Sunday, August 12, 2007

Monastery for People of No Particular Tradition

One of the books I took into the monastery was Radical Spirit. My first blog - now folded into this one - was inspired by a quote in that book, in an essay by Georg Buehler. He bemoaned the lack of monasteries for open-minded spiritual seekers of no particular tradition.

I fit the no particular tradition bill - despite a nascent and eccentric Christianity. I did not doubt my call to community - it was so tactile and overwhelming. Yet it never made sense. Why would someone like me be led into a traditional, Benedictine monastery?

Of course, it was very, very, very liberal... to a Roman Catholic. But that was hardly liberal at all to me. I had to keep reminding myself of the courage it took for Catholic sisters to make the changes they had made - a gender neutral liturgy, an ask-no-questions, open Eucharist, and an ecumenical community. (In fact, soon after they kicked me out, the local Bishop and told them, "Either be Catholic or be ecumenical. You can't be both." To the sisters' credit, they choose ecumenical.)

I wondered if the Spirit called me into the monastery to open it a little bit to something beyond the narrow "ecumenism" they'd envisioned. Then one day, a monastery for people of any (or no) tradition might grow there. A traditional community has a strength that comes from roots sunk deep in centuries of experience. Wouldn't it be great if those roots could support a new kind of monasticism that welcomed all, without any theological litmus tests?

If I had to be silent about much of my spiritual experience in the meantime, then o.k. "Prefer silence" was an important monastic directive. Besides, for someone with my total lack of background and love of history, it was fascinating to study monastic and Christian sources.

Maybe the Spirit was trying to grow a new branch from that monastery. Maybe not. Either way, the sisters were uninterested.

So there went my one shot at the easy road of traditional, monastic life in community. I'm certainly grateful for the experience, now I'm out on the MUCH harder road of monastic-in-the-world... although grief for that way of life rises up and swamps me on a regular basis.

And out here, the original question gains greater significance. Why aren't there monasteries for people of no particular religious tradition?

There seem to be a growing number of liberal, interfaith or no faith folks who are drawn to monastic community, yet can't fit into one of the traditional faiths. I've met some online, read similar musings in other blogs, and noticed a plethora of on and off line communities.

How do we go from speculation to foundation?

And how do we find the strength, not to mention the gonzo-ameliorating customs, of a traditional community - especially norms that prevent the so-easy slide into personality cult?

If you follow this label, you'll find posts on some of the issues a no-tradition monastery might face. Most are issues any monastery has that would be heightened by lack of a common Rule or Guru or whatever to set the norms. Success with that lack will mean more conscious, relationship work, more tolerance of mistakes and emotional uproar... and lots more humility.


  1. Anonymous5:19 PM

    Be Catholic or be ecumenical - you can't be both.


    Catholic means "universal" in Greek.

  2. O.k.... So what do you think about the distinction people make between little 'c' "catholic" (I guess when they mean "universal") vs big 'c' Catholic? Or, I guess I've heard people say "Roman" to mean the second...

    'Course one might note the conceit of those who called their religion 'catholic' when, if orthodox, it was exclusionary by definiton, eh?

    Growing up non-Christian, not to mention non-Catholic, all these distinctions still leave me a bit flumaxed...


  3. Oh, and, whatever you or I might think, that is pretty much the choice the sisters were given by their Bishop... 'Though shortened in paraphrase.


  4. Anonymous6:34 PM

    Check out "Companions in Spirit" on the internet. It might help you feel not quite so homeless in the monastic sense.

  5. Check out this new Traditionalist Catholic band that just released their first album.

    From what I heard on the samples site, they sound really good.

    Introducing the new Christian National Anthem: Guns & Jesus.