Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach ourselves, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness. (St. Anthony the Great).
There are those who have great difficulty with the idea of dispersed monastics, such as The Companions of St. Luke of which I am a Novice Member. The complication is quite valid in light of a writing such as what I quoted above from St. Anthony. There are many who admit that they could not live with and/or in a residential monastic community, but the idea of the existence of a community that is non-residential; let alone allows their members to be married/partnered, have every day jobs and pray our Offices on our own; that kind of thing just seems too wrong for many.
The Companions of St. Luke/Order of St. Benedict along with other Christian Communities within The Episcopal Church are part of a New Monasticism. A Monasticism that views the Vow of Stability for example, as being about finding Stability in Christ and the particular Community we are vowed to. We observe The Rule of St. Benedict in that we pray the Daily Offices, pray Lectio Divina daily, and we are obedient to our Superiors in what they require of us in terms of our work of Formation, or any other work we might do as requested. We also seek stability in all of our relationships including but not limited to our spouses, family members, etc. Incidentally, the Companions of St. Luke/OSB and Communities within The Episcopal Church are joined by a similar Catholic Community such as the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage founded by John Michael Talbot, also part of the New Monasticism.
One of the requirements I have accepted as a Novice is to seek those moments of silence and solitude. It is a time to turn off all the electronic devices, close the door of my room and center myself, my thoughts and seek the presence of God. As Thomas Keating wrote in Open Minds, Open Hearts, “God speaks the language of silence.” In this way, even dispersed monastics are “in the world, but not of the world.” We give up the pleasures of continual conversation, doing everything to please others to get our own pleasure, a never ending wandering of our own desires and face ourselves in the presence of God. We do not spend time in silence and solitude to escape ourselves. On the contrary, we enter into silence and solitude to meet the best and the worst of ourselves in the presence of God; to experience God refining us as silver is refined in the fire.
The need for solitude and silence is not isolated to monastics. As Christians, we are all inundated with social media, the news media’s endless campaign to over charge our senses, family obligations, work and more. Contemplative prayer is not impossible with these things going on, but our ability to listen to God becomes quite limited. It is very important that we take time as Elijah did to listen for the still, small voice of God that speaks not in the earthquake, the fire or the wind; but in the silence of our hearts, stilled by the Spirit’s gentle whisper.
May we remember today and every day to take those moments unselfishly, so that just as two people in love can spend time together and not say a word; God can spend some quiet time with us.
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB