Anyhow, the book talks about a new kind of monasticism and a new kind of monk. Plaiss writes about those who feel called to monasticism but who live lives outside of the monastery. He says we can be accountants or writers or business people or teachers, and still live a monastic lifestyle. It is a book about resting in the presence of God, prayer, and the sacredness and value of tradition, while giving an interesting description of the monastic life.
Plaiss writes as if every thing he sees or experiences is somehow the most beautiful thing he has ever seen or experienced. His writing is prose. It draws you in and pulls at the part of you that wants to lay everything down and rest in the beauty of the spirit that could never be requited by the self. He writes beautifully and if you stop to read this book you’ll find that it somehow calms you.
When I read this book I found myself thinking of Donald Miller’s introduction to Blue Like Jazz. Miller said that he had never liked jazz music, but that one night in Portland he stood outside a club and watched a man play jazz on the saxophone for 15 minutes straight and that the man never opened his eyes the whole time. Miller said that once he saw that, he liked jazz, because sometimes you have to see somebody love something before you can love it yourself – it is like they are showing you the way. This is what Plaiss does – he makes you want to love God and explore monasticism because you see so clearly that he loves it – he shows you the way.
Anyhow, I wanted to write today about something in Plaiss’ writing that struck me in relationship to the community I am living in. Plaiss wrote an entire chapter on the idea of the monk, or the monastic, as a sort of rebellion. I’d like to share a bit of this with you:
‘The Christian, too, must be a rebel… The Christian must be a rebel against the culture of self. The book of Wisdom says, “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him”. The rebellion of the Christian, then, consists in seeking daily to uncover the image of God that resides within… This rebellion takes the form of love. That which makes the Christian a rebel, then, is the decision to love.’
‘To choose love means to deny the self, for love is selfless. Love seeks the good of the other before that of the self…. The monk is a component in this rebellion of love.’
‘For the nature of the monk is at odds with the prevailing culture. Nothing in our culture is more useless than monks. The diocesan clergy, at least, provide a service for people. Lay ministers do
likewise. But monks? What task do they perform? What service do they provide? Who do they help? What do they do? Which is exactly the point. The monk is the antithesis of everything the prevailing culture esteems. The monk is poor, powerless, and prayerful. The monk retires to a cell and prays. The monk is therefore useless to a culture that measures worth by wealth, power, status and, most of all, utility. Not only does the monk lack these attributes, the monk actively refutes them.’
‘The monk is un-American in another way. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, there is a strong tendency in America to confuse freedom with license, uninhibited action. There is a reluctance among Americans to tolerate restraints on behavior and a strain of intolerance
for those who advocate such restraints. The monk, on the other hand, seeks to die to all those desires of the heart that enslave us to selfish actions. By doing so, the monk attains freedom.'
First let me note that I don't know what the book of Wisdom is. Is it a book in the Catholic Bible? Does anybody know?
Anyhow, in essense, Plaiss states that the monk is a rebel because he simply is, and because of the refusal to answer to the call of self - the desire to die to the self to become something more. And because the self is what America is all about today, this is the greatest rebellion of the culture. I find it interesting that he equates the action of monks with a deep rebellion against culture, while many might find the joining of a monastery (or even of a particular religious sect) to be the very definition of conformity. Ironic, isn’t it?
Prior to reading this book, I had a sense that my Tuesday Night community was also some sort of rebellion in our culture, and I’d like to explore this idea more now that Plaiss has brought it to the forefront of my mind. Some of you may not be very familiar with Tuesday Nights. I will not try to explain them here, as I’ve already written a freakin’ book today, but let me say this: Tuesday Nights are a time when our community gathers, tells stories, celebrates the good in us, and mourns the ugly stuff in us and works on change. It is a time to share the art we have created or the art that has touched us. It is a time to be authentic. It is a time to admit we are fake. Tuesday Night is a place where we simply are. It is a community of interdependence and support that grows stronger daily, embracing our differences and struggles and joy and making our lives into something beautiful. Though committing to this community of interdependence appears to be a confining conformity from the outside, it is actually a strong rebellion to the culture of independence and disconnection we live in.
Belonging to community is rebellion against American individualism.
Living in a state of interdependence with your community is rebellion against the American pride in independence.
Laying down the self to love each other is rebellion against the ‘me’ culture.
Telling stories is rebelling against the mindless technological, impersonal communication forms of Gen Y.
Mourning our ugliness and trying to become better out of it is rebellion again the raise-your-self-esteem-there’s-nothing-wrong-with-you-Dr.-Phil-feel-good-psycho-babble culture we’ve created.
Celebrating our beauty is rebellion against a culture of cynicism.
Communal sharing of time, talents, and resources is rebellion against a culture of consumerism.
And on, and on, and on, and on… You see what I’m saying, I’m sure. One of my favorite passages of scripture has always been in Romans 2:2; ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ I hope we are doing this; I hope we are bringing this to life.
Jesus was a non-conformist. I find great joy in the realization that I might just be following in His footsteps, even if it looks like conformity from the outside. Let the world outside think what they want. Let them conform to the culture of individuality; to the dependence they’ve developed on independence. Let them look at me with pride that they have not succumbed to the ideals of a group who wants nothing more than to live and love, and to make life beautiful. Let them.
My community will continue in this great rebellion of love – a rebellion of hope, a rebellion of seeking and truth, a rebellion of our interwoven lives – and offer the world the beautiful fabric we weave. We will be community. We will practice interdependence. We will allow ourselves to become ensnared in one another. We will be the non-conformists.
We will be the authors of a beautiful rebellion.