In the series I have been posting on 'Intepreting Our Past' I was leading up to the idea of Quaker Monasticism.  But Martin beat me to it by featuring the blog that discusses the 'New Monasticism' and its possible application to the Quaker community.  I'm glad the subject has come up.  Here are a few comments:

1. I think the biggest obstacle to a Quaker Monasticism is that modern Quakers, both liberal and evangelical, have rejected their Quietist heritage.  The period of Quietism represented a commitment to an ascetic practice where renunciation was the primary virtue that was cultivated.  Modern Quakers, with individual exceptions, do not regard this approach as a resource; rather they regard it as something that has been overcome.  Most view the practices of the period of Quietism as quaint, or embarassing, but not something to emulate.  And without a stronger, more positive, relationship to the practices of traditional Quakers during the period of Quietism, the idea of a Quaker Monastic presence would have nothing to draw on.  I mean nothing to draw on in terms of a specifically Quaker Monasticism as opposed to an adaptation of the Rule of Benedict, or something similar.

2.  There is a Quaker Monastery.  You can find it at quakermonastery.com -- but I don't know how active they are.  I have attempted to contact them but have not received a reply.  If anyone here knows about them first hand, please feel free to post your experience.

3.  Another major hindrance to the idea of a Quaker Monastery is the relentlessly political and activist focus of modern Quakers.  As I have said on other posts, I view this as simply Quakers surrendering to the dominant culture; that is to say that Quaker activism does not differ in any significant way from evangelical activism.  Modern churches in America have been swamped by this political focus and it doesn't matter if you are Catholic, Methodist, Evangelical, or Quaker.  Current events and the cause of the moment is what dominates religious discourse, including Quaker discourse, at this time.

Although this is a serious hindrance to a monastic presence, it can also act as a kind of goad for those of us who would like a more contemplative focus.  Unable to find any support for a contemplative approach to the Quaker tradition among modern liberals or evangelicals, this may push contemplatives to want to set up their own spaces where activism is not the dominant focus (or the only focus) and this could serve as a basis for a Monastic community of shared contemplative interest.

4.  There are no examples of Quaker Monasteries in the past to draw on.  There is the general example of the ascetic focus, but no actual monastery.  I believe this is because the Quaker tradition emerged in a cultural context, the English Reformation, which was deeply hostile to monasticism.  Because of this, the idea of a Quaker Monastery would be a break with the Quaker past.  While this is true, it is also true that both the liberal and evangelical branches of modern Quakers also represent a break with the Quaker past in ways that are very significant.  And I think it could be argued that in some respects a Quaker Monastery would be less of a break with the Quaker past than either the liberal or evangelical Quakers and their particular transformations of the tradition.

5.  Speculating about how a Quaker Monastery would fit in with the broader Quaker community, my vision is that a Quaker Monastery would be a Quaker community, or Meeting, under a regular Yearly Meeting.  I see a Quaker Monastery as a type of Monthly Meeting; but in order to become a member of the Monastery Monthly Meeting you would have to take on specifically monastic commitments.  In this way I would see a Quaker Monastery as being an integral part of the Yearly Meeting structure.

The above are highly speculative.  I don't really know if there is any interest among Quakers at this time for a Monastic calling.  With the heavy dominance of the activists it is difficult to assess if there are those who feel drawn to a more contemplative life. 

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Comment by Clem Gerdelmann on 7th mo. 17, 2014 at 7:30am

With regard to #4, cf. "The Shakers: Two Centuries of Spiritual Reflection"(in The Classics of Western Spirituality Series, Paulist Press). No need to re-invent the Shaker(as truly known and respected). 

Comment by Jim Wilson on 7th mo. 17, 2014 at 9:56am

Thanks for the observation, Clem.  I wasn't thinking of the Shakers as a model.  For one thing, dancing was a significant aspect of their tradition.  In contrast, dancing, along with other 'worldly' entertainments, was frowned upon among traditional Quakers in the past.  There are other examples of significant differences, both behavioral and theological.

There are contemporary models to look at.  The Taize community would be a good resource.  Taize is a Protestant monastery in France and has been successful in attracting participants and supporters.  There is an interesting Anglican community dedicated to Julian of Norwich which, I think, has developed some efficacious strategies for the monastic calling in this day and age.  And there are other Protestant attempts at creating a new type of monasticism.  Some of these have been ephemeral, but others might bear fruit.

Thanks again,

Jim

Comment by Keith Saylor on 7th mo. 17, 2014 at 10:25am
"...I think it could be argued that in some respects a Quaker Monastery would be less of a break with the Quaker past than either the liberal or evangelical Quakers and their particular transformations of the tradition."

Jim ... would you mind expounding on this with specifics? Your suggestion that monastic practice reflects less a break with early Quakers than the present liberal and evangelical and forms strikes me tenuous. Are you able to support this notion by sourcing early Quaker literature?
Comment by Jim Wilson on 7th mo. 17, 2014 at 12:02pm

Good Morning Keith:

That's a good question.  Whether you see liberals, evangelicals, or potential monasticism as forming a continuity or a break with the past depends on how one sees the Quaker past, what aspects one chooses to emphasize and highlight.  Evangelicals, for example, have highlighted the long tradition of passionate spoken ministry and traditional Christian commitments.  Liberals have highlighted the fact that the Quaker tradition is not a sola scriptura tradition, as well as the commitment to silent worship.  Both can claim legitimate antecedents for their interpretations.

A Monastic form of Quaker Faith and Practice would highlight the commitment to renunciation and the ascetic orientation of the traditional Quaker community.  If one studies the Old Dsiciplines there are similarities between how the Old Disciplines functioned and how a monastic Rule, such as the Rule of Benedict, function.  That is to say, the Old Discipline functioned as both a guide to Faith and Practice as well as a procedure for formation and discipline.  So in answer to your question, I would refer people to some examples of the Old Disciplines that were functional during the period of Quietism. 

In a sense you are right, the connection beween monasticism and traditional Quaker Faith and Practice is tenuous.  I mentioned this in my original post, pointing out that there has been no monastic presence in Quaker history and for this reason, setting up a Quaker Monastery represents something new.  At another level, though, I feel that the communal commitment to live a life that renounces worldly attachments and concerns is a common basis between traditional Quaker Discipline and Monastic Discipline.

In closing I want to clarify that I'm not making these observations prescriptively.  My feeling is that monasticism will always be attractive to only a small number of people.  Even in cultures that have supported monasticism this has been the case.  But I do think the idea is worth exploring and that a Quaker Monastery could be a vessel for holding a commitment to a contemplative focus in the Quaker community.

Best wishes,

Jim

Comment by Jim Wilson on 7th mo. 23, 2014 at 10:18am

Good Morning Anne:

You make a good point.  In the works I have read from the period of Quietism it seems that people put aside regular time in their lives for the prayer of inward silence.  In some cases this appears to have been a daily practice, done at home.  I am wondering if a monastic community could also make time, on a regular basis, for such inward and solitary prayer.  There are some types of monastics, such as Carthusians, that appear to make such time a priority in their communities.  The advantage of this is that members feel supported in their inward prayer, there is a communal commitment to it.  In contrast, my observation is that among today's Quakers such commitment is not part of a communal context; there are individuals who engage in this type of practice at home, but it doesn't seem to be, in general, supported in the way that activist/political commitments are supported.  I could be wrong about this, as my experience with Quaker Meetings is limited. 

In closing, I'd just point out that there are a number of approaches to monasticism, with distinct framings and emphases.  Knowing this, there might be a way of allowing for dwelling in the light in solitude in a specifically Quaker type of monastic community.

Best wishes,

Jim

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 23, 2014 at 11:23am

Hello, Jim!

I have visited several monasteries through the years, and appreciate their effort to embody the "community of disciples" model of the church.  I have vivid memories of stopping with my wife at a monastery along Route One (?) south of Boston MA.  Their sign stated that all were welcome.  I said to Darlene, "I guess that includes us."   We stayed for the later afternoon prayer service.  When they sang hymns, there was one female voice, my wife's!  It is a memory that I cherish; six months later she died.

By the way, Avery Dulles' last edition of his book *Models of the Church* belatedly adds "community of disciples" as a sixth model.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385133685/ref=olp_product_details... A Mennonite reviewer thought this chapter was not well done.  Perhaps Dulles needed a monk or a nun, or an Anabaptist [smile] to write the "community of disciples" essay for him!

Charles Loomis, one of my professors in graduate school, claimed that the early Anabaptists acquired much of their ability as agriculturalists from the many monastics who had defected from the Catholic Church to join the new Anabaptist movement.  During the Middle Ages, the monasteries were centers of learning and technological innovation, as well as "hot spots" of Christian faithfulness.  This is not to claim that every monastic or every monastery achieved this level of functioning.

I am perplexed by those Friends who find in monasticism a model for Quaker church life.  Why not search in our own faith tradition for models of the "community of disciples".  Or do we imagine that there are none such??  This seems to me to be a more authentic way to find a valid way to "be the church" in a Quaker context.

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 23, 2014 at 7:58pm

Correction:  I have visited monasteries several times through the years...

Comment by Jim Wilson on 7th mo. 24, 2014 at 12:37pm

Good Morning William:

I think there are a few reasons to look at monasticism as one possible model for Quaker life. First, the culture in which the Quaker tradition emerged in the mid-1600's was thoroughly Christian. Though there was a lot of sectarian conflict, all parties argued from a basically Christian perspective. Quakers could rely on that pervasive Christian presence so that all who joined their new community came with basic Christianity understood. That is no longer the case; we live in an increasingly non-Christian culture. I'm a good example in that I was not raised in a Christian context. I had to learn about it. Monasticism is a good vessel for keeping that focus. It is a design for keeping that specifically Christian perspective alive.

Second, I think it could be argued (though I think many would disagree) that a Quaker monasticism is a logical extension of traditional Quaker Faith and Practice. By that I mean that traditional Quaker Faith and Practice was ascetic and engaged in practices of renunciation such as the rejection of entertainments, alcohol, participation in war, the use of courts to settle disputes, etc. These kinds of practices are consistent with a monastic calling; that's the connection. In other words, I think a Quaker monasticism would model itself on traditional Quaker Faith and Practice to a significant extent. I admit that monasticism as a specific type of institution would be a change; as there is no precedent for monasticism in Quaker history. On the other hand, societal conditions have significantly changed and perhaps monasticism is a reasonable response to those societal changes.

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 24, 2014 at 6:03pm

Earlier I wrote: "I am perplexed by those Friends who find in monasticism a model for Quaker church life.  Why not search in our own faith tradition for models of the "community of disciples".  Or do we imagine that there are none such??  This seems to me to be a more authentic way to find a valid way to 'be the church' in a Quaker context."

I continue to wonder why monasticism seems better than a more authentically Quaker model of the [nonconformed] "community of disciples".  Is it that very few Friends have ever experienced a nonconformed Quaker community of discipleship?

Comment by Jim Wilson on 7th mo. 25, 2014 at 1:21pm

Good Morning William:

I understand thy reluctance and puzzlement.  I suspect that it is true that most Quakers today have not experienced a specifically Quaker 'community of disciples', at least not in a way that is rooted in traditional Quaker Faith and Practice.  I think what I would ask of thee is how thee would introduce someone to a 'nonconformed community of disciples' in the manner of traditional Quakers.  What are the resources?  What are the models?

My other question is why thee thinks that there is some inherent contradiction between monasticism and Quaker Faith and Practice?  What is about monasticism generates such a contradiction for thee?

Thanks for thy comments.

Best wishes,

Jim

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