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Too Far Out There
© 08.18.19 D. Eric Williams

The other day a man asked my opinion concerning a particular monastic order he had heard about. He had seen something on TV about a young woman, a well-known athlete, who had decided to enter a monastery. The man was aghast that someone with "everything going for her" would choose to "throw her life way" in this manner. He went on to describe some of the rules of the order; limited amount of verbal communication, limited contact with the outside world (including family), a rigorous schedule of physical work, meditation and prayer. Honestly, it had been a while since I had heard about a traditional monastic order. Yet, this is what the man described. As far as he was concerned the order the young woman had joined was "too far out there."

Before I offered an opinion on the situation, I told the man I wasn't Catholic and I did not feel monasticism was a particularly good idea. I also asked him exactly what it was about the situation that troubled him. As expected, the man struggled to articulate any particular reason but it became clear after a few moments of hemming-and-hawing that his problem was with someone making a costly commitment - especially if it was a commitment to a Christian religious order.

I explained to the man that what this young woman had decided to join was not altogether unusual. Moreover, I reminded him that it was her choice and no one was forcing her to participate in the order. The gentleman I was speaking to seemed to think that joining a strict monastic order was all about trying to "get to heaven." So, I went on to explain some of the reasons people have for joining an order of this sort; for most people it is not about getting to heaven but about an absolute surrender of one's whole life to God. It's a dedication of constant worship in order to experience complete union with God. Again, I explained that this is not necessary and that God is best glorified as his people bring their life and arena of activity under his Lordship and live that out in public.

All discussion aside concerning whether or not participation in a monastic order is appropriate or not, what struck me about the conversation was this man's vehement opposition to the level of commitment required by the cloistered order in question. Indeed, the man's agitation increased when I told him cloistered communities exist to provide for an atmosphere of absolute surrender to God. Throughout the conversation he kept saying that it "just doesn't seem right" for someone to throw their life away like that. I spent a little bit of time interrogating him concerning his own life in order to discover something in his experience that had required a high level of commitment - something he could relate to. As it turned out there was nothing. Yes, he had worked at the same company for 30 years but he really had no commitment to that; it was simply a matter of paying the bills. He had participated in church as a child but was not even a holiday churchgoer in his adult years. In other words, he had never really committed to anything in life (he was divorced) and could not fathom the mindset of someone who would be willing to make a lifelong commitment that required giving up everything in order to fulfill that commitment. Moreover, his unregenerate heart recoiled at the idea of making a commitment - any commitment really - to God

I sometimes think the church suffers from a lack of understanding concerning commitment as well. I include myself in the admonishment when I say that most Christians struggle to live a life of absolute loyalty and submission to Jesus Christ. There are too many things we want to hang on to and the kind of commitment to Christ described in the New Testament is "too far out there" for most of us. I am not suggesting we should consider enrollment in a monastic community. The truth is, membership in a cloistered sect is a move in the wrong direction. What I do advocate is a conscious commitment, renewed daily, to do all things as unto the Lord. May the Lord Jesus Christ empower us by his Holy Spirit to do so.

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