There is a definite picture that pops up in my head when someone refers to a monk. Maybe you have one too. It could be something like this…
And if you have a good sense of humor, definitely this…
Click Link for Video -> Monty Python Monks Chanting
For most of us the idea of living the monastic life is a joke. We have some preconceived notion of what it would be like to separate ourselves completely from the world like a monk or nun. These ideas include praying 24 hours a day, having no friends or family, and being completely isolated from reality at large; which frankly, are quite wrong. While there is a distinct separation from technology and many other “things” we use, the monk life is something you and I can learn a lot from.
We all need Community
The monastic life is referred to as coenobium, or, the common life. Coenobium is also a biological term for a colony. There are no individual cells, but like in Gestalt philosophy, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Each monk is dependent on his community, and the community is dependent on the individual monk. Can you imagine living life without others? It just doesn’t work out, right?! Tom Hanks’ “Castaway” is a perfect example of man’s dependence on people, so much so that Hanks’ character creates a friend from a volleyball to diminish his souls’ need for relationship. Cenobitic monasticism stresses community, not the singular hermit life.
We all need to Listen
It’s been said a thousand times, which is ironic, and will be said thousands of times more, “You have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Greek philosopher Epictetus said that two thousand years ago and it is truer now than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging give us all a platform to celebrate and rant on for the whole world to read. To listen means more than hearing, it means being attentive to the needs of others. When you listen to others you become aware of their dreams, hopes, desires, and, more often than not, their problems. Listening may also mean unplugging, leaving the technology at home and taking a walk. The small step taken in listening will be a large step in improving our relationships.
We all need Balance
The stereotypes given to monks being what they are, I was surprised to learn of the incredible balance given to their lifestyle. They are involved in five activities – prayer, work, rest, study and eating – which St. Benedict Rule requires be done in “proper measure” (RB 48.9). To live an unbalanced life in one area will result in error on another front. To live the balanced life provides adequate time to address the needs of yourself and your community. There have been times in my life when I have misplaced my priorities and tipped the scales much too far in one direction. The result was often, if not always, a negative result in the opposite area. If I rest too much the work piles up. If I work too much my spirit becomes hardened towards others. Balance comes in all areas. As the Book of Ecclesiastes 3 states, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. Time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.” Balance brings time for everything.
And we all need to Eat, Drink, and be Merry
St. Benedict, at a glance, can look like an imposing dictator to his followers with an impossible set of rules to follow. He did show a sense of humor and openness to enjoying life when he said, “Indeed we read that wine is not suitable for monks at all. But because, in our day, it is not possible to persuade the monks of this, let us agree at least as to the fact that we should not drink till we are sated, but sparingly… (RB 40).” Even a monk would sit back and have a drink. In fact, Benedict’s Rule was half a liter a day! That’s 16 ounces, or 4 glasses per day! What lushes those monks can be! (I’m pretty sure that’s not one of our stereotypes). While the monastic life condemns drunkenness, it agrees with Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
The list of Benedict’s Rules is much longer, but observing these few practices would be good medicine for our souls.
Live in community; listen more often; be balanced throughout. And most of all remember…
God loves us, and loves to see us happy…so be a little more Monk-y.