Should a member of the priesthood wish to enter the monastery, permission is not to be immediately granted.
What is it God is calling me to?
Having discussed general principles of vocation and commitment for the last few weeks and having spoken earlier about a potential monastic understanding of vocation, the Rule now causes me to reflect on my own personal discernment. It’s been hard reading this chapter on the acceptance of a priest into monastic orders partly because it forces me to see my sense of calling to a form of monasticism from the other side.
This week I sat in front of a panel and answered questions of vocation. I think it went well. I answered as openly and honestly as I could but there will always be a small sense of disappointment in these situations due, in part, to always being unable to discern, precisely, the will of God. Discernment, for me, is a corporate activity; it is best done within a community listening to God together. This ensures personal agendas and egos are balanced and the Spirit can confirm itself through the Body of Christ.
What is it God is calling me to?
I have been asking that question for a year and a half now. My prayers have circled round this question as I have sought God’s leading for Sarah and I post-curacy. There have been some encouraging glimpses as God uses all the vehicles of communication to show us his plans and purposes.
All of those glimpses are potential and not actual. Dreaming is easy (I can do it in my sleep!) walking them out is hard. Reality is a cruel beast with a seeming will of its own not easy to tame with our desires. The stirrings of my heart are one thing but what will happen may well be quite different.
There comes a point in the journey of discernment (and I have reached it now) where one falls on the mercy of another, usually a person in authority. This is an act of trust. In vulnerability one offers the dreams, the stirrings, the private wisps of conversation between ones heart and God and ask another to decide the path to take. This is never straight forward and the person to whom you pass those cherished fragments of one’s inner life to must handle them with great care. To trust that person with such treasure is made easier when it is done in relationship.
At some point in June/July I will head to my bishop with the fruit of my wrestling with God and ask him to discern my next step.
How do I communicate what I feel God speaking to me about?
Our lives, our vocation, everything that makes up the cocktail of what makes ‘me’ me is like a tightly knotted ball of odds and ends which are so intrinsically woven to discern what to do with it takes care; a mixture of gentleness and love alongside bold and decisive cuts. It is not something to hand over easily but, sitting with it in your lap won’t help either.
Yes, I feel called to ordained ministry as a priest. Yes, I feel called to the Church of England (for whatever reason!). Yes, I feel called to married life. Yes, I feel called to sit on committees/ strategy groups, Synods, etc. Yes I feel called to the ministry of reconciliation. Yes, I feel called to the wilderness context. Yes, I feel called to serve in the ordinariness of life and, yes, I feel called to monastic life, intentional community, a contemplative rhythm of prayer and action. What does this particular concoction of callings look like in practice? How do they connect and work themselves out? I do not know… and so the ball of confusion gets passed with great trepidation to the bishop with a prayer that God’s will be done in my life.
In the Rule of St. Benedict there is a sense that the call to priesthood is to be set under the call to be a monk. That monastic call supersedes the call to priestly ministry. This, for me, makes me reflect on how I see the priestly ministry. I still find myself considering it as a function rather than an ontology (a question of being). I see myself as being a priest in that I am someone who instinctively inhabits the ‘between places’ but I increasingly feel I am a monk in that I think I am at home in the wilderness with a gathered community of other desert dwellers.
The key question for me, as I wait for the call to move,
Where then is my home?
My answer (if I am forced to be so bold) is identifying the wilderness that is all around me and building the altars there. Abraham meets God in the journey and is called to encounter him there. There are increasing number of people who feel a similar call to establishing community of intentional disciples pitching a tent and setting up a place for God’s presence to be amongst them. Will the Church recognise this move of the Spirit which seems to be birthing monastic communities within the wilds of 21st century western civilisation?
It can feel like what I am envisaging is having my cake and eating it! This chapter has highlighted that.
You want all the pleasure of being a monk without any of the cost
The New Monastic movement is criticised on this point, I know. How is it monastic if you’re not alone? If you rarely have to face the cost of poverty and chastity how is it any form of monasticism?
I do not have an immediate answer to that but I know that we will only come to an answer by living in those questions rather than jumping to some theoretical answers. The Desert Fathers and Mothers didn’t write out a plan, a strategy, a theory; they moved into the edge lands and lived, struggled, failed and persevered.
I want to end with a picture that I have begun to own for myself; the bear.
The bear is often a solitary animal but is fiercely social as well. They live in the wild and gently plod around existing in quite extreme environments. When you bring them into a different surrounding you have to cage them because they cannot be contained. They are wild, strong and dangerous when caged or cornered. They are resilient in their natural habitats but their defence mechanisms kick in when they are out of it and God have mercy on those who are on the receiving end of their fury.
As I wait in a context I don’t feel naturally comfortable in, my prayer is simple,
Father, lead me. Meet me. Strengthen and defend me.
Come, Lord Jesus