Last post we looked at the monastic practice of poverty, and asked how this extreme way of live can be applicable today.
I believe one way forward is to look not to the hermits and anchorites, who lived as individuals in isolation, but to the cenobites who lived in community. These monks would gather together under an abbot and share all resources, following the same rule of life. They gave up their claim to ownership as individuals, but shared all things in common. This sharing of resources, which so pushes against our desire to have our own things packed away in a little cubby somewhere, so as not to be inconvenienced or have to rely on others, is exactly what we need as an antidote to our consumeristic lives today.
My wife and I have begun to practice some of this on a small scale even now with people from our church. Three or four nights a week we share meals with another couple from church who live across the street from us. We trade back and forth cooking dinner and hosting. We also share many household things like tools. We say frequently in church things like, "I don't need to buy a weedwhacker if so-and-so has one". This sharing of resources has allowed us to live more simply, own less things, and go into less debt.
It is not always easy. You sacrifice control; things aren't always available when you want them. Dinner isn't always what you would prefer. You sacrifice self-sufficiency; you have to ask people for things, and be interrupted by them asking you. But I am convinced that in this life of being both a borrower and a lender (contra Shakespeare) is the life of Christ. Because the truth is we aren't self-sufficient. Our very life comes from God, both directly and mediated through the created order and our community. We are not, ultimately, isolated individuals. Our value does not come from what we can do or how much stuff we have, but from receiving from God.
This small effort at communal life has been an experiment between two families in our church, but I think we can all pursue similar ideas in our own contexts.
What examples of living in community and simplicity have you seen or participated in?
But what about the inevitable complications? Human communities inevitably have to face their own brokenness and frustration. I think the example of the cenobitic house rule is helpful here. Living simply and in community is so contrary to our culture that we cannot expect these things to just happen. The monks are eminently practical about living as a group of human beings. They encountered the same frustrations, inconveniences, and struggles as we do as they collected diverse personalities and abilities under one roof. So even though their "one roof" was literal and ours may be figurative, we should learn from their life together.
They knew that to live freely in common there had to be procedures in place, like the dry wood that allows spiritual fire to be kindled. Contrary to their image as people of harsh discipline, the monks knew how to bear one another's burdens, living by the gracious example of God.
My favorite example of this comes from a story about two monks who go into town to sell their crafts. One monk falls into fornication, and tells the other monk he will not be returning to the monastery. The second monk, though he has done nothing wrong, says to the first monk, "The same thing happened to me; after I left you, I also fell into fornication. Let us go together, and do penance with all our might, and God will pardon us sinners." And so they both returned.
We do not have to live in a monastery to practice this kind of sacrificial love and solidarity, healing one another's brokenness, creating an environment of non-judgmental confession, so that the grace of God rules over all.