Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Monasticism

Sometimes someone has a good idea, and it seems like everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. See, for example, the way in which rubber wristbands raising awareness for a given charity or cause have proliferated like cancer since Lance Armstrong hit upon the idea for his Live Strong Foundation for cancer survivors back in 2003; or the way in which the Japanese Su Doku puzzle has spread across British newspapers and magazines since The Times introduced it in November 2004...

But sometimes an idea seems to have its time, and several different individuals or teams discover it independently and at much the same time. So, for example, Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird patented the telephone and the television respectively just before rival inventors did so. But this principle is not restricted to inventions, nor to a competitive context: we can probably see it in every field or discipline, and on every scale - from the worldview of whole cultures to the smallest of communities - if we should take the time to observe.

One such 'idea' whose time appears to have come is what has been termed by some New Monasticism (or even Nu Monasticism, by younger and more beautiful commentators). The term is something of a catch-all for a renewed interest in ancient Christian communities, and a determination to re-establish principles learned from them for our own time, among those engaged in mission in (in particular) a postmodern cultural context. As a member of The Order of Mission (inaugurated in 2003, but still very much in the process of becoming established), I am also aware of:

The Order of the Mustard Seed - originating in the 24-7 prayer movement, and Pete Greig's 'rediscovery' of Count Zinzendorf's 18th century Order...
the Emergent Order - grounded in the Emergent group within the wider emerging church scene (I love their generous nature, and I especially love the way their commitment to each other includes the intent to "to give one another the gift of our presence at annual gatherings whenever possible." as an expression of that nature)...
Andrew Jones (aka tallskinnykiwi) - who has his fingers in many interesting pies, and who describes himself (amongst other things) as Abbott of an emerging monastery on the Orkney Islands, and who provides other interesting links here...
Karen Ward - Abbess at the Fremont Abbey in Seattle...

I want to learn from and with these fellow New Monastics, and others like them, while recognising that God does not want to edit-out the distinctive colours he has given each of us - to make us a monochrome photograph, set to black-and-white or sepia - but to juxtapose our brightly-coloured pixels side-by-side, to create the most incredible images of his likeness and of his world for our digital age...


  1. Anonymous4:13 am

    Not so nu.

    Monastic wannabes have been around for a very long time:

    There are many places as we know, given the name of monasteries by a very foolish way of speaking, yet have none of the reality of a monastic way of life...

    It is indeed shameful to say how many places called 'monasteries' these men who are entirely ignorant of monastic life have taken under control...

    Having thus usurped for themselves small or large estates, free from both human and divine service they serve in reality only their own desires as laymen in charge of monks.

    Moreover they do not assemble real monks there, but rather wanderers who have been expelled from genuine monasteries for the sin of disobedience, or whoever they may have enticed out of them, or any of their own followers whom they can persuade to receive tonsure and promise monastic obedience to themselves...

    Moreover, they obtain with similar audacity places for their wives, as they say, to build 'monasteries': as these are laywomen they authorize themselves to be rulers of the handmaids of Christ.

    To all these people the popular proverb applies: 'Wasps can indeed make honeycomb but they fill it with poison, not honey'...

    Thus by a perverse state of affairs many are found who call themselves 'abbots'...

    ...although as laymen they could have learnt something about monastic life by hearsay if not be experience, yet they are complete strangers to the character and profession which should teach it.

    Indeed these people suddenly as you know, receive tonsure at their own pleasure and by their judgement instantly become not monks but abbots.

    Because they clearly have neither the knowledge nor the zeal for monastic virtues, what more can be appropriate to them than the curse of the gospel where it is said: 'If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit?'"


    The Venerable Bede (8th Century),
    Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin 1990), pp. 344-346)


    Still, it's kind of cute that some people haven't outgrown the childish impulse to play "dress-up" and "let's pretend."

  2. crikey I think the Venerable Bede is being a bit harsh.. and it can't be directly applied to the 'nu-monastic' movement since it sounds like those who were founding monasteries way back then were doing it for the status and power, rather than trying to get at the spiritual heart of what monasticism is about, which is what seems to be happening now... anyhow i thought i might point you in the direction of my friend Matt's post (http://lostempireslivingtribes.blogspot.com/2005/05/what-does-monastery-have-to-tell-us.html)on exactly this subject and how his thoughts are playing out in contrasting our practice to that of 'real' monks...

  3. anonymous - I have no problem with anyone choosing to disagree with my opinions, or even posting their views on my site - but I do not like people hiding behind "anonymous" to do so. (I think I recognise your style from another blog site anyway...)

    Moreover, by also hiding behind Bede, I sense not your great learning but that you aren't speaking out of any understanding of what I'm writing about. And as you are clearly hostile, as opposed to open to understand what you may still choose to disagree with at the end of the day, I'd appreciate it if you didn't post on my blog again. Thank you.

  4. Naomi - hiya! How's life down there in Oxford? (I see you're reading blogs more often than posting on your own at the moment!)

    Thanks for pointing us to Matt's post. "The Monastery" has been a fantastic mini-series. I haven't blogged about it (several other people have), but if anyone missed it and can get hold of copies, it is well worth a look - as is the accompanying website over at http://www.worthabbey.net/bbc/index.html

  5. You may also be interested in Monkfish Abbey, whose abbess Rachelle Mee-Chapman spoke at the Emergent Convention and is a friend (I think) of Karen Ward.

    Rachelle's talk at EC was really interesting, and I will be responding to it on my blog sometime in the next couple weeks, as well as posting the audio file. I'll try to remember to stop back in and let you know when I do.

  6. Scott - thanks! I'll look forward to hearing from you.

  7. Anonymous6:20 pm

    I'm very curious about this "New Monasticism" that seems to have emerged from the Emerging/Emergent Church.

    There seems to be a movement coalescing around some guy called Count Zinzendorf and "The Order of the Mustard Seed" as if Count Z has the keys to the kingdom of "nu monasticism" and "intentional community."

    Can it be that The New Monastics have EMERGED as born-again Zinzendorfians?

    This uncritical acceptance of Zinzendorf's teachings does not bode well for The New Monasticism.

    Has anyone actually checked out what Count Z actually believed?

    For instance, here is an explanation of his teaching on the Holy Spirit from www.zinzendorf.com:

    Zinzendorf explicated his doctrine of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming that she is a mother in three distinct ways.

    First, it was the Spirit, not Mary, who was the true mother of Jesus, since she "prepared him in the womb, hovered over him, and finally brought him into the light. She [the Spirit] gave him [Jesus] certainly into the arms of his mother, but with invisible hands carried him more than his mother did."

    Second, the Spirit is the mother of all living things because she has a special role in the on-going creation of the world. "It is known that the Holy Spirit brings everything to life, and when the man was made from a clump of earth ... the Holy Spirit was very close through the breathing of the breath of God into the man." Thus, the Holy Spirit is the mother of all living souls in a general way.

    The Holy Spirit is also the Mother in a third and most important sense. She is the Mother of the church and all those who have been reborn. "The Holy Spirit is the only Mother of those souls who have been once born out of the side hole of Jesus, as the true womb of all blessed souls."

    Zinzendorf bases this understanding of the Spirit giving birth to converted souls in large part on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, not from his mother’s womb, but from God. Nicodemus knew that we are born from a mother, not a father, but he did not know who this mother was.

    Zinzendorf has Jesus reply, "There is another Mother, not the one who physically gave you birth, that one doesn’t matter: you must have another Mother who will give you birth."

    Ultimately, then, the Holy Spirit is the Mother of the Christian in the sense that she is the active agent in conversion. Human actors are only agents of the Holy Spirit, and in some cases are not even necessary for conversion.

    "I could not speak about it [the Holy Spirit], since I did not know how I should define it. I simply believed that she is the third person of the Godhead, but I could not say how this was properly so. Instead I thought of her abstractly. ... The Holy Spirit had known me well, but I did not know her before the year 1738. That is why I carefully avoided entering in the matter until the Mother Office of the Holy Spirit had been so clearly opened up for me."

    "God [Christ] is even our dear husband, his Father is our dear Father, and the Holy Spirit is our dear Mother, with that we are finished, with that the family-idea, the oldest, the simplest, the most respectable, the most endearing idea among all human ideas, the true biblical idea, is established with us in the application of the holy Trinity, for no one is nearer to one than Father, Mother, and Husband."

    "When the dear Savior at the end of his life wanted to comfort his disciples (at that time the language was not as rich as ours is); by that time the Savior, who was a very great bible student, had doubtlessly read the verse in the Bible "I will comfort you as a mother comforts one." Then the dear Savior thought, "If I should say to my disciples that I am going away, then I must give them some comfort. I must say to them that they will receive someone who will comfort them over my departure. It will not be strange to them, for they have already read it in the Bible. ...There it reads, they shall have a Mother: "I will leave you my Spirit." Now no theologian is irritated if the word comfort is taken out of the passage and applied to the Holy Spirit, for they call her the Comforter. But if we take out the word Mother and signify it to the Holy Spirit, then people are opposed to it. I can find no cause for such bickering and arbitrariness, and therefore I pay no attention to it. For if the activity in a passage is proper to the Holy Spirit, then the title also goes to the Holy Spirit."

  8. Anonymous6:59 pm

    Will "New Liturgy" follow Zinzendorfian "New Monasticism?"

    Excerpt from the book review of:

    Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem. By Craig D. Atwood . Max Kadeb German-American Research Institute Series. (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 283. $37.50.)

    Reviewed by Katherine Carté Engel , Texas A&M University

    Christ's humanity, divinity, and above all his body, blood, and wounds stood at the center of this emotional religion , providing the means through which eighteenth-century Moravians worshiped and came to know the divine. "Swimming in the blood of Christ was not a morbid image for Zinzendorf but an expression of the soul's desire for eternal life in Christ" , Atwood tells us, and Christ's blood thus provided the Brüdergemeine with an intimate and joyful connection to its savior. Furthermore, over and above the contemplation of Christ's suffering that was the responsibility of all Christians, Zinzendorf believed individuals also experienced their savior intimately through metaphorical physical communion: men through the blessing of having the same form that God himself had taken on earth and women through the sexual union that form enabled. "For Zinzendorf 's followers," Atwood explains, "sexual intercourse was a LITURGY in which the woman plays the Gemeine [community] and the man Christ".

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  10. Anonymous - I'm really not that interested in Count Zinzindorf; nor do I think that when Christians seek to learn from those who have gone before that this amounts to a total endorsement of everything said and non-critical idolatory of everything done. Would one dismiss the entire Wesleyan Revival just because Wesley had a difficult relationship with his wife, or even because his understanding of the things of God - like everyone's understanding this side of heaven - was inevitably partial?

    Your comments do not amount to a helpful critique. I hope that you may grow up to be more wise in your observations, and more gracious in how you offer them to others - as indeed I hope these things for myself. I have already asked you not to post on my blog, and as you have chosen not to respect that request, I shall simply delete any further comments you post here.

  11. I've posted that recap of Rachelle Mee-Chapman's talk at EC. You can find it at this URL: http://sjaustin.blogspot.com/2005/06/emergent-convention-seminar-urban.html

    Hope it's helpful. I don't necessarily endorse everything they do at Monkfish Abbey, but I do greatly admire their approach, not to mention their guts.

    All are welcome to comment on the post.


  12. Scott - thankyou for taking the time to write this up, and for coming back on my blog to let us know when you'd done it!
    With appreciation,