The raison d’etre of the Spiritual Life Institute is to create ecological situations — wilderness areas — in which people can live so vivaciously and mindfully that, in a loving kind of relatedness, Christ-like and Trinitarian, they embody and anticipate the Kingdom of God.
Consequently, thirty-eight years after its founding, the Spiritual Life Institute has a community of solitaries in the United States, Canada, and Ireland. In each community the measured mix of solitary silence and community compassion issues in the unmeasured joy of holy worldliness. Each community is a colony of Apostolic Hermits.
This way of life is inspired and based on the life and teaching of Jesus; the Desert Fathers, for instance, Sts. Anthony, Basil and Pachomius; and the original spirit and rule given by St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to the Apostolic Hermits living on Mt. Carmel in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and traditionally long before that. (It took us thirty years to write a rule based on the existential experience of eremitical monastic life. It should be noted here we are definitely “monks”— men and women — not “friars.” Our moral founder is Elijah, the Prophet.)
It is our conviction that this very contemplative life with a very specific and limited “active” overflow into preaching, teaching and counseling will be the endurable and attractive form of religious life in the future: men and women living alone together, attentive to the essential aspects of reality — those aspects so real that they provide, as directly and immediately as possible, ultimate communion with the Absolute or the Holy One. Here at the heart of reality, the ultimate question is asked: What does God require of you? Our prayerful response to this numinous summons is metanoia, i.e., a life full of ongoing repentance, conversion, destiny, and, finally, of course, gratitude, peace and joy.
St. Thomas refers to this passionate response to the Numinous as “holy leisure,” and St. Anselm, as “faith seeking understanding.” The Holy Tradition calls it “doing the one thing necessary.”
This life of contemplation with its seasonal overflow into apostolic endeavors will always be carefully done in communion with the local bishop. Such ecclesial communion has been a blessing from the beginning.
The Evangelical Counsels
The practice of the evangelical counsels is an exercise one skips at his or her own peril. Anyone who wants to become distinctively human needs to become creatively and joyfully obedient, poor, and chaste. These are not nugatory or negative virtues but plangently positive. Their monastic meaning in our own lives may be expressed as follows.
Obedience is a learning process whereby all endeavor to “put on the mind of Christ” and enjoy a common unifying conviction without a stultifying conformity, a bland sameness or a silly side-by-sideness versus a tough and implacable togetherness.
Poverty is a lifestyle remarkably free of fuss. Simplicity, beauty, and a robust loveliness should be cultivated. But no fuss: suffering deprivations and inconveniences gladly, taking God so seriously that everything else is taken lightly — but treated reverently: animals, vegetables and minerals, the works of God and human hands.
Three great Doctors of the Church, all Carmelites, John of the Cross, Teresa, and Thérése explicate this divine-human drama, this normal way of life with a depth psychology that is incomparable. It is worth noting here the remarkable similarity between Carmelite ad Celtic spirituality. I would sum up both in terms of refined ferocity.
After all, God is the only truly wild thing in the world — no limitations, boundless, the Terrible Good! So real wildness has something crucial to do with Him! When the unbearable weight of His glory is borne through subjective decision and objective perseverance, there you have a wild man or a ferociously attractive woman.
A brassy kind of bravado, a deliberately noticeable or blatant poverty or a self-conscious imitation of a fourth or thirteenth-century saint is spurious. For instance, building a shack instead of a beautiful, simple hermitage, conducive to work and prayer, is lunatic; refusing a free ride in a limousine is ridiculus; spurning ice cream is idiotic! Ignoring the influence of Rumi the Persian, the Baal Shem Tov or Josephine Baker is ludicrous.
Just as obedience means no mental rust, so chastity means no lust. Purity is undiminished energy. The monk is God’s man, God’s woman. Mary; Jesus’ mother, is the best example of a monk, of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She is consumed by God — mothering His Son and fostering His destiny. One eros governed her life, so there was no room for distractions and diversions or sexual activities or attachments that would diminish the erotic thrust of her being toward the embodiment of the Kingdom: divine union.
In the life of the monk there is no energy for connubial capers or sexual sallies. God is a consuming fire. The living flame of love burns and purifies the disciplined (intellectually, emotionally and bodily chaste) monk. Cupid’s arrows have struck: that is why the monk needs to be silent, solitary and celibate — without being a cold fish. The vows are evangelical imperatives. Any perceptive mind will see the awful urgency of such a gospel commitment, a lavish and lively imitation of Christ in the twenty-first century. A religious or even a spiritual existence is no longer conveyed by society or inherited from ancestors. It must come from within, be chosen, and lived out deliberately. Non-decisions and routine practices have left us with empty monasteries and marriages, and have shattered our social order.
A Personal Response
Becoming a Christian from within is a daunting task. We need to respond personally to an extremely personal demand. We need to withstand the techno-barbaric juggernaut. Inculturation is not always possible or even advisable in the Western world. A more trenchantly pertinent act here and now would be creative subversion — for sanctity or even survival as a human in a dehumanized world. What dehumanizes is the specious world — the Empire: that network of randy rapacity — mediocrity, manipulation, and mendacity. The media thrives on this Empire, on false powers, while humans wither. What to do?
Everyone — all lay people, students, workers, homemakers, even beach bums — needs a Rule. Try this:
1. Wake up and fall on your knees — ten minutes of prayer. Put your stamp on the day with God’s help. Read a gospel or a psalm.
2. Live mindfully all day. No compulsions. No frenzy. No trivialities. Joy in everything. Make something, love, especially.
3. Angelus at noon. Stop!
4. On the way home — stop in church, in a park, a favorite spot. Do something wild every day, i.e., break the moribund daily pattern and imitate Christ – the Wildman.
5. Glad, loving entry at home — share something you noticed that day; then music, laughter, and good food.
6. Visit the sick, the poor, aged, children and animals. Play. Walk. Run.
7. One half hour of meditative reading leading to quiet prayer. Go out or to bed peacefully.
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