A week or so ago, I travelled back along the roads of my childhood and early ministry to the Abbey of St Mark set among the crater lakes and rolling volcanic hills of Camperdown – the place of my mother’s birth.
I was there to pray with and give thanks for the life and witness of Abbot Michael King OSB the founder and life force of the monastic community there to which I was a part back in 1996. As I prayed in that beautiful chapel once again it took me back to time long gone but to a spirit that has infused my life and spiritualty ever since…
I ponder anew where they are so many contacts…yet so many of these we never see face to face. So, why work with people you seldom, if ever, have a chance to see?
I asked myself those questions and watched as four distinct answers emerged in a new way within me. The purpose of this is to let you know my own feelings about why we are here and what we are trying to do together.
First, I became aware as never before, exactly how many people there are now in the world who are totally unaffiliated with any established religion anywhere. Over 15% of the population of the globe now say that they are “Nones,” they claim no religion at all. In the United States, it' 22.3% (ABS 2011) with another 8.55% not committed to giving an answer. Of those under 34, it is 36%.
Then, I realized that in the Australia too, “Nones” are the second largest “denomination” in the country and could in fact the first. All of these people have left somebody's church, parish, congregation, or religious tradition to find their way through life alone. Many of them are sad to have gone, they say, but found nothing there spiritual enough to keep them.
Yet, third, I realized that “spiritual” but “not religious” has become a major marker of religious identity. These people are seekers who say that they cannot find the spiritual sustenance they seek -- they deeply need -- in the traditions that formed them. Therefore, they go from one place to another looking for lifelines, wanting a home away from home.
Finally, the research data shows that many of those who remain in affiliation with an established tradition are also seeking outside of their religious traditions for a sense of meaning, for spiritual direction, for the secret to the fulfillment of life.
All of these people are both free and struggling at the same time. They have been freed from denominational prejudices. However, they are struggling mightily, at the same time, to find the spiritual path and practices that bring peace, purpose and a felt union with the God who is bigger than any one religion.
In all that data, in all those realizations, it became clear to me again, why Monasteries exists.
Monasticism is the one spiritual discipline that is at the heart of every major tradition and crosses every religious boundary.
It offers a spiritual journey grounded in a way of life that is ever ancient, ever new. Monasticism has outlived every century for the last 1500 years. It has nourished one age after another and seeded the spiritual life of whole populations for generations to come. Monasticism has something to say to the here and now wherever and whenever that “here and now” may be.
Monasticism teaches the presence of God within life. There is no disconnect. Contemplation of what makes for holiness and happiness in every age is at the center and the soul of it.
It engages the human soul in a consciousness of God that illuminates every dark moment of life and confirms the love of God however commonplace the present.
Monasticism does not require spiritual heroics; it requires spiritual consciousness of the power of simplicity, humility, equality and care of the earth.
It brings us to see the great purpose of life to which each of us is called. It brings us to understand the sanctifying dimension of human community. It leads us to care for one another as God has cared for us.
And most of all, perhaps, it comes out of a past tried and true to steep the present in God and make a better future possible.
Monasteries give us an anchor, a ladder, a path. They immerses us in the contemplation of the God-life within us and grows in us a contemplative view of the world itself.
It is here to ground us in God strong and steady, as the earth around us shakes and threatens to fracture.
We are here to hold onto the God our hearts seek in a way that transcends both political polarization and ecclesiastical competition. We are here to concentrate on fashioning for ourselves -- either alone or in groups -- contemplative monasteries of justice and peace, equality and universal care.
Wherever we are. So that others can find in us hearts centered in the wisdom and strength they seek but cannot find unless we are there to share it with them.
Therefore, to the witness of such as Dom Michael King, Dom Placid, Dom Mary Philip my heart is ever happy that the song you sing gave lyrics to me own journey …