Monday, June 29, 2009

Pray and Play... a morning in Nags Head

I am on vacation this week in the North Carolina Outerbanks (one of my favorite places to go and relax and unwind). Zachary and I spent the morning lazing on the beach and jumping the waves in the crystal waters of Nags Head. Watching Zachary laugh and glow in excitement with the growing waves which crashed over and pushed us around made my heart smile with one of those "all is well in the world" smiles, which ran into the deepest parts of my soul, connecting me to that peaceful, loving presence of God which is of course always around me, but not always perceived. It was one of the most meaningful spiritual moments that I have had in recent weeks. Having him as my son is truly the greatest treasure that God has given me, and through him, I experience more and more God's love for me. I slept in today and missed morning prayer, running out to the beach with Zac instead. But our play was most definitly prayer on this day: in and through it we touched the heart of God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist

15th century icon of the Nativity of John the Baptist

St. Anne with Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and John the Baptist, Hans Baldung Grien, 1511
(never mind that John and Jesus are only 6 months different in age)

This is one of the oldest feasts in the Christian calendar, and other than the Mother of God, he is the only to have his birth celebrated. During medieval times, great parties were held as "little Christmases" and great bonfires were burnt in rembrance that Christ is the Light of the world, and that we are also called to be lights in the world. Who's ready for a party?
A blessed feast day to you all!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Fathers' Day (and Happy Summer)

St. Joseph and Jesus by John Collier.

Mosaic of the Holy Family in the apse of Westminster Cathedral

"Family by Water" by Steve Walker.

"The Spirit of Fatherhood" by Larry Poncho Brown.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What is a Monastic Vocation?

A Very Simplistic History

The earliest monks were anchorites who fled the urban centers and sought God in the solitude of the desert, living as hermits and ascetics. In time, communities formed of like- minded hermits, who would come together for prayer and Eucharist. In the 4th century, Pachomius organized the first formal community of men, and later organized a convent, in which a number of women lived with his sister. The 4th and 5th centuries saw the formation of several monastic communities, founded by such notable saints as Basil the Great, Martin of Tours, and Honoratus, Ninian (more about Celtic monasticism later). In the 6th century, a solitary hermit named Benedict left his cave near Subiaco, Italy to lead an experimental community of men who desired to live in a community following the ideas of Pachomius. This community failed, however, because many of the monks found Benedict to be too harsh- in fact they tried to poison him. Benedict returned to his cave, however his miracles and sanctity of life drew many to him. He began establishing monasteries for them, each with a Superior, but he remained Abbot over them all. His Rule, which proscribed a way of life centered in Christ and moderation in all things, became the rule of life for all monastic communities in the West, except for Celtic Communities, who allowed married monks and entrusted the abbot if each community to create its own Rule, and the Augustinians who continued to follow the Rule of St. Augustine. In the 12th century, after a conversion experience following a sermon on the Rich, young ruler who was told by Jesus to sell all of his goods and give them to the poor, St. Francis forsook all of his worldly possessions and began to live a simple life, preaching repentance and ministering to those in the town. He founded a new kind of monasticism which remained rooted in prayer, community, and simplicity, but chose to remain in the cities, among the people, reaching outward to spread the Gospel among them. Other mendicant orders were formed following his ideals, including the Dominicans, Carmelites, and the Augustinian mendicant orders.

With the Dissolution and Suppression of the Monasteries in England under Henry VIII in the 16th century, monasticism ended in England. However, many monastic communities and religious orders were founded within Anglicanism during the catholic revival in the 19th century,
including the Community of St. Mary the Virgin, the Society of St, Margaret, the Cowley Fathers (the Society of St. John the Evangelist), the Nashotah Community, and the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion. Today there are religious orders and christian communities throughout the Anglican communion, and about 2400 life professed monks and nuns. There are thousands of other oblates, associates and members of christian communities. They are diverse in their charisms and missions in the world- some cloistered and contemplative, some active in the world ministering with the poor and oppressed, some living in community, others living in solitude- but all are united in the desire to seek and know God in all persons, all places and all situations. This monastic vocation is rooted in a life of prayer and centered around a Rule of Life which frees one from the distractions of the world which eclipse the vision of God in all things. The Rule may be slightly different between the orders, but essentially guide one to live a life of moderation in all things, lived out through vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, and stability.

Why Become a Monk

So, why would I want to become a monk? Maybe it's the "Meyers-Briggs-J-ness" of my personality, or my need for structure and order, or my love for catholic practice and tradition- maybe all of those and other unknown factors which make this way of life an attractive and necessary way for me to find God and grow in holiness. I am not seeking this way of life because I am holier than other Christians who live their baptismal vocations in different ways and callings in the world- from parents and clergy to doctors, teachers, scientists, waitresses, brick masons, etc. In fact, the opposite is most likely true. I need this way of life for my own holiness as a way to find union with God.

I have a son, so I have been praying about various options which would enable me to follow the call of the Holy Spirit to a life of prayer. I thought about becoming an Oblate of an Order or a Third Order Franciscan- but none of those options seemed to fit. Religious Orders modeled after Celtic Monastic Communities seemed attractive, and even though I am not married, that seems like a path that would be a great fit for a single father. At last I have found an Anglican order that accepts married and single monks and nuns, and accepts both without distinction. Some live in community, but others live as solitaries outside of the community, but remain connected through the Rule of Life, a a vowed profession, and participation in community life with regularity throughout the year. For this time and place in my life, the former way seems to be one that is calling out to me, as it allows me to continue to minister as a parish priest, and encourages me to be a faithful father to my son.

I wait for where the Spirit will lead me. I am excited about this journey- please pray with me as I go forward on it.

Peace and Grace to All Y'all

Discerning a Monastic Vocation

When I was first ordained a priest, I was a curate at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Savannah Georgia. Part of my duties there, which will come as no surprise to many, included ministry with youth. I not only worked with youth in the parish, but I also worked with youth in the Diocese through my membership on the Diocesan Youth Commission. I was the high church voice at summer camp and Happenings, and the youth actually loved it. I never had any problems finding someone to acolyte, especially as a thurifer. One late afternoon I was walking through the trees to the chapel to prepare for Mass, and when I arrived someone said to me, "Fr. Rob, I was watching you walk over here and couldn't stop looking because you looked like a monk walking in prayer." The comment made me smile and filled my heart with that strangely-warm feeling that Wesley wrote about.

For years I have had a yearning for monastic life. I have often made visits to monastaries, just to be there and to pray with the brothers or sisters. I always leave longing for the luxury to commit myself to more prayer and study, and wishing to be finally free of consumerism and the need of ownership. Yet, I was married, and though I am now single, I am still a father, and although I could have easily made vows and lived a simpler lifestyle, I never saw how a monastic life would ever be possible and work for me.

Over the past year or so, I have reconsidered the possibility of such a vocation. I have read about the new monasticism movement, and I have investigated more traditional monastic orders. I have decided that I would like to test a monastic vocation, and I have asked to apply for postulancy with a young monastic order in the Episcopal Church. I will not live in community, because I still feel called to be a parish priest, and because I want to be a faithful father to my son; so, I will be testing the monastic vocation as a solitary. If after the period of postulancy I still feel called to continue this journey, then I will make Simple Vows. The vows are the traditional monastic vows: obedience, stability, poverty, and chastity. What would these vows mean for me? And why do I feel called to this way of life anyway? How is it different from being being a priest or even a baptized Christian for that matter? In upcoming blog posts I will think about what a monastic vocation is, as I see it, what life as a solitary might be like, and what the vows I am being asked to make will mean for me.

I ask your prayers to accompany me on this journey.

Grace and peace to all y'all!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Blogging as a Spiritual Discipline?

It's been weeks since I have blogged anything- actually it's been since before Lent, and here we are in Ordinary Time. It's a shame, really, because I enjoy writing. My life seems so busy, though, that I just can't find time to sit and be still, pary, think, and write- which is exactly the reason why I should write more. My life is too busy. I need to make time and space to be with my thoughts and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the words that I write and read, and through the images and sounds that touch my heart. So, I am going to commit to writing more in my blog as a spiritual discipline and as a means of creating more space for contemplation and prayer. Perhaps what my musings here will be only for me, and that is fine. But, if something touches you, please let me know.

Peace and Grace to all y'all