Yesterday the Boston Globe printed a great article The Unexpected Monks, on the move towards monasticism by many evangelicals. It is something that resonates very deeply with me personally as well as with all of us at MSA. In fact we are in the process of reimagining MSA as a network of communities with a common rule of life. We believe that God calls all of us to embody an incarnational faith in all aspects of our lives but we all need spiritual disciplines that enable us to live that out.
After the New Conspirators conference we plan to spend a extended time fleshing out what our rule of life should look like. Below is an outline I wrote for our Board meeting last Saturday that outlines some of our reasoning on Why Community? Even though we have been working on this for years we feel we are still very much in the early stages and would appreciate your prayers and comments as we move forward. Tomorrow I will post some thoughts on Why a Rule of Life? Lent – the season for reflection and self examination seems a good time to grapple with these issues.
In the standard non-profit organizational model, staff are expected to fulfill a professional role with clearly defined job expectations but rarely are they expected to also embody the values of God’s kingdom in their entire lives. We know of numbers of Christian professionals who don’t go to church or maintain regular spiritual disciplines. Increasingly however we find Christians want to see a more authentic incarnational faith modelled by those they work and live with.
Early Christians believed that God comes to us in community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a perfect harmony of relationship. They reasoned that as the essential nature of God is love and because it is impossible to practice love in isolation, God the Trinity must be a model of perfect community. Augustine believed that living together with others is necessary for the cultivation of spiritual formation and maturity especially for the discipline of love. “Perfection in the spiritual life is impossible to attain as long as a person lives alone, for how can that person learn how to love?” The purpose of monastic communities became not just to establish a regimen of discipline but to nurture spiritual growth and so “help facilitate the restoration of the image of God in sinful humans.”  As well as this, the Celtic monasteries were “colonies of heaven, planted on earth to point as a sign and harbinger of the Kingdom that was yet to come.” They offered hospitality and provided a sacred space in which visitors could develop a regular rhythm of prayer and worship in the midst of their everyday activities. They also became educational and resource centres and the centres out of which mission was accomplished.
Thinking of God as community that embraces not just the Godhead but also the international community of God’s people forces us to rethink everything:
1. To become a disciple today does not necessarily mean that we all need to live together in a residential community but it does mean reorienting our thinking to more of a community world view. In this world view discipleship is not about giving assent to a set of spiritual laws but rather means we are drawn into this community of mutual love and relationship. We become part of God’s international community with sisters and brothers from every tribe and nation, with the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the sick, the lonely, the disabled, the homeless, the marginalized and the abandoned. If God comes to us in community then it is impossible to reflect the image of God unless we too are willing to share life with others in God’s community. “The people of God are privileged to belong to this community through the redemptive work of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Such an experience of love inspired early Christians to share it with others…they believed that Jesus Christ came to redeem and reclaim the fallen world, which involved even the most ordinary and routine matters of life, such as marriage and family, stewardship of money, treatment of friends and enemies and daily conduct. ”
2. To do mission is no longer seen as wanting to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of others. Rather it is about learning to “love our neighbours as we do ourselves”. It is a recognition of the fact that we cannot share life with other members of God’s international family as God intended unless we are in loving relationships willing to enter into the life journeys of others – to share their pain and their sorrows, to celebrate their joys and their triumphs
3. Spiritual disciplines become those shared practices that renew our faith in God and God’s kingdom vision for an eternal shalom world in which there will no longer be any pain or suffering or oppression or disease – as well as reconnecting us to others that hold the same beliefs. A rule of life then becomes the vehicle through which we are able to develop practices that connect us to God, to God’s world wide community and to God’s world.
It is because of our conviction that we are called to reflect, albeit very inadequately, the image of our loving God and to model something of God’s shalom kingdom vision that we believe we need to become a community rather than a programme based organization. Though everyone involved in MSA does not and never will live in residential communities, we recognize that there is a need to foster a sense of shared spirituality and commitment in order to accomplish our MSA goals.