cistercian Publications and is now the general editor of the Monastic Wisdom Series published by Liturgical Press in concert with Cistercian Publications.
• Abbot Bernardo Oliveral, O.C.S.O. is the abbot general of the Cistercians and wrote the introduction to “A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century”.
Jitse Dijkstra and Mathilde van Dijk (Eds) “The Encroaching Desert: Egyptian.Hagiography and the Medieval West”
This volume presents a series of case studies concerning the use and reuse of Egyptian hagiography in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The first three contributions analyze the use of Egyptian hagiography in the context of late antique Egypt and, in particular, examine to what extent these texts can be used as historical sources for the reconstruction of traditional (“pagan”) religion. The other contributions illustrate the different contexts in which Egyptian hagiography was reused in the medieval West. The book is an important contribution to the current debate about the usefulness of Egyptian hagiography as a historical source for late antique Egypt and to the study of the reception of the desert fathers in the medieval West.
Contributors include: Lynda L. Coon, Mathilde van Dijk, Jitse H.F. Dijkstra, David Frankfurter, Conrad Leyser, Peter van Minnen, Claudia Rapp, Bert Roest, Eric L. Saak, Gabriela Signori, and Jacques van der Vliet.
Table of contents
“Introduction: The Encroaching Desert”, Jitse H.F. Dijkstra and Mathilde van Dijk
“Hagiography and the Reconstruction of Local Religion in Late Antique Egypt: Memories, Inventions, and Landscapes”, David Frankfurter
“Bringing Home the Homeless: Landscape and History in Egyptian Hagiography”, Jacques van der Vliet
“Saving History? Egyptian Hagiography in Its Space and Time”, Peter van Minnen
“Desert, City, and Countryside in the Early Christian Imagination”, Claudia Rapp
“The Uses of the Desert in the Sixth-Century West”, Conrad Leyser
“Collecting the Desert in the Carolingian West”, Lynda L. Coon
“The Franciscan Hermit: Seeker, Prisoner, Refugee”, Bert Roest
“Ex vita patrum formatur vita fratrum: The Appropriation of the Desert Fathers in the Augustinian Monasticism of the Later Middle Ages”, Eric L. Saak
“Nikolaus of Flüe († 1487): Physiognomies of a Late Medieval Ascetic”, Gabriela Signori
“Disciples of the Deep Desert: Windesheim Biographers and the Imitation of the Desert Fathers”, Mathilde van Dijk
Bert Roest “The Franciscan Hermit: Seeker, Prisoner, Refugee” “Church History and Religious Culture”, Volume 86, Issue 1 (2006), pages 163 – 189
“This article claims that the initial religious aspirations of the Friars Minor were heavily indebted to eremitical ideals, and that these ideals were never totally forgotten, notwithstanding the quick transformation of the Franciscan movement into an order of professional priests and theologians. The article sketches first of all the eremitical roots of the early Franciscan life. Then it covers the representation of early Franciscan hermitages and the eremitical life in the “Vitae” of Francis, pointing out specific parallels with Athanasius’s “Life of Antony”. Subsequently, it analyses Francis’s conception of the eremitical life according to his “Regula pro eremitoriis data”. It closes with a review of the ways in which eremitical traditions were retained, both as formative elements in the Franciscan handbooks of religious instruction, and as statements of protest and escape from dominant developments within the Order.”
See “St. Francis of Assisi’s ‘Rule for Hermitages’”: http://www.hermitary.com/articles/francis.html