Interested in simplifying your lifestyle?

If you are interested in digging deeper into simplicity, decluttering your life (physically and metaphorically) and living altogether more lightly – you should look at the Breathe Network.

Breathe is effectively an online network of people who are dealing with the intersection of physical simplicity and spiritual richness. It dubs itself ‘A Christian network for simpler living’ and if that sounds like your kind of thing, I reccomend you head straight over there and have a bit of a look around.

Its not all online either, the ‘Enough‘ gathering in October is an attempt to bring together like minded folks for some face to face discussion and friendship.

HT to James for tipping me off about them in the first place.

And (shameless plug alert) if community living and simplicity are part of the way you are thinking of walking these days, yo ucould do worse than read my book, ‘Totally Devoted‘ which looks at a number of intentional communities active in the UK today.

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community life – and my sunny weekend

I spent most of Friday and Saturday at the house of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, near Leeds. It’s the second trip I’ve made there this year, and I enjoyed it even more than last time.

For one thing, this time I was joined by my friend James, who blogs here and tweets @n0rma1 – this was James’ first visit, and I was really encouraged to see how much kinship there is between his kind of new monasticism and the older monasticism/religious life that is to be found there.  It makes me think that my book was about right on that.

It’s great to see how links are forged between communities, and principally between individuals who represent different communities. It is sometimes only by making those face to face visits that we recognise the humanity in one another, and see past the preconceptions or societal stereotypes.

I also relished the opportunity to spend some time in quiet, and feel reinvigorated now, ready to dive into more preparations for meditation workshops, MBS fayre stuff, books, community projects and so on.

I was also encouraged by something I read in the Tablet, which was an article by Christopher Jamison in which he wrote about the way that so many people try to minister to those around them by inviting them to Mass – or to a general church service if you’re a protestant. What we are doing, points out Jamison, is adding another level of busyness to already overburdened lives – people genuinely have a lot to do. What we would be better doing is finding ways for people to experience peace in their everyday lives, rather than adding a new level of activity.

I agree with this – only this weekend I heard somebody talking about how we should be inviting people to church, by which this person meant a church service. For many of the people I know though, Sunday morning is about the only time of rest they get, going to church would put the kiebosh on that too. I’m much more interested in finding ways to help people create oases of peace in the everyday, to experience the justice, peace and joy which we talk about often, but dont tend to generate in sunday morning meetings.

Dont get me wrong, I’m not trying to abolish church ‘services’ only trying to encourage us to make more of our ‘service’ to others, and not to limit church to congregational meetings.

People who have heard me talk recently about ‘post congregationl church’ will perhaps see what I mean here – our view of what it means to be church is too often stuck in a rut of ‘meeting attendees’ – lets make our church wider and broader, and turn our towns into temples.  (Also our villages, cities, estates etc, just that towns and temples scan nicely.)

It was so good to spend time at the monastery this weekend, I can thoroughly reccomend it as a great place to visit – especially when the weather is good, as the garden is glorious.

One of the brothers there also mentioned this piece from the guardian by Toby Jones, a lovely chap whose own community is a great example of what it might mean to create something along kind of new monastic lines. His column in the observer is now over, but it makes great re-reading, and you can look back through it to see just what sort of journey Toby and his family have been on recently.

In our case of course, the reality is somewhat less glamorous. We’re yet to see whether we will stay here beyond the summer, or whether there will be pastures new on the horizon. The house we want to move into here hasnt yet become available – although we’re still hoping. But even if it does, there’s no saying what rental price tag it will come with. Presumably somewhat more than our current abode.

We’re also really in need of more people to work alongside us – ours is a new monastic vocation really, and if you’re calling is partly to prayer, partly to study, and partly to service – then you’re in the same groove as us – so why not get in touch.

The old – new monasticism

I’ve been party to a bit of discussion recently about new monasticism, whether it is in fact new, or monastic. Monastic is of course a word which has different meanings to different readers, and in one sense you might say indeed, there is not much monastic about many of the new monastics.

But when Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of a new monasticism, he called for one which had nothing in common with the old, save an unswerving allegiance to the sermon on the mount.

What has fascinated me, among other things, is what contributed to getting Bonhoeffer to this point. One thing I noticed was that he spent time with the Community of the Resurrection (CR), and following my own visit to them, I began to see a link.

The man who founded CR was called Charles Gore. Gore was a privileged, well educated young man who clearly had a prodigious intellect and a powerful social network. But despite his privileged background, Gore was an iconoclast, an early socialist and as founder of CR a man who encouraged the return of the church to religious life. Even within the church, his Anglo Catholicism set him apart.

Anyway, Gore was fortunate enough to go to Harrow school, one of the best boys schools back then (an maybe today too) – this was in back in the 1860s. Whilst at Harrow, Gore came under the tutelige of a man called Brook Fosse Westcott, another extraordinary character.

Westcott has had a good deal written about him, as has Gore, but the key moment for me, was a sermon Westcott preached to the boys of Harrow School when he was assistant Master – this was in 1868.

In the sermon, which powerfully impacted Gore, Westcott extolled the ‘Disciplined Life’ – but then went on to contend that St Benedict, St Francis and Ignatius of Loyola, founders of the Benedictine, Franciscan and Jesuit orders respectively, had expressed this disciplined life in a form ‘inappropriate’ to the time they were now in.

Wetcott explained:

“History thus teaches us that social evils must be met by social organisation. A life of absolute and calculated sacrifice is a spring of immesurable power. In the past it has worked marvels, and there is nothing to prove that its virtue is exhausted.”

He then went on to call for a new kind of disciplined, monastic, or religious life, which in a ‘pre-post modern’ way was to be a kind of bricolage of other rules:

“We want a rule which shall answer to the complexity of our own age. We want a discipline which shall combine the sovereignty of soul of Antony, the social devotion of Benedict, the humble love of Francis, the matchless energy of the Jesuits…”

Legend tells that when Gore and five others founded CR in 1892, they each took a different rule to study. From each they pulled out certain elements which they took to be particularly important, and pooling them, began to form a new rule, relevant to them in their current age.

An interesting point to note is that now the community is looking again at the issue of the rule. They are now drawing more heavily on the Benedictine rule rather than their own, which they now seem to recognise was very much ‘of its time’.

CR was then founded to be an order of religious life within the Anglican church. This was at a time when these things were being revisited, and it represented a shift in focus. Over the 100+ years of its existence it has shifted a bit and settled a bit, and now resembles something perhaps more akin to a settled monastic order of the old sort – albeit with strong elements of the religious life.

Curiously Gore was also at Harrow at the same time as a master called Rev W D Bushell, who in 1897 bought Caldey Island, a small but significant place in South Wales, just off the coast of Tenby. Caldey has been home to monkishness for centuries, I have personally visited a very ancient  ruined Celtic building there. In an attempt to rebuild some of its ancient monastic heritage, in 1900 Bushell invited a community of Benedictines to live on the island, selling the whole place to them six years later.  Bushell’s more romantic association with medieval monastic history wasnt exactly close to Gore’s progressive and political religious life thoughts, but its a curious cross over.

So when we talk about new monasticism today, and we wonder whether something is new or indeed monastic, lets try and take the long view. CR as a  community exists today as an important part of the older story, but they were once very new – a radical left wing outpost of Anglo Catholicism in the dirt and grime of industrial yorkshire.

I am sure that when Bonhoeffer looked at them he saw something of this heritage, his visit in the 1930s was barely 40 years after the community had been founded (in 1892) and it was still getting going.  He must surely have seen in them the driving force of a desire for a new kind of monasticism, or a new kind of disciplined life, and recognised in them the same motivation as his own.

I’m deeply indebted to Alan Wilkinson’s book ‘The Community of the Resurrection – A centenary history’ for this article. That is where you will find the quotes I give above. It’s out of print, but if you hunt you will find it – I did.

Community of the Resurrection

I had a lovely, but all too short, visit to the brothers of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield this weekend.

Originally I’d intended to meet a friend there, but when he had to cancel at the last minute, I decided to head off on my own, and have a mini retreat. It was wonderful.

I can heartily reccomend the hospitality of the brothers, who live an unusual mixture of the Religious and Monastic life. As well as organised retreats of different kinds, visitors can arrange to visit individually, and its well worth doing.

One of the reasons I originally wanted to visit was the knowledge that Dietrich Bonhoeffer stayed with them when he was developing his own ideas about a ‘new kind of monasticism’ – I think he went to exactly the right place.

I may blog some more about the things which came to mind while I was there, but then again I may just let them percolate for a while. I found the visit really spiritually nourishing, and its good to see that despite the fact that many of the brothers are pretty old, there is a real vision for the future of the community. As one brother said wryly though – “We’re a bit like Pandas in the zoo, people like to come and look at us, but we’re not very good at reproducing ourselves.”

January is nearly at an end – thoughts and revolutions about the coming year are still working through, but this visit has certainly played a part in those workings – one resolution I have made, is that Mirfield, with its large, peaceful gardens, atmosphere of stillness and calm, and ancient/contemporary spirituality –  is somewhere I shall certainly be visiting again.

the desert wisdom of monasticism

This is a classic quote, which strikes at the core of a ‘monastic’ approach to life:

“A brother was troubled in his solitude. He went to see Abba Theodore about it. The old man said to him, ‘Go, be more humble in your aspirations, place yourself under obedience and live with others.’

Later, he came back to the old man and said, ’I do not find peace with others.’  The old man said to him, ‘If you are not at peace either alone or with others, why have you become a monk ?  Is it not to suffer trials? Tell me how many years you have worn the habit ?’

He replied, ‘For eight years.’

Then the old man said to him, ‘I have worn the habit for seventy years and on no day have I found peace.  Do you expect to find peace in eight years ?’

At these words the brother went away strengthened.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers, alphabetical collection. Translated by  Benedicta Ward. Mowbrays. 1975/77. p 63. ISBN 0 264 661 249.

Common Prayer parties for Ordinary Radicals

This blog has taken a very religious tone of late, high time for more nonsense to appear, but until it does, I thought I’d make you aware of something good that’s happening.

A while ago a number of us were asked if we’d like to host parties to celebrate the launch of a new ‘book of common prayer’ which is described as a new monastic resource, full of songs, liturgies, prayers etc. I didnt volunteer, what with living in a very small place and all, but I’m glad to see a number of others in the Uk have signed up.

So, if you’re in or near Birmingham, Coleraine, Glasgow, Saint Andrews or Sheffield, then I reccomend you get along. If you live outside of the UK, look for your nearest party here. They are happening all over the world.

If you’re interested at looking at what the book has to offer, you can see more here. It is effectively a ‘greatest hits’ of the church traditions, something of a post modern melting pot of stuff, from the very old, to the very new. One thing you can be sure of too, is that it will be beautifully and creatively presented. You can pre-order it here, or from your internet retailer of choice.

Toby Jones in the Observer

Tobias Jones has a new column in the Observer, which you can find here. Toby and his wife Francesca have an unusal ‘extended’ household home in a Somerset woodland, which used to be the site of a quarry. They are learning as they go, and its very much an adventurous journey of exploration. They take their inspiration from the sermon on the mount, and are exploring what it means to live accordingly.Part of that inspiration has come through their involvement with the Pilsdon community, which was detailed in Toby’s excellent ‘Utopian Dreams‘. Tobias is a lovely guy, and I look forward to visiting his home one day.

You can read the introduction to Toby’s monthly column here, and visit the website for their home here. Warmly reccomended.