Dreams of living in Christian community, even contemplative Christian communities, are in the hearts and minds of many lay people today. But when we dream those dreams, they often unconsciously drift along in the well-worn paths of community models drawn from religious life.
Can we really have a lay contemplative community? However natural and instinctive it is to model such a community on religious life, I wonder if that doesnt narrow our vision. If we follow such a model, would our lay community end up looking like some sort of Third Order, or appendix, to religious life? Then a lay contemplative community would be some partial participation in the full life that is lived by vowed religious. It would be like some small planet caught in the gravity of the sun of religious life.
But I would like to see a lay contemplative community that stands on its own two feet. Do we really need to look to religious life to find out how to create such a community, or even how to live out the life of prayer? Let me clear here. I have no hidden anti-clerical or anti-religious agenda. A lay contemplative community could have, I think, priests and religious as members, but it should be a lay community in which the priests and religious do not automatically gravitate to positions of authority.
Why is this important? It is important because we are still emerging from a long era of Church history in which the priesthood and vowed religious life were held up as the models for the spiritual life, and lay people were the also-rans who couldnt quite muster the discipline and generosity to join these higher ranks. It is essential for the health of the life of the Church that lay people be accepted as adults in the faith, and even more importantly, accept themselves as adults in the faith. Lay people can be just as educated in the faith and devoted in the life of prayer as anyone else, and if we, as lay people, are not, they are certainly worthy goals to strive for. A lay Christian community, therefore, should be a community in which lay people, priests and religious are all welcome as equal members. The danger I see, though, in starting out with such a mixed community is that everyone will begin to revert back to their traditional roles.
Married life is the vocation of most Christians, yet a theology and spirituality of marriage has been sorely neglected, and what pieces of it exist are still partially covered with the cobwebs of bad institutional Church attitudes towards women, marriage and sex. Married people and their children should be at the heart of a lay contemplative community. I would not want to see a lay contemplative community become some kind of retirement community, or even just a place where married people who have already raised their children find a place of quiet and reflection. A lay contemplative community is not a substitute for a contemplative community of religious. Once again, I dont have any hidden agenda against single men and women. In fact, I think that they have often been ill-served by traditional religious life which has been too rigid and even too worldly-wise to find room for them. But if we are to have a lay contemplative community, it is not an alternative religious community that somehow makes up for the deficiencies of religious life in this regard. Rather, it should be a place where single men and women would live out their distinctive vocations.
A lay contemplative community should be just that, and should be made up of the married and the single, the old and the young, who have decided that it is time to actually try to live out their dreams of a deeper life of prayer, and a deeper community life with each other. If there were a distinctive lay contemplative community, perhaps a new style of community life would emerge that would not be possible if we stick to the old models of religious life.
In forming a lay contemplative community, we cannot presume that everyone shares the same ideas on just what contemplation is. Does contemplative life mean, for example, that we follow a monastic pattern of chanting the Office, or is it something much more hermetical? Or is contemplation to be understood as infused contemplation in the sense of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa, and therefore as something that is a gift of God? Do we need to try to embody the life of prayer of this lay contemplative community in some sort of set pattern, or could it be more spontaneous? This issue is not completely separate from the previous one of a lay community. Should we follow the models of contemplative life to be found in religious orders, or does a contemplative spirituality exist, or could be developed, that would better suit lay people? Could such a community embody a new degree of freedom that allows for individual differences in the life of prayer?
Could there be a lay contemplative community closer to the earth? American Catholic lay people, as well as the Catholic institutions that serve them, appear very American middle-class in their lifestyle choices. Couldnt a lay contemplative community break out of this pattern and rethink how it relates to the earth? Why couldnt it, for example, live in alternative buildings that it built itself? Why couldnt it grow part of its own food, and create the power it needs with solar panels? Couldnt it break out, as well, from the economic straight-jacket that oppresses so many American families? Could it start off with land it purchases outright and with homes it creates itself so that it ends up without the crippling burden of giant mortgages? Could it combine individual ownership of land with a common community center, for example, a chapel shared by all, a community workshop, craft shop, etc.?
For this dream of a community closer to the earth, see
We invite you to share your dreams for a lay contemplative community closer to the earth here: email@example.com
A Response from David Rothstein, January 2010 who also contributed, below, in September 2006
Contemplative Community forming in St. Paul, MN.
community vision is inspired by the vision of the early Christian community
in Acts of the Apostles, chapters 2 and 4: The community of believers was
of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that their possessions were their
own, but they had everything in common. . .
We are grounded in the Christian tradition (the Gospels, New Testament scriptures, and teachings of other Christian leaders and authors).
We pray together (especially centering prayer and the psalms), discuss and socialize together regularly, as often as manageable.
We celebrate the liturgical seasons of the year together through special prayer services or other events.
We are willing to share some things in common (not income, but material things: some tools or appliances, a common meeting space, some meals, garden produce, etc.).
We are willing to do the work necessary to ensure a sustainable, healthy, long-term community existence (i.e. define community policies, expectations, responsibilities, conflict management, leadership and decision making, accountability).
We schedule times for fun and enjoyment together (i.e. common activities outside of regular community meeting days).
We see our contemplative community not as a substitute for affiliation with a religious denomination but as an addition to and enrichment of the community life and worship we may each have through a pre-existing membership with a parish or congregation.
We hope one day to live in closer proximity to each other to share a more regular life together.
I am a spiritual director at
the Loyola Spirituality Center in St. Paul, MN:
A Response from Deborah, July 2007
In the peace of Christ, hello to those others seeking a lay contemplative community. I too felt called to be a part of a lay contemplative community. After much dreaming, thought and prayer I began a community, the New Carmel Community, with six other people. I wrote a common Rule for us to begin with, and we began meeting on a monthly basis. Our intention at this point is not to live in common but to form a secondary community for our members. In the past four years we have waxed and waned. Currently we are five people continuing to create a new way of supporting one another in our desire to live the Carmelite spirit of solitude, simplicity and service. We will be having our yearly retreat here in San Antonio, Texas on July 20-22, 2007. We always invite others to join us. If you are interested, please email me. The cost of the retreat is $65.00. You will have a private room and simple meals. In the love of Christ, Deborah email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Response from David Rothstein, September 2006
Greetings, and thank you for starting this discussion for seekers of contemplative community. I am a former Benedictine monk who was part of a lay community formation effort a couple years ago here in Minnesota. I would like to share a brief history of this community-building project and some of the lessons I learned from it and from other intentional communities I have visited.
Our lay community began with an invitation to people who had a connection with our abbey. I had an overwhelming response at first--at lest 30 people wanted to be part of the discussion on forming a "lay Benedictine community affiliated with the abbey." We began to meet monthly to educate ourselves about community living and to share visions for this community. The group consisted of young and old, married and single, most of them Catholic. Over the course of a year or so, people started backing out or just wanted to stay informed of the process via email. The reasons for backing out were many, which I'll refer to below. In the second year of our conversations, the group dwindled to about 6-8 core members who forged a vision statement for the community, and currently a few of them are living in a common house, carrying the vision forward. As with most forming communities, the group is very small, but the potential for growth is great. I myself am no longer involved with this group, having moved away from the area to pursue work. However, I am interested in forming another group in or near the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Top 10 things I learned from this process and from other intentional communities around the country:
1. Many are called; few are chosen. As the response to your own website indicates, many, many people around the world love the idea of a lay spiritual/ contemplative/ ecological community, but few are actually able or equipped to live in one. People often come to realize what it actually takes and what their limitations are only after they start a serious dialogue with others.
2. Being part of the discussion or the community and then leaving is no loss. It is part of a person's discernment process. I myself found that having gone through a two-year formation process with a group of lay people led me to re-envision what I'm feeling called to and what type of community I'm really seeking. Others came to this re-envisioning sooner in the process.
3. Having a clear, well-defined vision for the community helps a lot: it helps people discern up front whether this is what they want; it sends a clear message to people who are very excited about community living but have a vague sense of what that really means. A clear vision statement guides the way forward with all the practical details and mission-related activities: How will they flow from the vision? How can the vision limit what we do and are about, so that members don't end up doing whatever they feel like doing.
4. If starting from scratch, a small group (1-4 people?) should create a vision statement that they can all agree upon. It would be best to include not only the theological/spiritual vision for the community, but also practical matters like membership, conflict resolution, expectations around involvement (meals, meetings, prayer, shared tasks & funds). Not everything can be defined ahead of time, but many things can, and this helps send a clear message to those interested.
5. After a core group defines the vision, have regular meetings with interested people before buying land, building houses, or living in common. See if you all get along and agree with each other and the vision in a low-key way first, meeting regularly with no strings attached. If people are in a rush to get started, question what is really behind the rush. As a spiritual master once said, "A holy desire that cannot stand delay was never a holy desire to begin with."
6. Keeping young families involved will be a major challenge. They have multiple demands on them already (new marriage life, kids in school, after-school activities for kids, building a career, etc.). Kids will make or break a family's commitment to community. If they don't like it there, the family will likely not stay.
7. Proximity to good jobs and wider social/cultural avenues is often critical. People can leave community for lack of these, especially families with kids.
8. Don't underestimate the power of your cultural conditioning. Committing to a spiritual community will require something like a novitiate year, or several years of formation. Our culture has taught us to value many things that will distract from commitment to a spiritual life in community. A certain period of "deprogramming" and reformation will be required. Do your members have the patience with themselves and each other? Can they cut out activities that will crowd out a primary commitment to the community and their spiritual practices?
9. Make clear in the vision statement any restrictions on membership, roles, and authority. For example, will the community accept homosexual people as members? Will they accept all people as equals (gender, age, race, class)?
10. How to make spiritual community or spiritual groups attractive to more than just elderly or single people who tend to have the time and/or resources to make such a commitment? With younger couples, one person may feel called but the other not. What happens in such a case? How will the community balance commitment with flexibility so that families and individuals can still live their own lives while still being committed to the community? What are younger couples (and all) willing to sacrifice to fulfill their holy longing for spiritual community?
Contact: David Rothstein, email@example.com
A Response from Heather, February 2006
I just happened to come across your website (if you believe in coincidence!). I have been dreaming of a lay contemplative community for quite sometime. About 15 years ago I left the Catholic Church (took some time off) and spent those years exploring spirituality. I joined a Buddhist group and loved the meditation and teachings. I really had no desire to go back to church.
Then a year ago, I found myself at Mass on a Sunday morning. Still not sure what made me go. Anyway, to make a long story short, I have been rediscovering the contemplative life of the Catholic church and have found wonderful books by nuns and monks who have been involved in Christian-Buddhist diaglogue as well as Bede Griffiths who bridged Hindu-Christian differences.
I would love to see a contemplative community that would incorporate both the rich traditions of both the East and the West. I believe the church and society could use it. A lot of people are looking for more mysticism, less dogma.
I live in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. Any Canadians (or others) wishing to explore such a community, or just to connect with other like minded people, feel free to email me.
Thanks. Heather firstname.lastname@example.org
A Response from Robert Padula, January 2006
encouraging to find a web site dedicated to people who dream of a Catholic
Community. Something is very off in today's society. Simple and
spontaneous interaction with other human beings in the neighborhoods like in
the past is non-existent. There are no Catholics in our neighborhood. I
notice people spend their lives in their cars, in the malls, or at work.
We have more, but less, time to fully enjoy what we have. I discovered the
key to successful and rewarding communities and relationships is to be in
close proximity to them – in walking distance. If you notice, the best
relationships you form with people are those who are close by. I am tired
of driving here and there to see somebody. All the time driving could be
spent for better use. In the old days when things were simple and stores
were closed on Sundays we conversed more with neighbors and looked out for
A Response from Amaselu Meyer, August 2005
Hi, I am most interested in being part of a lay community committed to the hermitic way of living in peace and stillness. I would love to find other spiritual people Catholics, Christians with the dream of a hermitage. I am a painter and have lived as a hermit for many years. Now that I am in a city I long to return to my natural way of being in silence and in peace. If others have this need and feel they are hermits and can live peacefully with others in silence and respect for Mother Earth and promoting peace it would be a dream to join others to allow this to manifest. I have been seeking a place where there is sunshine and space to practice the hermitic life and spiritual practice at all times. If you know of a place please I would be so grateful. Thank you. In peace, in stillness and love for Mother Earth. Strong light to you, Amaselu Meyer, email@example.com
Response May, 2005:
We invite you to share your dreams for a lay contemplative community closer to the earth here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of the following older responses are outdated with e-mails that no longer work. In your new response please include the date.
"Following is a brief synopsis of the kind of intentional community we are envisioning.
We would like to live according to the charism of the Camaldolese branch of the Benedictines. As such we would follow the Benedictine rule as reformed by St. Romuald in the eleventh century. His reform revitalized the best of communal and solitary dimensions of monastic life. Our lives would be dedicated to the love and praise of God in the bond of charity. We would offer a retreat ministry and seek to support our guests in their prayers. We would also offer a labyrinth, group & individual spiritual direction, occasional directed retreats and workshops, perhaps some Reiki, a bookstore/gift shop.
Our setting would be removed from the noise, hustle and bustle of everyday life. Preferably in a beautiful, natural place. We would have a complex of buildings in an enclave, away from the public, for private residences. We would have singles, couples, (I'm not sure about children--not sure how that would fit into contemplative solitude), vowed religious and ordained people. Each living unit would be simple but would have a special space for prayer, a desk, bookshelves, heater, closet, sleeping area, bathroom/shower and work area. Each cell would have its own enclosed garden as well. Outside the enclave, there would be other rooms constructed in a similar fashion for overnight retreatants. Of course we would have a chapel big enough for all of us and our guests.
We would pray four times a day as the Camaldolese monks do: Vigils 5:45 am, Lauds 7:00 am, Eucharist 11:30 am, Vespers 6:00 pm, followed by a voluntary half hour of silent group meditation in the rotunda of the church.
Labor: Forms of work would be determined by the needs of the community as well as by the talents and aptitudes of each person. In addition to the tasks which all community life requires, some would be occupied with the guest ministry while others might write, paint, work in administration, a bakery perhaps, communal gardens and other occupations. The balanced rhythm of the day would be meant to nourish a contemplative spirit, sustaining for the long term the vocation "which dares to live in an ongoing way in the presence and reality of God."
Within the Camaldolese Benedictine heritage, elements of both communal (cenobitical) and solitary (eremitical) life are combined. The daily communal celebrations of the liturgy provide a basis and framework for the "lectio divina" which is a spiritual reading/study leading into meditation, prayer and contemplation in the solitude of the individual's cottage. These separate cottages would offer visible witness to the importance of Christian solitude; there the people would spend ample time journeying into God. The other buildings of the community would give expression to the communal dimension of Christian and monastic life. The need to live with one's brothers and sisters provides a necessary support for the life of solitude as well as an important way to serve and love Christ in his members.
Other communal moments would include the meals and recreation time. One meal would be shared daily in community, while the other two would be taken in the individual's cottage or together with others as each one would wish, thereby allowing individuals to have more, or less interaction as desired. Recreation time would regularly be spent in common in order to deepen charity and mutual understanding. Some people could live a more intense solitude than others, for there is a wide range of monastic forms possible, ranging from a fuller community participation to the life of reclusion. After deepening their monastic experience, some people might seek a life of greater solitude, either at certain periods (temporary reclusion) or continuously so (permanent reclusion). This exceptional vocation continues one of the most ancient forms of religious life, that of the desert mothers and fathers. Each person, regardless of lifestyle, would remain united in faith and love to his/her brothers and sisters. We would be governed democratically, and would probably choose a person to be our Abbess, Abbott or whatever title we designate, as well as a council. Perhaps these roles could be rotated on a regular basis, but this all has to be worked out yet.
This life would constitute a basic formation program in which we would learn to listen with our hearts to God's mysterious Word. We would seek God and search for the wisdom which fulfills. We would be willing to unlearn, to let go and trust--to be open to the transforming action of God's spirit.
As regards more of the nuts and bolts, such as how we would provide for our medical care, what we would all do with our possessions and sources of income and/or wealth, etc. are still open to discussion.
We would not be charismatic. We have no idea where we would get the land and resources to get something like this going. But our hearts are open and we have the vision. If it is God's will for us, it will happen. Love and Peace to you, Ida Bickley"
Further it is my belief that children should not be excluded, for they are the fruits of the proper married life. I don't see how children can be an impediment to our finding our God. We see all around us those who would treat children as a convenience or inconvenience rather than the sacred gift that they are. That mentality is simply another face of the "Culture of Death" and has no place in a God Centered community.
Granted the community as envisioned may not have the simplicity of a traditional monastic community. We would be dealing in the mechanics of everyday family life and would have to develop a rule which would both empower the family and minimize negative aspects for the rest of the community. We don't have to seek God by some great transcendent works but through simple, humble, mundane works which lead us to the transcendent.
The community should I believe be self sufficient. This would
necessitate an agricultural setting, a farm or ranch. There would be communal work shared
by all and other work which depending upon individual
The community, the rule, and even the concept would have to be accepted by the bishop within whose diocese (sp.) the community resided. The community should be an asset for the diocese and the catholic community in general.
The community would not need to be specifically inclusive or
exclusive of charismatics, there should be room for both.
This is a response to the posting of Ida Bickley, but open to all
A Report from Ida on the First Community Meeting in Sonoma:
It was a very inspired day. There were about 15-20 of us. The oblate chaplain from Big Sur, Fr. Michael Fish, was present, as well. He said the General of his order in Italy and the Prior from Big Sur are both very interested in having a connection with a lay group of oblates and others. They are excited about the Spirit moving people in this direction. We discussed a lot of nuts and bolts about how something like this would work. It was fairly well agreed that the best method would be individual ownership of plots of land and financial independence for all members of the group, yet living in community according to a rule (we're looking at the Camaldolese rule). Two of the people there were former cloistered nuns of the Poor Claire Order. They were asking Fr. Michael about some land that abuts the monastery on Big Sur and the fact that someone recently offered to donate it. He said that was true, but he thinks they either turned it down or are planning to turn it down because it is undeveloped and would cost thousands of dollars to develop it. She suggested that they accept it, let a group such as ours buy the individual plots from them at a fair price and then live in close proximity to the monastery that way. He said he would take this idea back to the Prior to discuss it.
We all agreed that it was premature to even contemplate doing anything concrete at this point. We enjoyed meeting each other and will meet again in two months. Meanwhile we will pray about this and for each other. Fr. Michael advised us to limit our initial group to those present, except to re-invite the people who could not make it Saturday. However, at the next meeting, whoever is there will be the limit. After that we will not open it up to any new people until we have worked up a plan and are a cohesive group of our own.
My feeling about this is one of complete trust in God. I am not anxious or eager to do anything. I think seeds were planted on Saturday and now they are germinating. Whatever God has in mind for us will come to fruition when and how it is supposed to. Meanwhile, I will just continue to live my life and be alert to the doors that open.
Peter Costers Report on the Sonoma Meeting
There were nine of us altogether who met for the day at Sky Farm in Sonoma. Many were Camaldolese Oblates. Fr. Michael Fish joined us from the Hermitage in Big Sur. His presence was very helpful in many respects, keeping us focused, as well as sharing with us the way in which this vision for a "lay" contemplative community is very much in keeping with the reforms that St. Romuald sought to bring to the Benedictine tradition. It is the intention of the Camaldolese to reach out more and more to those who are responding to contemplative life. What this may look like is hard to say, but the idea is there could be a truly "lay" community which would be autonomous, but in dialogue with "vowed" religious and within the Camaldolese tradition.
The discussion on May 15th was a beginning. It was a chance for people to express their dreams, hopes and desires. Some folks are ready to talk about the possibility of purchasing land which could be subdivided and owned outright by individuals and families. There would be a portion of land that would be used for retreats, with guest house, chapel, kitchen, etc. Others are not sure about buying land, but are wanting to find a way to live in simplicity and solitude within the support of community. What came out of all of this was the emphasis on contemplation (and all that means in terms of spiritual practice and life style) being the prime focus, with community as a support for solitude. We played with the paradox of solitude and solidarity, both of which are somehow found in each other. Finding the balance, and the wisdom, between the two is where the challenge is.
We have agreed to have a second meeting. This could be as
early as June or July. The exact time and location is to be decided. Anyone interested is
welcome to contact me by phone 707-258-5908 or e-mail email@example.com
Two pleas for Community:
I am writing in thanks for your site. I AM NOT ALONE!!!! and what a relief. I have been dreaming of a new community for three decades, since I first encountered Merton, and I wasn't even Catholic. It took nearly thirty years of futile living filled with nothing but despair, and the writings of St. John of the Cross to finally lead me into the Catholic faith. It took the lack of community, the concentration upon building expansion instead of people to have kept me away from the Eucharist for these past three years. For over six years now I have been living the life of a semi-monk, semi-recluse - I only had to work 2 days a week at the local hospital. I am a very young 55 and plan to retire next April and devote my time fully to prayer, writing, and composing. However, just the remote possibility of being able to live in community has set my heart ablaze. I only have a half acre of land here, were it more, I would ask you to consider it. But please, keep me informed about the formation and the possibility of joining you. Peace, Butch Varnadore, 137 Elkader Dr., Pawleys Island, SC 29585, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just went onto your web site and found the section on living in Christian Community. I cannot tell you how much your dream is something I have been searching for for a long time.
I am a 57 year old male, without family. I was born later than everyone else and everyone has passed on. I am a Religious Educator and graduate of Fordham University with a degree in Religious Education and Counseling. Finding a supportive community, even within my parish, is difficult. Most of them are completely family-oriented. Joining the religious life at this stage is not an option. They are generally looking for someone younger. Even making short retreats at monasteries one often has to book far in advance and the stay is short, and times do not always coincide with work schedule.
I try to live the Rule of St. Benedict, although am newly learning about it. My spirit is more Franciscan with a great attraction for the monastic way of life. I would like to be kept informed of any community activity, or to correspond with anyone who would be interested. Below is my address and e-mail. Thank you for any reply. Sincerely, Jerry Brockert, 678 Aurora Rd., Melbourne, FL 32935, Tel. 407-255-8380, E-mail JFB678@aol.com
Your Camaldolese-like lay community is interesting. It is not
really necessary to a profound, even the most profound, spiritual life. That can be lived
in the world to sublime effect, to the uttermost heights of transformation and
into God. The beginning and end of all of this is the Holy Trinity in the Most Sacred
Heart of Jesus Christ. But community can help some.
Response from Harry Wells at email@example.com
Dear Ida, Doug, Peter, Kate, et.al.
Yes, the movement toward lay contemplative vocational expressions is occurring on so many different fronts, and the desire also for a communal expression is on many of our hearts.
I was very pleased to hear Doug's discussion on the inclusion of families with children. If we cannot include the full family expression in this vocation, I do not see it as a full lay expression. As Doug said, what will emerge is an application of the Rule of St Benedict which is not structured around the celibate monastic, but within a lay expression of singles, married, and married with children. What a wonderful new vision into which the Spirit is leading us!
My family (me, wife, and two children) consider Redwoods Monastery (Cistercian/ Trappist) in Whitethorn, CA, as our spiritual community. We attend services at least once a month (We live in Eureka, which is 80 miles away), and go on 3-4 day stays during the summer. We have been attending there regularly for 2 years, since leaving our local church, where we had been very active in leadership positions for 8 years. We found the parish church did not desire nor understand the contemplative path, and we were ever more seeking its cultivation. It was simply time to go.
For the last two years, I've attended the annual gathering of the Cistercian Lay Associates. About five years ago, four lay Cistercian groups discovered each other--they found out that other lay groups were forming around Cistercian monasteries. They met, and began to explore similarities/differences, visions for the future, etc., all in an ongoing desire of discernment of the unfolding work of the Spirit. That first meeting had about ten people, the next had 30, the next had 60! Last year, it was around 30-40, due mainly to smaller accommodations, not decline of interest. Now, around 10 monasteries have lay groups, either formally or informally. A Bond of Charity, similar to the Cistercian Charter of Charity was drafted. Some of the groups have been around for almost 15years (!) and have a structured formation program. Some of these formation programs are too monastic, clearly for a retired householder or single person. But others are much more a seeking to develop an application of the Benedictine rule for lay life, including married with children. We lay contemplatives are drawn to the monasteries because they demonstrate community centered on spiritual cultivation and a daily structure of life that nurtures that cultivation. Plus, the monastic brothers and sisters are very real people, joined in communal commitment, to serve God, humankind, and all creation in the unfolding mystery of Christ in their lives. We want to live that charism too.
The question of forming communities, as Ida envisioned, hasn't been raised officially at the meeting, but a few of us have said that we would like to explore that together. The Cistercian charism appeals to us because of its emphasis on simplicity, prayer, and manual labor. I liked what Doug said, " We don't have to seek God by some great transcendent works but through simple, humble, mundane works which lead us to the transcendent." That sounds Cistercian!
The whole balance of solitude and community is the basis of any healthy life, whether monastic or lay. I was encouraged by the discussion of land being subdivided and purchased by families and individuals. Or a Co-housing design that would allow for communal life and solitude. I truly feel that a balance suitable to a wide range of desires could be accommodated. People wishing greater solitude could have more remote spots on the land. As *community*, we would seek the benefit for all in what they require. It would require negotiation and understanding of our calling and the way to support each other in that. All would come together for prayer and work, sharing in the communal self supporting industry and agriculture.
Peter and Kate--you mentioned looking at land in Hopland and Ukiah area. If you want to look in Southern Humboldt (that's where the monastery we attend is located), we know lots of people in that area who are reliable, good folks--connected to the monastery too.
My friends (you already feel like friends to me!), please let us keep ourselves open to what the Spirit may be nurturing in us, and seeking to embody in our world today. And let us stay in contact!
In Search of Lay Monasticism
I am a spiritual seeker with a Catholic Christian heritage, someone who still strongly embraces that heritage (while questioning some of its accretions and sclerosis). As part of the journey of seeking spiritual growth within that heritage, I was led to the life story and works of Thomas Merton. The Merton legacy, in turn, referred me to the monastic charism, and to its institutional manifestations within the Church especially the Benedictine and Cistercian traditions. I do not feel called to join one of these orders; discernment tells me that my vocation is amidst the laity. And yet I remain drawn to their monasteries, to their rituals, their history, their ways of life, and their ways of prayer (but again, as with Merton, not unquestioningly). While on retreat within their grounds, I feel a sense of hopefulness, a sense of connection, a sense of contemplation. In my daily life, I try to bring the substance of their Rule and their way of "conversatio" into my own surroundings. I am in touch with several "real monks" who sympathize and support my position. However, Id like to share thoughts and experiences with others who might consider themselves to be "lay monastics." After reading Sinetars Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, I know that other people like me are out there. But where? Jim Gerofsky, 211 Lorraine Ave., Montclair, NJ 07043.
A Virtual Lay Contemplative CommunityA Priest once commented to me that "God sometimes bestows His grace upon us through science."
It was in that vein that I decided to use the internet to form an online Lay Community, embracing the spirituality of a most ancient expression: the Carthusian Order, founded by St. Bruno.The Carthusian Lay Contemplatives (www.laycarthusians.homestead.com) enjoy all the elements of a community without the external burdens of maintaining a physical community.
We are certainly not unique in realizing and exploiting the resources of cyberspace to form a community of contemplatives whose primary source of fellowship is through the computer.
Though we cannot chant the liturgy together, we certainly can express our Carthusian oriented spirituality in many ways, while at the same time living life as closely as possible to our cloistered brothers and sisters.
I think that the marriage of a most ancient order that was "never reformed, because it was never deformed" and the modern "cyberdesert" model of it, comes very close to what is envisioned by many as a totally new form of monasticism, life in a virtual Abbey.
Maranatha! Kevin M. Kane, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Response from David Spence, email@example.com
I had a few thoughts on this question that I thought I would share.
First a brief introduction about where I am "coming from".
I was raised a fundamentalist conservative Baptist. For a number of reasons I have come to consider myself as a catholic (note not necessarily a Roman Catholic). I bear a lot of beliefs gleaned from the writings I have read from the early church writers. I have to also admit that I am a Universalist (not to be confused with Unitarian) and a full preterist. Basically I believe that the Church (as the body of Christ) is the outward earthly eternal expression of the body of Christ universal (Catholic). Therefore I believe "thy kingdom come" is in effect a statement of the purpose of the people of God.
Having said all that I turn to the primary dilemma faced by a believer such as myself. First there are no organized churches that express the faith as I have noted it. Second my faith is a dogmatic expression of the results of a highly personalized and somewhat contemplative Christian life lived over 20 years of focused personal spiritual growth. In other words not readily given up and though largely stripped of much of the dogma originally there, and having come through a great deal of spiritual doubt and uncertainty - remains rooted in the simple relationship of myself and God. So what is the difficulty? Well, such a faith journey is highly rewarding and highly indescribable. It is by the very nature of it a way that does lend itself to greater perfection in solitude or remote small communities. But alas, I have traveled and am traveling this journey while remaining a Father of three boys, a husband, and a full time employed professional.
What does this mean? It means that it can be done. I would say that it could be greatly improved if there was some means of tangible community and mutual guidance. If there were meaningful tools to assist lay people in forming contemplative rituals for their own life. Also maybe tools to assist in bringing the contemplative from the individual journey to God and making it more adaptable to family and small group sessions. Contemplative prayer, and life is of necessity highly intimate with both God and those who live together in contemplative groups. As such it is difficult to dictate in great detail how to do it, but it still may be possible to generate a primary or basic framework of both structure and of guided reading to allow lay contemplatives to use for their own formation. Also supplemental materials specifically designed to introduce children from toddler to high school to the culture, and practices of a contemplative Christian life.
Another thing that has been truly missing for me is the availability of a community that meets occasionally to celebrate in ritual and socially the faith of such a life and in these sections to share the obstacles and solutions to this way of Christian living. A community focused on mutual exchange and understanding.
I believe such a new "paradigm" of catholic religious community could be "founded" by a set of "missionary" priests/abbots whose mission is one of first establishing and growing such communities, who may meet on a monthly basis in the Abbots home and practice the communities as individuals, families, or whatever their current station in life may be. There should be no exclusion of members based on current "Sunday" affiliation, though some form of allegiance should be practiced with the abbots. I would also suggest that some form of regional meeting of the abbots periodically would be helpful, as well. This all still requires the generation of the necessary publications to guide the leadership, and practitioners of the contemplative family life. These materials should exist in some part prior to the formation of the "order" so that the guidelines exist before the mission begins. The abbots would by necessity have to be "in the field" or basically self-sustaining lay professionals that are willing to take on the added burden of overseeing and growing such a highly dispersed and unique contemplative Christian community.
These are the things I wish I had available to me, and the family/youth oriented materials would be truly invaluable to me at this very time.
I had thought to try and share the deep contemplate life with my wife but am having some difficulty translating it to a process for two. I had hoped with some success there that she and I could begin to translate that into something that could be written and used to inspire the same type of religious living way in our children and thus provide a framework for family-based contemplative living.
Published materials could be disseminated from the web or email to keep costs down. They could encode a book of prayer for the "daily offices," a daily contemplative reading, a bible study guide that focuses on the character of Christian compassionate contemplative living, (staying away from intense doctrinal reading), and a regular periodical that contains articles on methods, testimonials to contemplative and deliberate living in the context of family life.
Any way these are the thoughts that I felt were worth sharing as I felt guided to share
them with you. God Bless You. Dave Spence
Thanks for your reflections. There is one issue that comes up indirectly in your comments, and it is one that I think any number of people share, which is the question of how an individual contemplative journey relates to a Christian church and its doctrinal teachings. We are in a time where we are reacting against doctrinal teachings that were often imposed from above with little effort made to aid our understanding, but I wonder if at a certain point the Christian contemplative life has to come to terms with the fundamental teachings of Christianity about the nature of Jesus, and so forth.
I know that for me there have been a few somewhat distinctive "phases" or steps to the process that God has used to form my journey.
1. I developed a passion for seeking God's presence when I was young.
This was expressed in open eyed joyous prayer (silent and out loud) and mostly when camping in the wilderness (I did often ).
(About 12 years old.)
2. At 16 I began reading volumes of Christian writings - mostly theology / Christian life.
3. I formed a lot of dogmatic rules and beliefs about being a Christian. - very highly exclusive and fundamentalist. And as such I prayed long prayers for God to remove the lust in my heart. These prayers would go on to a point where no words were left in my head but only the overwhelming sense of sorrow.
4. God sent several effective antagonists to argue against my beliefs with me and so began the deconstruction of my beliefs.
5. After a point I realized that I had a lot of stuff to believe and no certainty for the truthful basis of any of it. I was forced to focus on living and getting on with earthly life.
6. I abandoned formal study and reduced my life to daily living and deep contemplative prayer when possible. ( I was about 21 at this time)
7. I was exposed to several other contemplative religious traditions when I entered the military service at 23 years of age.
8. I came to a point where my wife referred to me as a "Christian Agnostic" - basically other than the sense of God in my life and an acknowledgment of Christ's special life, I believed in nothing else.
At this point God had fully deconstructed my entire basis for believe that was based on the dogma of fundamentalist Protestantism.
9. For 6 years my search ended as I decided no one else ever had experienced the odd mix of practice, deep feelings and Christian beliefs I had.
10. When I was 28 and the kids were mostly in school and so some of my time became my own I began reading early church writings and some commentary on those writers. I began to approach the bible and Christianity with a new perspective gained from the reading in Zen teachers that I had been exposed to in the military.
11. Over time this has led me to believe certain fundamental truths about man and God. And I now consider all other doctrines as mostly "fluff". I also tend to weigh doctrines by the psychological effect and social results of the doctrine. If it does not measure up to the law of compassion then it is not worth holding. The some of the primary doctrines of a church is the basis of its communal life, and such I cannot join unless the whole is non oppressive, upholds the basis of Christian faith, and is inclusive in the membership though more disciplined and exclusive in clergy.
12 It is this stripped down theology and contemplative deeply personal faith that has led me to believe strongly in the liturgical form of the church where the worship centers on the presence of Christ in the congregation and in the elements of the Eucharist. As such I therefore consider my self catholic.
13 As far as church affiliation goes I am Evangelical Lutheran. Why?
- Roman Catholic is not possible because of the instance on the infallibility of the Pope.
- Orthodox Catholic is heavily steeped in traditions and is struggling to break free. Failing for the most part to restore the spirit to the culturally entrenched ceremonies.
- Fundamentalist Protestant - not a truly Christian worship and typically a highly pride full church of "well doers".
- Conservative Lutherans (Missouri and Wisconsin) - Too much emphasis on preserving Luther and not continuing to be guided by a spirit of compassion.
- Quakers have essentially thrown out the baby with the bath water in seeking to avoid the problem of ceremony becoming an end in its self. Though the emphasis is right the loss of ceremony often simply becomes a rule and ceremony it self.
- The Evangelical Lutheran along with several other liturgical inclusive churches have made unity and personal spiritual responsibility a primary focus as well as retaining the Liturgy in both traditional and new contexts, so I lend my self to this church.
- I have looked at a few of the independent catholic movements, and found a wide variety of motivations, but the sum of the best of what most of them are doing seems to be finding its main stream expression among the Evangelical branches of the Lutheran/Anglican/Episcopal, and United church of Christ.
The Eucharist without walls concept holds the most interest to me at this time. I have recently felt that I need to start finding ways to take this indescribable relationship and put words to it and ceremony so that I can share it with others as I am led by this spirit. To me the one form that makes the most sense in my place is that of a missionary/working priest (monk?) working in the context of a everyday life but fully prepared to share the blessing of Christ in word or the elements as a moment should present itself.
Anyway, that is some of the process in a nut shell.
I may have given you the impression that I do not believe in objective truth or an absolute reality.
In fact I do. I limit any notion of the absolute or perfect to the place of God only. All scripture and tradition are mans imperfect "description" of those glimpses seen of the perfect and only objective truth.
One of the primary problems with deep spirituality and theology is the failure of words. There is a verse in the tao te ching that says "The tao that can be said is not the tao."
It seems to apply describe the truth of contemplative approach to God.
I'd rephrase it as "The touch of the Spirit of God that can be described is not the touch of the Spirit of God."
As an "end note" I'd have to describe the point in my journey that is where I am at now.
I often have trouble with public verbal prayer. When trying to speak the prayer that is in my heart I get befuddled. I cannot find words and when I do they are awkward and shallow. My wife complains that I do not like to pray openly. Indeed most prayer for me is wordless and deeply moving.
I have not felt the presence of God in the sense I would have described it when I was a child at a church camp. A sense of emotional well being and happiness. Rather the realization of God is like that of air. There with out doubt, no special feeling required. If I take a moment to direct my mind to the notion of God then he is felt, but other wise it is the spirit and my spirit that are in touch. I go about my daily life always with a sense of God, though not always thinking of God. After all my mind is a faculty of my soul and not the soul itself. There have been many experiences of my life that reflect the spiritual journey, but I do not consider them a goal or a means to an end. They are like the flowers along a path. Beautiful to look at, but not to be picked nor should I linger with them.
I have wondered for some time now if it is simply possible to out grow the church. If so I have come to feel that at such a point I should be seeking the church that best expresses the church as I have come to understand in the light of my own spiritual walk. And there seek to provide lay or ordained leadership.
This is where I am at today. Peace, Dave
Another ResponseHi, my name is Clarelyse Marie K. I have been given a word from the Lord about founding a Monastic community in a secluded area. I am currently a Benedictine Oblate with Subiaco Abbey in AR. I spent 6 yrs with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage. I have many, many years of experience in and with religious life and their apostolates.
I learned to bake, garden and milk cows at L.P. I also crochet and make corded rosaries.
I received the vision of community on Good Friday 3 yrs. ago. I have written the Mission Statement and started on the Constitutions.
I envisioned the main building to be in the shape of a Cross, with the Chapel being in the center. The infirmary would be the top of the cross, the sisters convent, the right wing, the brothers and priests would be on the left wing, and the married and single Oblates would be in the bottom beam.
I pictured several buildings, including the bakery, gift shop, printing shop, dog and cat kennel (also to help support the comm), several hermitages for those called to the eremitical life and guest houses for retreatants.
Farming is also big in these plans. I was thinking of having 160 - 200 acres somewhere around Little Rock, possibly in Beebe or Carlisle, AR
A Response from Maria Bruquetas, August, 2004
I have just recently developed a great interest in becoming a part of a Catholic based Intentional community. I have a Masters degree in Pastoral Theology from Barry University in Miami, FL, but earned my degree through the Blessed Edmund Rice School for Pastoral Ministry in the Diocese of Venice, FL. Living in community has been of great interest to me for years but not as a vowed religious but as a lay person committed to Christ and our Church.
I want to be a part of a Catholic intentional community since my faith is the essential component of my life. I have a dream too: I've been living and working in the Sarasota, FL area for the past 7 years and have a friend who owns 7 acres of land in Kentucky. We have talked about doing something with her land. I'm a wine lover and would love to get involved in wine-making. Both of us believe in the Church's mission of Catholic Social Justice and were thinking of somehow making wine to support Catholic missionary efforts around the world.
Anyway, like your group I too yearn for a lay lifestyle committed to Christ and life in community. I feel an affinity to your vision and dream. I left my job as Youth Minister at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, FL at the end of June of this year and am trying to pursue this new direction. My e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for sharing with me some latest thoughts. I think all
of them deserve important consideration, and perhaps someone might want to research some
other communities around. I know for instance that the Jerusalem Community (cannot
remember location) which was an offshoot of the charismatic movement a few years back, was
set up very much this way, but had many, many problems. It had leaders however, and there
were always people who did not agree with the leadership. Then the family community fought
for awhile with the single community, and then there was lots of discussion about how
large or small the families should be. Should they eat in common and what prayers should
be said and so on. A lot of people left in anger. Some stayed and fought it out, but there
were many battle scars.
I have read and re-read your reflections on a lay
contemplative community, and I detect three large question-areas in your considerations:
(1) the possible establishment of a truly "lay" contemplative community; (2) the
nature or spirit of prayer of such a community; and (3) the concern of such a community
for the well-being of the earth as an added dimension of its dynamic (along with concerns
of property ownership that such a community will inevitably entail).
I was poisoned with chlorine gas and need to live in a
chemically free environment.
We invite you to share your dreams for a lay contemplative community closer to the earth here: email@example.com