REFLECTIONS ON THE RULE OF LIFE
My Monastic Journey
How does one get started on the monastic journey? Where does monasticism take us that we haven't already traveled? These reflections are personal, my own thoughts as I have explored and experienced membership in a modern Christian monastic order. Using the book Invitations & Commitments: A Rule of Life by Jared Patrick Boyd as my guide, I have spent the last few years reflecting on what being a monk means in my life. Now I'd like to share that journey with you.
Want to come along?
MY STORY BOOK: IN REAL LIFE
This book was birthed during a season in my life where I was exploring my dream of practicing monasticism in a practical, contemporary, and life-giving way. I found a home for my monastic dream in the Order of the Common Life, the monastic expression of the Vineyard movement. As I journeyed through my Novitiate Experience, I wanted to explore the Rule of Life from a biblical perspective, desiring to explore the lives of biblical personages who demonstrated the monastic commitments in a healthy way when facing challenges in the real world they lived in. I prayed and asked God to show me who to focus on for each of the commitments and which narratives would be best to use for personal reflection and prayer as I endeavored to establish those commitments in my own life.
Along the way I found myself changing: becoming more aware of my true self and seeing the world more clearly, expanding my soul and yet simplifying my life, listening to God and others and yet finding my own voice, facing my demons and soaring with angels. For each passage, each story, I wrestled with the same question, “What questions is God asking me about my own life through this story?” What I discovered is that God asks hard questions! Often the only answer I had was, “I don’t know,”. However, I began to discern that those are the very questions I should be most diligent about engaging with if I want to really explore what God has for me.
To order a copy of In Real Life today, visit my web store.
ALWAYS START WITH PRAYER
When I first submitted my application for postulancy in the Order of the Common Life (orderofthecommonlife.org), I wanted to bathe my new experience in prayer. Around that time the movie War Room was in theaters and I was excited to set aside a prayer closet in my house and start praying strategically about this new monastic journey.
I developed a template of sorts on how I wanted to approach praying about each of the Rhythm of Life and Commitments described in the Invitations & Commitments book. I started by taking some time in reflection with three key questions. What is God Already Doing? What is God Already Saying? Where is God Going?
I wrote out my thoughts on these questions longhand. A bit of an antiquated method, I know, but God spoke to me very clearly about how I needed to slow down my thoughts and my spirit and be still so that I could hear His voice more clearly than I can when I'm typing away on a computer. I then took my reflections and held them close to my heart and opened myself to Spirit so I could understand how I wanted to pray.
Next I wrote out a prayer, most of them somewhat general in content so they would be meaningful throughout my monastic journey as I read them over and over again. I wanted to capture the themes of what I wanted God to do in each of these monastic commitment areas. Sometimes my prayers contained confessions, sometimes thanksgiving, sometimes petitions. They all came from the heart and they all expressed to the Lord exactly where I was in the present moment and where I wanted to go.
Perhaps this short explanation of the process is all you need to get started. However, if you would like a bit more guidance, I do have the reflection and prayer process that I went through written out in workbook format that I can share with you. Just send me an email at the address shown on the bottom of this page and let me know which Rule of Life or Commitment area you'd like to start with. Not sure? Read our Rule of Life and see which one God puts His finger on as the place to start.
To read our Rule of Life, visit our website, the Order of the Common Life.
DIG INTO THE WORD OF GOD
After spending my 6-month postulancy completely engrossed in reflective prayer, I was ready to dig into the Word of God and study more about these monastic commitments from a Biblical perspective during my Novitiate Experience.
I felt led by God to approach my reflective meditations using primarily the narrative passages in the Bible. Often the life commitments made by monastics can seem abstract and hard to grasp. Intellectually, I knew that each of these commitments were based from Biblical concepts, so I knew there had to be concrete examples of what these commitments look like when they are fleshed out in real life. I sat before the Lord and asked Him to show me people whose life stories are in the Bible who modeled these Commitments well.
I selected a person (or in some cases multiple persons, such as couples or friends) for each Commitment area described in Invitations & Commitments then read their stories to see how they demonstrated that Commitment area.
I then selected specific passages that I felt represented that person's commitment to God in that particular area. Perhaps you are familiar with a monastic practice called lectio divina. With each passage I selected, I used the lectio divina reflection method to chew on the passage and write out how it spoke to me.
Lastly, I waited before the Lord to see what questions God would ask of me as I looked at my own life through the lens of the experiences of the heroes of the Bible. I wrote those questions down and then took time to reflect on them and write out a response to God for each one.
For some of the Commitments, the Lord would only highlight two or three passages to reflect on. Other times there were six or seven which stood out. I often found that the Commitments with more passages were also the Commitments that Jesus had put His finger on for me to open up to Him and let Him do a deep work in my heart. At times the application questions brought up old wounds from my past, struggles of my present, or uncertainty about the future. Whatever the case, God met me in every meditation and I feel like He's just getting started.
Do you feel drawn to meditate on Scriptures that exemplify the monastic life? I would be happy to share my list of Bible passages with you as a starting point. If you need more guidance, I have compiled my reflection and meditation process for these passages into a workbook format and would be happy to send you one to try. Just send me an email at the address listed on the bottom of this page and let me know which Commitment area you'd like to start with.
Not sure? Read our Rule of Life and see which Commitment God put His finger on as the place to start.
As I imagined what my future in monasticism looked like, I was faced with some decisions about next steps beyond prayer and reflective meditation. My feet had started on a journey of purpose, but discernment was needed to discover what that purpose was or could become. To guide me along the discernment pathway, I embarked on a 9-month version of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. I experienced the daily meditations that served as sign posts that generations of monastics have looked to for guidance in their lives. The Exercises pulled back the veil on old questions that I had stuffed into the back closet of my mind and forced me to face them and to dialogue with God about them. The Scriptures pierced into the innermost parts of my soul and resonated with all that is true within me. I found my balance, and the real me started to break through. Each week my spiritual director listened and provided helpful insight into what God was putting His finger on. This time-honored pathway began to lighten the road ahead of where God was leading me to go.
I used the book The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O'Brien as my road map. However, I would echo the generations of Ignatian travelers before me and caution you that this is not a journey that you want to take alone. Spiritual direction is a very important component to the Ignatian Exercises and should not be skipped in the process if at all possible. To find a spiritual director near you who can guide you on your journey, visit sdiworld.org.
FINDING MY VOCATION
The first decision I presented to the Lord was about what further education I needed to prepare for my life's journey in the days, months, and years ahead. I struggled with this decision for a year, feeling pulled in three directions: chaplaincy, natural alternative medicine, and spiritual direction. All three had appealing aspects and much of my indecision was based on my uncertainty about what type of help I wanted to offer other people after I retire from my current career. My heart cry is for those who are old, sick or dying. I want to help followers of Christ who find themselves in crisis to see God in the midst of the chaos, and to welcome the peace of God into their pain, confusion and loss. All three educational options had beneficial aspects of strengthening me in my ability to do this work. The question was where to start. With the help of a group of friends who were praying for me and offering helpful thoughts and questions, I finally decided to enroll in the Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction. Through this school I learned first and foremost how to listen and honor the words of those deemed invisible by society. Through attentive listening and insightful questions, I learned to aid those in crisis to find a sense of inner peace in their soul.
If you are interested in learning more about how to become a spiritual director, visit Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction.
During my spiritual direction training, it became apparent to both myself and my instructor that the vision God had given me did not quite fit under the spiritual direction umbrella. Once again, my discerning community offered me prayer and companionship as I embarked on a program of study on holistic healing and began to explore deeper into the vision and burden God has laid upon my heart. A clearer image of the synergy between my vision, my life experience, and my authentic and true self took form. Now came the job of finding the appropriate credentials that would match the work God has given me to do. Finally, I stumbled across the Wellness Inventory and the whole person wellness model aligned perfectly with my vision. I completed the Wellness Inventory Facilitator training in May, 2019, and have stepped into my vocation in all aspects of my life.
If you are interested in learning more about the Wellness Inventory, visit bodymindspirit.com.
Physical, emotional, and relational healing rarely can flourish if the soul is not at peace. Through my training in spiritual direction and Wellness Inventory, I became better equipped to walk alongside the old, the sick, the dying and their caregivers as they present their life questions before God and dialogue with Him about their situation.
TAKING FIRST VOWS
Throughout my monastic journey, there has been no question in my mind that God has called me to a monastic lifestyle. Looking back on my life, I can see a continual thread drawing me towards it from as far back as my teens. As my Novitiate Experience came to a close, I knew without a doubt that taking my first vows was the next step.
In the Order of the Common Life, we are encouraged to explore the Rule of Life and prayerfully consider what individual invitations and commitments the Lord may be drawing us towards. My abbot encouraged me to do a program of study on the vows, learning about how other religious orders organize their membership process and what vows they hold. Many orders commit to the traditional vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and many include a vow of stability or conversion of life. Some orders are more creative, finding ways to connect the vows to their particular faith community in ways that make sense for their context.
I knew the base from which I needed to begin. During the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I had written a Principle & Foundation statement that had been an important sign post for my second half of life.
Principle & Foundation
I was handcrafted by my Creator to adore Him with my whole, true self; to respond to Him with my body, soul, spirit and intellect. I am ordained to listen for His voice, to watch for His hand of mercy, to nourish strength, contentment, community, health, and joy in all God’s creatures on Earth, human or otherwise. God has instilled in all creation a spirit of cooperation to help me discover the Heavenly places He made for me to be.
I will remember at all times that the Earth and all within its bosom belong to the Creator who fashioned them. I may borrow them on my journey, but must be ready to surrender them to God at the slightest prompting from Spirit, especially if my attachment to them distracts, derails, or detracts me from God’s purposes for my existence. To accomplish this, I have been given the freedom to let all things go, to hold them loosely in the expectation that God may reveal to me a disordered desire that interferes with my adoration, response and nourishing work of God.
Therefore, I have aligned my will solely with God’s heart, to want without reserve whatever He wants, and to never want under any pretext anything which He does not want. I will endeavor to not pursue success, legacy, or recognition for
myself; to not expect the already and reject the not yet; to not seek activity over rest, speech over silence, escape over reality, work over stillness, or answers over questions. I choose God’s way over my own that I may please Him.
With this as my foundation, I explored and discovered the world of the vows held by monastics all over the world. As I read the rule of life held by different religious orders, an overarching theme of Presence continually stood out to me. The vow of Chastity is being fully present to your spouse or, if taking a vow of consecrated singleness, being fully present to Jesus Christ as your spouse. The vow of Poverty is being present in solidarity with the poor. The vow of Obedience is being fully present to God's work in our lives. The vow of Stability is being present to one's faith community. The vow of Conversion of Life is being present to the journey of holiness and wholeness.
As I read the rule of life for my own order, Presence again gleamed through each of our twelve commitments.
Silence, Solitude and the Contemplative Life if being present to God.
Spiritual Direction is being present to our own soul.
Formational Healing is being present to the fractures within our own souls, our culture and our world; being present to the Spirit and to God's continued work of creation and restoration in the world.
Spiritual Friendship is being present to those with whom we travel our faith journey.
Discernment Within Community is being present to life decisions in light of our charism and vocation, monastic or professional.
Hospitality and the expression of Faults and Affirmations is being fully present to those with whom we share life.
Consecration of Love in Celibacy & Marriage is being fully present to your spouse or, if taking a vow of consecrated singleness, being fully present to Jesus Christ as your spouse.
Service to the Church is being present to one's local faith community and to the church movement to which one has committed to love and serve.
Simplicity is being fully present to the spaces in which we dwell.
Shared Work is being present to those with whom we dwell.
Shared Economy is being present to our monastic community.
With those realizations in mind, it just was a matter of tying it all together into a succinct vow statement.
My Personal Vows Statement
I desire to make a vow of presence in all of its forms and to creating space in my interior and exterior life that will enable me to be fully present to God, myself and others. I commit to welcome and practice the presence of God and to being present to the work of God in my own life and in the lives of others. I commit to being present to my vocation and to the fractures in my own soul and in our society through discernment, detachment, humility and love. I commit to being present to others in our strengths and weaknesses, our joys and sorrows, the tasks of the common life, and in our needs. I commit to being present to my husband, my family, my faith community, my monastic community, my neighborhood, and to the Earth and its inhabitants.
On June 26, 2019, I took my first vows in my dining room. The witnesses in the room with me were my husband, my stepson, and one of my small group leaders from our church. On the dining room table was a laptop computer that was dialed into a video conference call with my monastic community, dispersed as they are across the country. I couldn't stop smiling. I took my vows with great joy and fulfillment. My lifelong dream, one that was perhaps at times less vivid than in recent years, has come to pass in real life, in the real world.
Every day I wear two pieces of jewelry, a ring and a necklace. The front of the medal on the necklace has the logo for the Order of the Common Life. The back has an inscription that reads "Dream Come True". My ring is two strands intertwining with one another, a reminder of my vows to Jesus as a religious sister and to my husband as his wife.
Now comes the joy and privilege of living this out, day by day, moment by moment. Living a fully integrated life, being able to bring my whole self to every aspect of my life, is absolutely incredible. It has been a long journey to find myself, my vocation, my monastic community, but I wouldn't trade the journey behind nor the journey ahead for anything.