Why I am going to a monastery

Why I am going to a monastery

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The difficult practice of true rest and real relationship.

People often ask me why I want to enter a monastery and I am beginning to realize why this question has been hard to answer. One does not go to a monastery because one likes this or that lifestyle—wanting has little to do with the process. Instead, I need to go to a monastery, but trying to articu­late the difference is complicated and takes practice.

Much of the difficulty stems from a misunderstanding of motivation. Most seem to think one enters a mon­astery or convent because one de­sires solitude or “whatever it is they do in monasteries or convents.” In this way people seem to conflate desiring  solitude with the central motivation. People go to monasteries to get away from the world, right? Although su­perficially plausible, I think this ex­planation is incomplete.

The problem has to do with how we tend to talk about our motivations today. We date for compatibility. We enter university to get the career we most enjoy. We attend one church rather than another because the ser­vice suits our spiritual preferences (other services aren’t bad per se—they just aren’t “right for me”).

What fascinates me about this way of speaking is that we tend to speak the same way about shopping. This register is effective for avoiding con­flict, and that is why we use it to talk about going to church: “I just like this or that service better, so there is no need get mad. I am just expressing what speaks to me.”

But this register is effective pre­cisely because it softens certain forms of contact. The sort of relationship  you can have when speaking this way is one of shared interest. Those who have eclectic interests are often best able to relate with multiple people. But a shared interest is the icebreaker; it is never the sustaining factor in a re­lationship.

Ever notice how awkward it feels to work out issues with a good friend while trying to have fun together? The shared interest is rather dull, every moment of silence is agonizing, and the friend’s very presence induces anxiety.

The same would be true if I tried to enter a monastery for the solitude. Being there, alone and quiet, would become a noisy hell. I would start to loathe the silence and yearn for the presence of others to get away from my own voice, not so much from the voice of God. So much for the soli­tude.

The truth is, a monastery has little to do with being alone or getting away from the world—little to do with lik­ing that kind of “religious stuff.” I am going to a monastery because I need to, not because I want to. And this need reflects a deeper desire to relate to others in a culture of icebreakers and distractions—all the flashy en­tertainment we use to “unwind” after a difficult day. When I watch a televi­sion show to unwind, it is much like taking a sleeping pill before tending to an open wound. It is the wrong sort of rest, inappropriate to the circum­stances.

The right sort of rest takes prac­tice, and monasteries are houses of practice. My sin, my insecurities, my pride—these all cut me off from oth­ers even while we are talking. As long as I numb myself to these issues, as long as I ignore my own mortality and sinful nature, they have free reign in my soul and act as barriers to partici­pating in community. Instead, I pray daily to practice true rest in the words of Psalm 1. I pray for that delight we can have in the law of the Lord. I pray to be like a tree planted by streams of water, a tree which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not with­er—to prosper in whatever I do—isn’t that a maturity, a restfulness, worth pursuing in faith?

Heaven We Seed

Heaven We Seed

Angelic Animals

Angelic Animals