I enjoyed hearing the openness to exploring a new model from someone who has devoted their entire life to a monastic lifestyle.
I would also love to hear more about Julian’s ideas for the concentric circles model for monasteries, and how this could function. Is there anyone already doing that? There seems to be a lot of wisdom that intentional communities offer that could be applied to monasteries, and visa versa. I’m interested in having you visit Joyful Path monastery in Blue Mounds WI on your journey, as we attempted to apply some of the systems for decision-making and making agreements that we had learned from other communities.
Thanks for doing the work to keep the rest of us well-informed and engaged in monastic living and intentional communities!
Thanks, Mandy. I don’t really have a picture of what the ‘concentric circles’ might look like. Certainly it would look different for different communities. But to dream big, imagine a monastery as the central hub or circle, with, say, a rural ecovillage and urban meditation center spinning off that center. Actually, what you then have is a lot like the Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery/Green Gulch Farm/San Francisco Zen Center complex, so it’s not unthinkable that such a development could happen in a Christian context (incidentally, I have an interview lined up with someone from the Zen Center). In my last interview with Cyprian Consiglio, we talked about how Eastern monastic traditions, especially in the West, have far less institutional and perhaps psychological inertia than especially the Roman Catholic. What this tells me is that Christians looking for new monastic or quasi-monastic models would do well to look East to stimulate their imaginations.
In fact, in my first three interviews a strong recurring theme was that so many new developments are already taking place (mostly outside monasteries but with some connection to the Christian monastic tradition) because people from different walks of life and different denominations and even different religions are talking to one another. I don’t think is can be overemphasized. As long as communities and groups are talking merely among themselves, then fruitful change is unlikely. But when diverse groups of people come together to learn from one another, with a willingness to be transformed by what they learn, then the possibilities expand exponentially.
Otherwise, my hunch is that the kind of transformation that Bruno speaks of will not be initiated by monks and nuns themselves (though I am not so aware of what’s happening in other monasteries) but from Oblates and lay groups who take the initiative upon themselves. In the case of New Camaldoli, the number of people and resources are already present if there was a real shared interest. It might begin with formal, structured dialog among Oblates themselves and/or with the monks; out of that, some kinds of organizational structures could develop, and slowly slowly a new monastic organism would emerge. The monastery itself would be transformed from without rather than from within itself and its own limited resources.
But I think you hit the nail on the head when you see the potential of a sharing of wisdom between intentional communities (ecovillages, etc.) and monasteries. This is the underlying theme of this tour: how can the amazing creativity and wisdom of “emerging communities,” in terms of interpersonal relationships (decision-making practices, conflict resolution, etc. so much of which has been gleaned from the Quakers), eco-technologies, and so on, enrich models of monastic life? And on the other hand, how can the “ancient roots,” deep wisdom, and centuries of trial-and-error of the monastic tradition help to provide root and depth to intentional communities?
The Community of St. Mary (Southern Province), an order of women in the Episcopal Church located in Sewanee, TN, has been experimenting with something that sounds like your concentric circles. Currently there are 10 sisters in full vows (7 live and work at the motherhouse; 1 lives and works in the Philippines, 1 lives and works in the NYC area, and 1 is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease) and 1 postulant. They have 10-12 oblates and a large community of associates and beyond that an even larger community of friends. From time to time, oblates have felt called to live close to the community and share in more of the common life (2 are currently doing so, sharing a house owned by the sisters near to the main convent). Associates and friends gather at the convent frequently for liturgies and also for meals and various ministry and work. Right now the sisters are building up their garden into a small farm, and starting next September will be assigned volunteer workers each year from the Episcopal Service Corps, and organization that gives young adults an opportunity to spend a year or two in service to the church and the world. The sisters continue to explore how to let their community of women under vows be the center of something larger so that ripples will go out into the world. They also are excited about the ways in which they can provide opportunities for connection and formation for those who do not feel called to take permanent vows but still desire the best of monastic formation and stability. Beyond the women under vows in the convent, these other circles are open to all, regardless of gender or denominational affiliation.