Every once in a while, Wycliffe College has a bunch of discount books for sale on some tables outside their bookstore. On Thursday nights, I walk past these tables since they’re right outside the room where Graduate Christian Fellowship meets. This past Thursday (March 26), I noticed Flirting With Monasticism: Finding God On Ancient Paths for sale there. Since the U of T library system didn’t have it, I bought it on Friday. And I read it on Friday, with the exception of the appendices which I read on Saturday.
Flirting with Monasticism is Karen E Sloan’s journey with Dominican friars through a year of novitiate. The Dominican part of her pilgrimage began when she found she had a crush on a young man who was entering the novitiate. Thus began a year of questions and searching for her as well as worshipping with a different group of Dominicans in the priory in her neighbourhood. Over the year, Sloan journeyed into the monastic world as far as a Protestant woman really can, learning much about the Dominicans and Dominic, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and encountering God in rich, deep, powerful ways.
Christianity is about a life with God, about relationship, and the monks know it.
As a taste of what you find within, here are the chapter titles: “Finding God on Ancient and Not-So-Ancient Paths”, “Vestition: Receiving the Habit,” “The Liturgy of the Hours: Praying the Divine Office,” “In the Presence of Christ: Participating in Adoration & the Eucharist,” “Encountering Mary: Saying the Rosary,” “Community: Living Together Constantly,” “The Communion of Saints: Living in a Visual History,” “First Profession of Vows: Making Commitments,” “Epilogue: It’s Not a Program.”
Those chapter titles, now that I look at them, sound very Catholic. However, Sloan is very up-front about her evangelical character as a Presbyterian pastor. Thus, for those of us not in agreement with Rome’s doctrines about Eucharist, Mary, and the Saints, and for those of us not comfortable joining in on practices such as Eucharistic Adoration or the Rosary, don’t worry! She finds lessons from these aspects of Catholic spirituality for the evangelical Protestant, many of them found in the meaning behind these actions and the contemplative nature of monastic life.
The biggest thing that runs through this book is the Liturgy of the Hours, which she prayed with the monks at the local priory twice a day for Morning and Evening Prayer. Regular prayer has potency and the cycle of scriptures and Psalms is good for our souls. We are bound together as we worship the one, holy Triune God.
So, I’ve been flirting with monasticism for a while. You may recall posts on my old blog at St. Francis of Assisi. My fondness for Francis led me to consider becoming an associate of The Society of Saint Francis (SSF) or to join the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, John Michael Talbot’s group, inspired by Talbot himself — including his book Lessons From Saint Francis, as well as Rich Mullins, GK Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi, and The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. I also own Celebrating Common Prayer, a version of the Daily Office of the SSF. And I’ve seen Brother Sun, Sister Moon. St. Francis is always an inspiration to me, and a painting of him sits on the shelves on my desk as I do my work.
My monastic flirtation goes beyond St. Francis, but is mostly bookish, cerebral, intellectual. Not as spiritual as I’d like. My current research is into the fifth-century monastic writer John Cassian. I wrote a paper on the Desert Fathers for a course in my undergrad (the inspiration for my current work) — I have read many of their sayings as well as the Life of St. Antony. I’ve also read selections from the Rule of St. Benedict and Gregory’s Life of Benedict. I love the film Into Great Silence which led me to read a book (lent by my uncle) entitled Carthusians. Add to all these Lady Julian of Norwich’s Revelations Of Divine Love, St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, selections from the Philokalia, most of St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, Thomas Merton’s The Inner Experience, and selections from other monks/nuns/anchorites, and you could say that I’ve encountered a lot more monastic reading than the average person who thinks himself “evangelical.”
Flirting With Monasticism has challenged me to do more than just read about monks. I should be seeking ways that monastic wisdom can be incorporated into my life as a married layperson. And so I’m going to do just that. I’ll keep you posted.