The new monasticism, part 3

Continuting my reflections inspired by an article in Christianity Today, called The Monasticism.

I would like to draw attention to the article in the August 2005 issue of Friends Journal by Kenneth Boulding on Quakerism and the Arts, a reprint of an article from 1983. He describes the evolution of Quaker attitudes towards the arts, and then mentions a Quaker composer’s journal, in the tradition of Quaker journals. Boulding summarizes it by saying “The worldly culture of the arts, as [the composer] describes it, totally liberated from the restraints and inhibitions of Puritanism, is one in which there is little place for the heavenly kingdom, where the price of glory is earthly restraint.”

Friends, and our wider culture, are especially unclear about the value of celibacy on a physical level and the freedom to love more widely on a spiritual level that comes with it. I don’t know why I was surprised to hear how many people at PYM thought that celibacy outside of marriage was an unreasonable expectation for a religious institution to have for its staff.

Boulding goes on, more to the point, “There is a deep unresolved dilemma here. What might be called “classical Quakerism” up to the 20th century represented a kind of Franciscan voluntary poverty in the arts, inspired by a vision of a divine community of love and simplicity. In the 20th century comes liberation from these older taboos and an embracing of a vast, expanded complexity and richness of human experience. As an amateur painter, photographer, poet, and composer for the solo recorder, I have participated in this expansion. I have traveled all over the world and received its plaudits and honors, and it is almost another person who goes to meeting for worship and is caught up in the experience of oneness and almost terrifying simplicity? How do we preserve that simplicity and at the same time enjoy our new-found riches? How do we break out of what was perhaps a cultural prison without falling into the hands of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the hell on Earth that seems to follow so many liberations – political, economic, sexual, cultural?”

The following is part of a comment I started over at Consider the Lilies about the CT article.

“One of the things that Friends are missing is a sufficient valuing and celebration of this notion that we can be called to the radical hospitality that is possible when we don't have our own kids, our own partner to worry about. I think there are Friends (and other good people in our society) who have not found a way to live out their calling in a healthy community, because they are hanging on to the notion that someday they'll "settle down" meaning with one other person in a single family house and a picket fence, and I think this includes gay and straight folks.

Friends don't have a structure (like a monastery) that gives people a sustainable and socially acceptable way to live in communities based on radical simplicity, radical hospitality, radical love.

On the other hand, what Friends do have is a tradition that says we don't have to be celibate, separatist, or specially educated ("bred at Oxford or Cambridge"?) to live holy lives consecrated to the will of God. Thank God for this!”


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Blogger Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Honestly, I have mixed feelings on whether celibacy outside of marriage is a reasonable expectation for a religious institution to have for its staff. I think it can be, sometimes, and that sometimes monasticism (Catholic, Buddhist, or whatever) really has given that freedom to love at a wider level, etc. And sometimes it can be an unexamined failure, clinging to the image without the substance.

Then again, I suppose all of us, Quakers included, have such unexamined failures.

Anyway, as someone who's married but won't likely ever have kids, I'd like to hope there's some opening for me in childlessness.

9/15/2005 2:44 AM  
Blogger Joe G. said...

I appreciate your thoughts about celibacy. Amongst us liberal Friends, I suspect that there is a negative attitude toward it as a spiritual practice. I suspect this is due, in part, to the history of "manditory" celibacy for singles (until heterosexually married) before the culture/sexual revolutions of the 1960's/early 1970's.

Question: are you pondering that celibacy should be the ideal for Friends, unless married (either different or same-sex)? Just curious.

9/15/2005 10:46 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Beppe, I don't know what I think about celibacy for unmarried people. I just don't think that it's so strange for a religious body to uphold this traditional expectation. But then, I think that the traditional exclusion of same-sex couples from the rights and responsibilities of marriage is wrong, so is this my personal contradiction? Or is it just the current state of the evolution of social mores? Don't get me started on my opinions about cohabitation and divorce. Probably a whole mess of contradictions, but a long story in any case.

Lynn, thanks for commenting! You remind me of a point that was originally supposed to be an important part of this post, but somehow got lost in the process of typing and editing.

Anyway, I think that monogamous, childless couples are probably the ideal missional unit in many fields: Able to support each other logistically and emotionally and bounce ideas off each other, not inviting or accepting sexual partners from the community they're serving, free from the day to day, mind-numbing and time-consuming occupations of raising your own children, able to take risks that I might want to take but wouldn't want to expose my children to, I could go on.

I see a lot of openings for people in childlessness.

9/15/2005 4:13 PM  

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