The Ordinariness of Monasticism

We had to share this fantastic article by Ben Mann, the newest postulant at Holy Resurrection Monastery. In this article he is sharing the same message we are trying to express in our own blog and articles. More of this kind of writing is needed. Fr. Alexander Schmemann came to mind when reading Ben’s new article. Fr. Schmemann’s writings explain that all of life was meant to be sacramental. Part of Ben’s article is below and this is the link to the entire article:
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Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense.
– Shunryu Suzuki

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.
– Romans 11:36

People want to know what it is like for me to have joined a monastery – a hard question to answer. In part it is difficult to explain, as you would expect, because of the great difference between this life and the one I had before. I do not want to overstate that difference; but the commitment made by a contemplative monk (or nun) is quite a radical one, and in many ways one cannot understand such a life without some taste of it. I sought a break with the past in coming here; and while that was not my entire or only intention, it is certainly being fulfilled.

Yet there is another side to this. It is also – perhaps surprisingly – difficult to describe this life because of how ordinary and normal it is. Whatever my aims may have been in the past, I am not becoming a monk in order to escape the world or to be different from others.

On some level, monasticism is simply Christian life lived more explicitly and intensively. Similarly, there is a sense in which Christian life itself is simply human life, lived with the conscious acceptance and sacramental experience of the same divine grace that is present always and everywhere. (For there is only one world, and one history of that grace which encompasses it in God’s salvific will.)

So I am here to live a normal life, to be an utterly ordinary person. And a great deal of what one does here is completely in that spirit: it is ordinary life, lived with an explicitawareness of that sacredness which – acknowledged or not – pervades all life.

It is hard enough to do justice to both sides of this paradox: that life in the monastery should be so different from life beyond its boundaries, and so much the same. But the difficulty is compounded when one realizes that the sameness and difference are not readily-distinguishable opposites: there is not “the numinous, transcendent part here, in church” and “the mundane, ordinary part over there, in the kitchen.”

Often enough one feels nothing profound while in Church – and just as often, one may feel a deep oneness with God and creation while washing dishes. More often, though, there is not even that sort of clear distinction. Instead there is the kind of mysterious mutual-indwelling that theologians call perichoresis: the transcendence is in the normality and the normality is in the transcendence – though there are moments when one or the other predominates on the level of conscious experience, allowing us to understand them as distinct.

All of this is also true of Christian life in general; and for that very reason, it can be said even of life in general, with or without explicit faith – since God is not absent from anyone’s life. But this is not to say there is nothing “different” about being a monk (or a Christian for that matter). It simply means that all our differences, all our distinctions, are to be understood in the context of a more basic human similarity.

Clearly, our human differences – especially in faith – do matter; disagreements are not to be shrugged off in the cheap and unworthy manner of modern relativism, or hidden by a false form of pluralism that destroys the notion of truth. Christ’s own claim, to be the definitive self-communication of God to man, can in no way be relativized.

Even so, there is no difference, even in matters of faith, that goes deeper than our common humanity – that basic “unity of the whole human race” of which Christ’s Church is a kind of sacrament. I cannot even understand or correctly evaluate the true differences between my life and yours, except by first seeing the fundamental similarity that makes those differences, of whatever kind, significant.


If it were otherwise – if all our differences, however important they may be, did not exist against the backdrop of a greater commonality, within the universal Light of Christ (Jn. 1:9) – then I would not be able to experience monasticism as a form of solidarity with the world, as a way of being “a brother to the entire world” (in the words of Fr. Lev Gillet).

And if I could not experience monasticism in that way, I am not sure I could be a monk at all. I come from a largely non-religious background,…

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