Sunday, June 22, 2003

Journal assignment #1

My first journal assignment is to discuss my preconceptions of the monastic life and of monks/nuns.

As a person who grew up in the Southern Baptist church, I have had no contact with monks or nuns in my life. Virtually any preconceptions I have about monastic life have come from television and movies. Now, I never read or saw The Name of the Rose, so I don’t have that cultural reference. I have, however, seen The Sound of Music many times. :)

One of my biggest mix ups about monastic life was getting it confused with clerical life. I seemed to think that all priests were monks and vice versa. However, in my readings I learned that monasticism is a lay movement that allows priests to join. There are many brothers at this monastery who do not serve as priests – some of them serve as gardeners, some as car repair people, some as faculty members, etc.. Being a monk does not equate with being a priest.

I say all of this because my preconceptions, developed through my exposure to the products of Hollywood, never developed beyond this basic mix up. And so all of the negative portrayals of priests became associated with negative portrayals of monks.

Of course, I think that the most common notion people have about monks is that they must be celibate. What many people do not realize is that non-monastic priests did not originally have to be celibate (there were some married popes), but monks have always had to be celibate. I find myself to be very curious about how they manage this, especially in a culture that is both publicly sexual and yet publicly puritanical.

I think I share a common conception that monastic life must be somehow joyless and overly pious. There’s a sense perhaps that these are all people who are somehow repressed and afraid to take the risk of intimate relationships. It’s as if I assume that because they do not live a normal life, something must be inherently wrong with them. In a culture and world that glorifies what we own, defines success as having lots of stuff, being in control, and looking good and young, there must be something wrong with someone who has chosen to opt out of those goals. Right?

And I probably share the idea that monks are overly pious – people you have to put your “church face” on for when you are around them. I wouldn’t want to offend their moral sensitivities. Certainly that’s the way they are portrayed in our culture – or even worse as hypocrites.

Another preconception I have of monastic life is that it is punitive and rigorously boring. I’ll admit to being worried that I’ll be bored with the whole thing by Tuesday. The same schedule every day, praying five times a day, silence at breakfast, etc.. Too many rules!

So in a nutshell those are some of my preconceived notions about monastic life and monks. On Thursday I’ll be asked to journal what I believe the reality is.

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