Lay Monasticism

Lay Monasticism

Over the past thirty-five years, I have lost count at the number of lay people who have voiced interest in monasticism. Many have told me, had they’d become Orthodox at a younger age, they might have forgone marriage, for the monastic life. These were not people who were unhappy with their spouses, or being married. They simply found themselves drawn to the  rhythms of silence, liturgy, study, prayer and work.

It is certainly true that many pious Christians feel a romantic tug for a lifestyle that seems so peaceful, and worry free. They yearn for what they see as a cloistered, and therefore sheltered, life, where the stresses of the world are kept at bay. They behold the silence and peace that dominates the daily monastic rhythm, and feel a certain amount of envy.  Many yearn for an elusive silence and spiritual depth, and think it impossible for the ordinary layperson to cultivate regular times of deep, undistracted prayer. With the commute and jobs and bills and dinner and children, there is simply no room for the inner life as found in monasteries.

Yet if we really examine the daily pace of life, we can find a lot of time that has been squandered, time that could have been used in that evasive quest for silence and pray. During the daily commute, if you calculate the minutes that have been wasted with cell phone chats, listening to the news, or, if on public transportation, reading the newspaper, you can see sacred time that has been squandered. Rightly used, the commute time can become your sacred time.

Whether you commute by car, train, bus, or bike, your commute offers a monastic cell, a place cut off from the demands and noise of the world. A monk does not find such contemplative moments only in solitude, or in the services chanted in the temple, for the monk is praying even when performing his obediences. The monk is at prayer even when visiting with pilgrims, or working with other monks in the garden, or carpentry shop.

You can decide to turn your commute into your sacred space, and your car or train into a monastery. Instead of zoning out to music, or news broadcasts, you can use the commute as a time to strengthen your faith. An ipod, downloaded with podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio, can be your way of deepening your understanding of the Church’s mystical theology, or be instructed in the Art of Prayer, by a renowned Orthodox theologian. You can pray The Morning and Evening Prayers, along with our brother monks of Holy Cross Monastery, in West Virginia, who have recorded these services on CD’s.

You can listen to the Holy Scriptures, with many wonderful translations now available on CD, and study the Bible as you commute. The myriad of sacred Orthodox music that is available on CD’s, or down loadable onto your ipod from, once again, Ancient Faith Radio, can turn your commute into an uplifting event. Sacred music can sweep you into a world where joy and beauty hold sway, and the rush, noise, and stress of the commute disappear.

The Jesus Prayer is the perfect prayer for a commute, for it allows you to enter into a deep form of prayer, one that ushers in peace and joy, and opens your heart wide to Jesus. I’ve often recommended the Jesus Prayer for commuters who have problems of road rage, and the Prayer has transformed their drive into a peaceful, Christ centered commute.

There will be days when the very best approach for turning your commute into your monastic cell, will be to simply turn off all outside stimulation, and enter into the silence. We don’t always have to have outside stimuli in our lives, and silence allows for that moment when we can begin to listen for the Voice of God. It can initially be scary, for we’ve become so use to noise, music, and talk, that silence makes us nervous. Yet it is in silence that we can begin to enter into the heart of God, and usher in the Peace of Christ, which will transform the heart, and give us the peace that has alluded us.

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