By Fr. Rafael, OES
New Monasticism - Spirituality and Prayer
My friends, centuries ago the tolling bells of a monastery called its inhabitants to prayer and to
follow a rhythm of life. For centuries monastic life was lived only within the confines of the walls of monasteries and monastics experience a sacred seclusion from all worldly troubles.
This made things easy and simple...the bells marked the times when monastics will work, study, and pray. Much of life in a monastery was simple and filled with opportunities to become more, to be more, to be united with the divine. Today we have another type of monastics. The bells keep tolling yet they do so internally, some actually have bells, but most live in simple seclusion in cities...in farms...in regular neighborhoods. Monastics have change to create a monastic tradition that goes beyond the walls, a monastery without walls, in many ways a monastery of the heart.
The Rhythm of Life, which is essential to every monastic practice still is observed today in many ways, shapes and forms. Some choose to follow old proven and tested monastic rules, others write their own and yet some use one of the book traditions as their rule (The Bible, the Qur'an, the Vedas, the Mahayana Sutras, the Book of Shadows..and other written texts).
Traditional monasticism is still alive and in many ways flourishing. However, there is the emergence of the New monasticism, one without the enclosure, one that follows the Gospel (or whichever tradition your follow) much more closely as at times traditional monastic life was more about the Rule than the Gospel.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1935…”The restoration of the church will surely come only from a
new kind of monasticism which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of
uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ.” This implies that our work is great as we are called to restore the Church, to transform people’s lives as they see the transformation on our own. That transformation, that process of constant flux is what creates our spirituality. We may adhere to many different traditions, to many different calls...but we all have a spiritual path.
As monastics, our spiritual life is the essential component of whom we are, it is the root of whom we are and what we do. Some of us embrace different styles of spiritualities from Franciscan to Charismatic, from the Sanātana Dharma to Vedic traditions and so forth. We are simple called to follow a path that will lead us to the Divine.
From my little corner of the world, I see new monastic spirituality as simple and not over inundated with stuff and fluff. My dear Brother Roger of Taize called his monks to “the simplification of their lives” which included spirituality and prayer. He believed that the Christian Church has become too complicated with its liturgies and prayer and we need to bring it down to only what is necessary. As hermits, we choose a simple life, we choose to be simple and to live simply thus our spirituality ought not to be too complicated. Nature is a great example, we can meditate on the beauty of nature and it will lead us to its creator. A flower is much more than just a flower, is an extension of the Divine wisdom that created it.
Our prayer is also not to be too complicated, many traditions have sophisticated prayer forms, but we are to choose what is simple and what is doable. The over multiplication of symbols confuses the mind and creates unrest in our souls. We are to choose simple symbols that have meaning and significance to us. For example, if in our prayer altar we have ten crosses, five statues of saints, 3 buddhas and five bells...we are overcomplicating things. Try instead to have, one simple icon with a few candles and incense and flowers (or plants)...that will bring your soul to the divine and not confuse or overstimulate your brain.
Prayer also needs to be simple and I recommend to set a time for prayer as to create a habit. The Liturgy of the Hours of the Church can be a great source of inspiration and I highly recommend them for your prayer routines. Prayer is the source of our strength and is the guide to our lives.
Whichever faith tradition you might profess, prayer is essential to our spiritual growth. As monastics our lives ought to revolve around prayer, sometimes the activities of our daily lives
can overwhelm us and on occasions we may not find time to pray. But what is prayer, prayer is
communication, prayer is us talking to the divine. There are many definitions of prayer and of
contemplation, but I think the following illustrate it best: “ regular prayer is like a couple where one talks and the other listens, the spent years with only one talking, that we call verbal prayer.
Meditation is like when a couple have been a few years together and one leaves, the other will
think about the beloved. But when the couple have been together for many many years and they simply sit together, that is contemplation.” Thus contemplative prayer is a relationship with the divine, is knowing that divine’s presence that transforms us.
In conclusion, our spirituality needs not to be complicated and over elaborated, we are called to be simple people. Our prayer needs to be constant, as we are called to be constantly aware of the presence of the divine. When we feel like giving up, pray...when we feel like no one cares, pray, when we feel like there is nothing to pray for, pray…!!
Much love, peace and blessings to all,
Fr. Rafael, O.E.S.
Reflections from the monks and nuns of OES.