Sunday, 9 November 2008

Retreat Bible Study

I take it that a purpose of monastic life (from the Desert Fathers to contemporary Benedictine monks) is a radical experiment to see what human life is really like when the distortions of our appetites and their consequences are removed. If so, the reports back from this frontier are much more ‘relevant’ to normal life than most people are willing to think.

The first reading at Matins this morning (from Deuteronomy 17) warned God’s people that if they had a King he should not be allowed to have too much gold, too many horses or too many wives. I take this to be awareness that given total freedom the man might want to monopolise the available wealth, power and sex whatever the detriment to others. One of the few African absolute monarchs today is known for spending more on his private jet than the country’s health service (too much gold), to sack judges who make judgements against him (too much power or, figuratively, too many horses), and to hold annual half naked parades at which to select a new wife (literally too many wives). I notice that even The Independent not only depends on its advertisers (appealing to our consuming) and focusses mainly on news of those in authority or celebrities (acknowledging to whom we choose chiefly to attend) but also now includes the word ‘sex’ somewhere on its front page banners more than once a week (being open about what will catch the attention of potential buyers).

So to take vows of poverty (no gold), obedience (no horses) and chastity (no wives) must in part be not so much simply to be disciplined about these dynamics but to be curious about what happens when they are removed. Not ‘I’ll be responsible about the use of my wealth’ but ‘I’ll not allow the acquisition and use of money to motivate me at all’. Not ‘I’ll be responsible about the decisions I make’ but ‘I’ll not insist on making the fundamental decisions at all’. Not ‘I’ll be responsible about sexual morality’ but ‘I’ll not allow sexual possibilities to influence my relating’. We do well to attend to what they then find out.

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