Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
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.