Thomas Merton once wrote… ” The Monastic life is in a certain sense scandalous. The monk is precisely a man who has no specific task. He is liberated from the routines and servitude’s of organized human activity in order to be free. Free for what? Free to see, free to praise, free to understand, free to love. This ideal is easy to describe, much more difficult to realize. Obviously, in reality, the life of a monastic community
has many tasks and even certain organised routines so that the monk, in his own little world, lives a social life like everybody else. This social life can be come complicated and overactive,and he suffers the same temptation to evasion, to meaninglessness, to bad faith, to restless agitation. But the purpose of the monastic life is to enable a man to face reality in all it’s naked, disconcerting, possibly drab and disappointing factuality, without excuses, without useless explanations, and without subterfuges. (CIWA 228)
Reflecting on the above quote, also, as a soul having been drawn to many aspects of the monastic life since adolescence; I see a path that stretches out before me, as one that has grown and transformed me profoundly through many seasons of desert and growth in an ever spiraling ” falling” and ” returning.” This seems very much the essence of the sacred pilgrimage – and indeed the monastic life as microcosm of the spiritual life – we all traverse along. I see the lay monastic journey as a deep passage of eternal awakening; a constant movement and growth of personality and soul; and in this, an unending shedding and letting go over and over again – shedding and more deeply ever surrendering our ourselves and out lives as we lean into and toward the God who calls to us; this being also very much a part of this path in life and the deep existential journey we all make, despite the very human struggles along the way. Thomas Merton sums this up when he writes: ’’a life like any other that can become complicated and overactive, subject to temptations, to evasion, bad faith, and restless agitation. ” I feel a monastic is one who – despite the very real presence of such discomfort – endeavors to remain receptive, through a spiritual rhythm and practice in a continuous turning inwards, unfurling toward the deepest heart of divine mystery, the life spark that sustains us all. In opening oneself to become as a receptive and spaciously porous vessel, we become filled with this‘’divine presence,’’ a
divine presence who births forth and sustains this life. Surrendering our heart and mind and body to the eternal and infinite out – flowing of divine mystery – opening to this breath of life within each and every holy moment and yielding to the divine spark within each experience of our lives, whether this be ” drab or disappointing,’’ or meaningless and full of temptations; yet as Thomas Merton says; ” without excuses. ”
Yes, I do also wonder if the person who embraces the monastic spirit within the world – as opposed to a life in a conventional community – is beset by more of the diversions and the challenges of cultivating this silence whilst living in the noisy and frenetic world of the temporal; I wonder too, is this just different while perhaps with a familiar essence? Yet, I do, feel there are most likely are particular and unique challenges
that a lay monastic faces while endeavouring to live this life, while in the midst of the hustle and bustle of secular society that maybe a cloistered monastic may not experience in the same way. Perhaps there is a deeper and greater need to discern the multi hued spirits or energies that abound about us more presently within the world of the secular state. Yet maybe this is a particular gift and calling for the lay monastic? And maybe one of these gifts, is in being able to ”breath in” and ”breathe out,” the treasure and depth of this spirit – and a measure of this same monastic goodness – right out into and amidst the frenzied marketplace of a supremely fractured and crazily compulsive world; a world that is deeply crying out for the harmonious beauty of silence, of soulfulness, of a personal divine longing and the quintessential presence of stillness within the dysfunctions of it’s own humanity. As we become the praying witness of compassion to the violence of unrest that exists within the psyche of society, we endeaver to manifest this same presence of simplicity and peaceful beauty within a world that has lost sight of this.
Renound spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy writes in one of his beautiful aphorisms: ” Simplicity is an advanced course”…. This I feel, also sums up the heart of our journey as aspiring lay monastics. We are also called to be this witness of simplicity, of silence, and of wholeness.
St Francis says so succinctly in his well known words: ” The world is my cloister, My body is my cell, and my soul is the hermit within.’ For the lay monastic the world becomes holy ground, the body; the vessel for the divine birthing; and the hermit, the solitude of silence; the quiet and gentle all seeing presence of stillness present and grounded within the cloister of the world.
Personally, I often wondered if God meant to call me into a traditional monastery; yet in time, and more and more while discerning alongside significant and wise companions, I have come to realize that the world is a good place as any – with divine grace and in God’s own time – to work toward becoming the monastic presence s/he calls me to be. I do feel it takes a grounded and courageously determined personality – and grace from God – to keep on keeping on walking along the long, and at times, arduous monastic road that resonates deeply within the heart of each lay monastic. No matter where this roads takes one; into aridity or in to light, we hear St Benedict when he says,” Always, we return again”…. We may fall and we may also stumble, and sometimes we may even feel completely abandoned in the morass of our own interior and outer challenges; yet each time we get up and dust ourselves off, returning again and returning again to the one whose voice we hear beneath all the changing tides of our lives. Beneath all, we hear the deep silent echoes of longing that have been planted and seeded by the divine soul who gave birth to us; and in which, we, through our spiritual attentiveness, nurture and nourish as we relinquish our humanness upon the alter of our heart. For myself, this is the essence of lay monastic spirituality. This openness and unwavering love for a God who draws me along an internal unknown and wholly mysterious and transcendent quest – ever circling, ever returning inward toward the still centre of a silent and poignant holy communion. This silence and prayerful presence of the holy monk archetype within, holds our connectedness in the ground of our inner solitude; this oneness to the breath of all life is explained when Evagrius Ponticus’ writes in his famous dictum, ” The monk is separate from all and united with all.’