Monkish Attraction

A monkish attraction?  Some would definitely consider that to be sick!  But I admit that it is something I suffer…well not actually suffer, more like delight.  This is an acquired attraction.  Growing up in rural Indiana as a young Quaker I never heard about monks, certainly did not know any monks, and was completely free of any taint of monkish attraction.  But you know what they say: “when they leave the farm….”

I suppose I read something about monks when I took some European history class in college or, perhaps, high school.  But it made no impression.  The first clear memory of encountering monks in literature would have been a history of Christianity course in college.  But again, there was little or no impression. 

I am confident my vulnerability to this monkish attraction came with my own spiritual search.  In those transitional years of college, I began the move from interest in knowledge “about God” to knowledge “of God.”  I began the exploration of my own spirituality.  I did not have much language to describe the spiritual searching process, but the desire to explore goes deeper than language.  I was on a quest…still am!

So I began to want to know about the experience of people who went before me.  What was their journey like?  How did they experience the “work of the Spirit” in their hearts and on their lives?  How did their desire translate into spiritual discipline and that discipline develop depth in their spiritual lives?  How did meaning supplant misery?

It is possible to read a lot of theology or philosophy and completely avoid the monkish attraction.  But if one wants to go for experience instead of just head-knowledge, It can be said, I suppose, that all roads lead back to the Christian bible---the Old and New Testaments.  But surely one of the most important and early stops on that road is the literature of the monks---those early holy women and men. 

In the late 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries these folks chose to be counter-cultural.  They said “no” to the Roman Empire and usually moved into the desert of Egypt or Syria---literally marginal people who were living on the boundary between civilization and chaos.  There they became students of the Spirit.

We are lucky to have significant writings from that period.  Normally, it comes as one-liners, short pithy sayings which could be memorized and passed on to newer ones who opted for counter-cultural, too.

The themes are quite basic: obedience, non-judgmental, compassion, humility, etc.  But these are tried and true.  If you or I want to become students of the Spirit, probably some of these themes will need to be incorporated in our lives.  And if they are, we, too, likely will become slightly counter-cultural.  It is difficult to be an authentic monk and a normal American!

Let’s take one saying as an example.  Poemen was one of the famous early monks.  No doubt, he was asked, “what are the works of the soul?”  He answered: “To be on guard, to meditate within, to judge with discernment: these are the three works of the soul.”

Easy, eh?  Be on guard: watch out for the temptation to be suckered into any and all things non-spiritual.  Meditate within: ruminate on the Spirit of God at work in yourself and in others.  Judge with discernment: learn to look deeply into things to know God’s desire for you…and then do that.  This all seems so true to me.

But that is because I am afflicted with a monkish attraction!

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