This past fall on cable television’s The Learning Channel, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiqui, New Mexico was featured on the series The Monastery. This was really the second show of its kind; in 2005 in England, BBC2 broadcast a similar show, also called The Monastery, featuring the Abbey of Worth and five men from 29 to 37 years old of various backgrounds spent 40 days living, working, and praying with the Benedictine monks of Worth Abbey.
After the British show, the Abbot of Worth, Christopher Jamison, wrote a book about the experience he and the monks had with the five men. His book shows how people experience monasticism and what kind of ideas they might have about it. Some people may think that monks and nuns waste a lot of time by praying four or six times a day. Many people may think that monks and nuns waste their lives because they are celibate and do not have children. Others may think that monks and nuns waste their lives because they do not have successful careers or property. Abbot Christopher shows everyone that monks and nuns have not chosen to waste their lives, but to live life to the true fullest and to have life everlasting. Monks and nuns are working on their salvation, and they hope to bring others along, too.
Abbot Christopher reveals that most people are surprised by how much silence fills monasteries. Most people cannot stand silence; they have to have some kind of noise going on in the background - or even in the foreground - all the time or they might go nuts. They think that silence will drive them crazy. The Abbot shows that silence is necessary for people who want to hear the voice of God: God many times speaks in whispers; God speaks to us in our hearts. We humans have to find silence in order to hear God’s voice. The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict which we Benedictine monks and nuns live under is “Listen.”
In his introduction, the Abbot poses the proverbial question asked of the religious: “Why did you become a monk or a nun?” He answers in a way that I suspect many monks and nuns would: “I don’t know.” He goes on to say that “I don’t know why I became a monk, because the reason I joined is not the reason I stayed.” After summarizing his life, Abbot Christopher discusses how busy the world has become; the five men featured in The Monastery had a hard time with not being busy, finding it difficult to just sit and pray.
People feel forced to work and be busy to make money for themselves and their families; some have to make money to keep up their way of lives. In our commercialized society, we are no longer people; we are customers. We have to be sold things, and we are bombarded by slogans and commercials encouraging us to buy this or that to make our lives better, even if in fact it does not. Even monks and nuns have to fight with this, and this is where they become truly counter-cultural - by not giving into consumerism. Their existence proves that one can live in a happy life without all of those things, but it is not easy.
Abbot Christopher describes how one can build an interior (or even a physical) sanctuary, a place one can adjourn to for prayer and meditation and to block out the consumer society we live in. The Rule of St. Benedict is one way to help with this. If Benedictines have a prayer “method”, the Lectio Divina, an ancient Christian method of meditation or prayer, is it, and Abbot Christopher shows how this is done.
The Abbot addresses the topic of obedience, something many might think of as awful. Why would anyone give up control of their lives? But Abbot Christopher reveals that the vow of obedience can be freeing. In the same manner on the subject of humility, he explains that this is not the same as humiliation; nor does it mean being a loser, and he relates the 12 steps of humility in the Rule of St. Benedict to modern life. After that, Abbot Christopher discusses the idea of community, a concept that combats individualism – but that does not mean giving up one’s identity. Community can be a great help to reaching God and growing in one’s life. The community helps a person to avoid selfishness and loneliness.
At one time, spirituality and religion were the same; not today. One can experience spirituality without being a member of a religion, and many have turned away from Christianity or other religions looking for some kind of spirituality that will make them feel good or give them whatever they need in life. Abbot Christopher talks about those who shop for spirituality and shows that religion and spirituality should not be separated. Abbot Christopher’s last chapter is on hope; the Rule of St. Benedict encourages all followers not to lose hope in life and, especially, in life everlasting. The Abbot provides an appendix, which is a lectio divina session, and an index.
Finding Sanctuary is highly recommended to those looking for more in life than the rat race.