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« No pain, no gain | Main | Day by Day »
Tuesday
Nov072017

Looking like monastics

I am deep in literature about Medieval women and mystics at the moment as I research for a term paper in Church history. At the same time, in our class readings last week we looked at the Desert Fathers. Some of those saying were just simple common sense, but others reveal a real desire to live a life of self-denial and humility. One of the sayings caught my attention:

A hermit said, 'This is the life of a monk; work, obedience, meditation, not to judge others, not to speak evil, not to murmur. For it is written "You who love God, hate the thing that is evil" (Ps. 97:10). This is monastic life: not to live with the wicked, not to see evil, not to be inquisitive, not to be curious, not to listen to gossip, not to use the hands for taking, but for giving; not to be proud in heart or bad in thought, not to fill the belly, in everything to judge wisely. This is the life of a true monk.

Some of those are very worthy aspirations. I'm all for hating evil and avoiding gossip. I'm against pride in my heart and bad thoughts. But I did raise my eyebrows at the admonition not to be curious or inquisitive. That attitude was not confined to the Desert Fathers. In some of the reading regarding women that I've done, I have discovered the reality of a premium put on the spirit above the intellect, despite the fact that many of the notable women of the Middle Ages were well-educated. For example, Hadewijch, a 13th century monastic woman was herself educated, but she did not believe that reason was the clearest path to God, and placed value on the spirit above the intellect.

The sentiment that a developed intellect interferes with our spirituality is alive and well. On more than one occasion, when women find out I'm in seminary (and even before then, when I said I liked to read theology) I've been met with the comment, "Well, I just really depend on the Spirit to teach me." 

I see some similarities between monastic women of the Middle Ages and groups of women today in the principle of separating ourselves. I saw it alive and well in homeschooling circles when my kids were younger. I've come across it with other women who will vigorously reject the use of a commentary in a Bible study because they want the Spirit to teach them. This notion of a simple life, free from the interferences of the secular world is promoted as the higher spiritual life.

I occasionally feel like my own curiosity and inquisitiveness is looked upon by other women as one of those weaknesses that must be tolerated, sort of like being the one in the crowd with the irritating, loud laugh; probably not something to be encouraged too much.

In reality, it's not the curiosity itself that is the problem; it's the content. Women are expected and encouraged to be curious, but perhaps not about theology. I don't understand why some women are curious about what movie stars wore on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. I am not curious about the lives and happenings of celebrities, but many women are. Curiosity isn't necessarily bad; it's just that there is an expectation of what we should be curious about. 

Men and women who went into monasteries were often looked upon as being elite Christians. I wonder sometimes if we think that by separating ourselves we are demonstrating a superior spirituality. I have yet to be convinced that shunning learning makes me more spiritual.

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Reader Comments (1)

"I have yet to be convinced that shunning learning makes me more spiritual."

I agree. Ignorance doesn't guarantee true spirituality either unless one thinks mindless mysticism is spirituality.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPersis

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