Thursday, November 01, 2007

Evangelicals flirting with monasticism

~from Prison Fellowship
About eight years ago, I found myself in a convent in Bogotá, Colombia. I had not planned to get me to a nunnery. But it just so happened that I had signed up for a women’s retreat with the Baptist church where I was serving with youth that summer, and since the local convent had a bit of extra space, they hosted us for the weekend. My room—quiet, clean, white—lacked only one thing: distractions. It was perfect. It felt like I had entered rehab for the chronically over-stimulated. That weekend, I got a taste of something that hordes of evangelical Christians are flirting with today: monasticism.

Be it Baptists, Presbyterians, or Pentecostals, evangelicals of all stripes can be found flitting around the ancient pathways of the Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine orders. What’s the attraction? I decided to investigate. It seems the frenzied and the frenetic are finding stillness and order; the alienated are discovering the richness of belonging; and the non-committal are jumping headlong into the freedom of vows.

A couple of months ago, I bumped into filmmaker Lauralee Farrar at the Washington Arts Council. She had shared earlier that day about her new film, Praying the Hours, a story about eight people connected by community, at a time in their lives when one of them has their life tragically cut short. The film’s themes grew out of Farrar’s own exploration of the way in which the Benedictine monks view time. After a shattering moment in her life that changed everything, she says she “stumbled upon the Benedictine hours of prayer and began to make them the structure for living through a day”—sort of a Benedictine AA: “one hour at a time.”

At the time, Farrar had no idea that she was a part of a growing trend of people keeping the hours. For the uninitiated, the practice of praying the hours grew out of the eight times each day during which the Benedictine monks stopped to pray the Psalter: Lauds (Morning Prayer) offered at sunrise; Prime (1st hour of the day); Terce (3rd hour, or Mid-morning); Sext (6th hour or Midday); None (9th hour or Mid-Afternoon); Vespers (Evening Prayer) offered at sunset; Compline (Night Prayer) before going to bed; and during the Night (Matins).

As she explains it, “I was thrilled to discover that the hours each had . . . different characteristics and prayers to match them. (Right now I am writing you during the hour of None, when the shadows lengthen.) The message is that death is a part of life, that nothing lives forever. The prayer is that even though I realize there is not time to complete in this day the things I’d hoped for, I will not give up.” For Farrar, exploring monasticism has generated a renewed sense of God’s presence in time, as well as the production of what I believe will be a fascinating film.
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Cody said...

I can't imagine baptists praying the Hours. I can imagine that they'd be fine with the psalms and the readings because those prayers are straight from the Bible, but they'd stop once they came to the intercessions. Praying prayers written by mere mortals is a no-no. All prayer, unless it is Scripture, must come spontaneously.

Not to mention references to Mary, the Saints, and praying for the dead...

Argent said...

Dear Cody,

LOL! "unless it is Scripture"...hey, isn't that lectio divina?

Yes, in one sense it's surprising that evangelicals are drawn to the "restrictions" of the liturgy of the hours for its "rote and formulaic" prayers.

But in my experience in praying with evangelicals, I've come to understand that even in the "spontaneous" prayers, there is a pattern and formula that is followed.

There's something steady and objective about the Office and so I understand the draw that it has for evangelicals who think they have to invent the wheel each time.

And anyway, you have to be pretty stone-hearted to not be moved by the Benedictus or the Te Deum or the Magnficat or the Nunc Dimittis.....or the....there is in one way, a spookiness, a haunting, so to speak, to praying such ancient prayers. For modern rootless people we're given a glimmer of the Eternal-ness of God.

I'm just looking over the Breviary and there are so many beautiful prayers there....Lord, open thou my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Thy praise...O God, make speed to save me, O Lord, make haste to help me...Endue thy ministers with righteousness.

Anyway, I hope more evangelicals discover the Liturgy of the Hours and see "Scripture come alive".

Carolina Cannonball said...

"It felt like I had entered rehab for the chronically over-stimulated."

what a perfect description.