For 14 months beginning in June 2011, I traveled by circuitous route from Vancouver, BC, to Collegeville, MN, on a neat blue Vision recumbent bicycle (with occasional help from a train or automobile), visiting intentional communities. I focused particularly on Christian intentional communities affiliated with the new monasticism and new friar movements, and their interface with the classic Christian monastic tradition. Along the way, I recorded conversations with community founders and members, monks and nuns, historians, and others (view podcast episodes and reflections HERE; in iTunes HERE). Topics include communal living, economics, decision-making, conflict resolution, prayer and contemplation, education and formation, social activism, permaculture and ecology, as well as personal stories and more wide-angle historical perspectives.
What inspires me…
Over a ten year period, I lived in a Zen Buddhist meditation center, an eco-village, and a contemplative Catholic monastery (I remain closely bonded to the latter, New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, as an Oblate [lay associate member]). Each of these communities struck a deep chord in me and helped draw forth unique aspects of my vocational identity. In the Zen Center, I learned that intensive contemplative practice can be integrated into a shared way of life accessible not only to celibate monks and nuns, but also to those shouldering ordinary responsibilities in the world. In the eco-village, I learned a highly experimental, grass-roots way of life steeped in the values of holding all life sacred. In the monastery, I found my spiritual home in discovering the depth, breadth, and wisdom of the Christian contemplative tradition. Furthermore, I believe there is room enough within the Christian contemplative tradition to encompass the best values of my previous communities; that is, I believe in the possibility of the Christian contemplation tradition finding new expression today in grass-roots, experimental lay communities dedicated to contemplative practice and social and ecological justice.
In 2008, I enrolled in a dual degree program (Monastic Studies and Pastoral Ministry) at Saint John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, MN, with the intent of furthering my aspiration to fuel the development of such lay contemplative communities. When I discovered the new monasticism and new friars movements, I sensed something quite profound taking shape in this direction. These movements—driven largely by young evangelicals but ecumenical in composition—differ from previous waves of Christian intentional communities in the last half-century in a highly significant way: they’re eager to learn from and incorporate the wisdom of the classic religious orders, of monastics and friars, while retaining their own unique, emphatically lay, socially radical identity. Not content to merely read about these developments, I desired to see firsthand what this earthy ferment was about, as well as draw connections to the gifts of those forms of community I’d known. Thankfully, I’ve been able to weave this exploration of communities into my theological studies.
Along the way, I learned as much about myself as I did the communities I’ve visited and the people I’ve met. Hence, I document not only communities and interviews but also personal reflections and the learning and challenges I faced on the road. Now, having completed my classwork at Saint John’s, I am currently back at New Camaldoli Hermitage preparing for comprehensive exams later this spring, and envisioning next steps.
Photograph 'Holy Spirit' Copyright 2009 James Perkins