Whether it’s Benedictine, Franciscan, Augustinian, or any other monastic spirituality, each one has a book called a Rule of Life. These Rules spell out each order’s unique character and practices, such as the balanced life of prayer and work that the Benedictines are famous for, or the holy poverty embraced by the Franciscans. These Rules date back to the ancient sayings of the Desert Fathers. However, contemporary monastics continue to use them to ensure that their current practices square with the original intentions of their founders.
The communities in the New Monastic Movement use Rules as well. As a member of the Lindisfarne Community, I am bound to A Way of Living: A Worship, Prayer and Liturgy Resource for the Lindisfarne Community, written by my Abbot and Abbess, Andy and Jane Fitz-Gibbon. So when the opportunity presented itself to review The City is My Monastery: A Contemporary Rule of Life by Richard Carter of the Nazareth Community, I accepted with enthusiasm, wanting to compare how that community’s Rule was similar to or different from the one used by Lindisfarne.
At first, I was disappointed. The book is structured around the seven principles upon which the Nazareth Community’s life is based (silence, service, scripture, sacrament, sharing, sabbath, and staying with). Still, it provides precious little explicit instruction on how the community puts those principles into practice. Rather than instruction, what is offered are reflections and poetry. This stymied me. Isn’t this supposed to be a Rule? Where are the “how to’s” that spell out the day-to-day expectations for community members in detail? Yes, both the poetry and prose reflections are profound and beautiful, providing inspiration and encouragement for the intense spiritual life of New Monasticism, but it didn’t line up with what I had expected based on the title.
And then as I did my daily Scripture reading, I came to the realization that I needed to get over myself and enjoy the book for what it is. After all, when Jesus was asked for instruction, he rarely provided specifics but instead told stories. When St. Thomas famously asked Jesus, “How can we know the way?” Jesus did not present him with a scroll listing step-by-step directions but instead said, “I am the way.” (John 14:5-6) In other words, Jesus is saying to us, “You will find the way to God not by following a recipe or an instruction book, but by remembering and retelling the stories about me and following me.”
With that in mind, I was able to relax and settle into enjoying the book for what it is, a collection of essays and poems meditating upon the core principles of the Nazareth Community: sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful, always beautiful and poignant, and showing rather than telling how this particular New Monastic community lives out its call. For those looking for something more like a traditional Rule, there are some glimpses. There is a list of “qualities of this life” found in chapter five and a section entitled “What is the purpose of the Nazareth Community Rule of Life?” in chapter eight. Beyond that, to appreciate the book, one must set aside traditional criteria of what a Rule of Life is supposed to be. Enjoy The City is My Monastery just as you would any other book of meditations or poetry or even the parables of Jesus. Read it slowly; savor it. Absorb from it how these neo-monastics in the Nazareth Community in London follow Jesus as neo-monastics in the contemporary world.
Rev. Renee Goodwin, LC is an ordained priest in the Lindisfarne Community and also an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She currently serves as the pastor of First Christian Church of Girard, Kansas and teaches theological writing at Phillips Theological Seminary. A descendant of pietist Norwegian Lutheran immigrants to the Great Plains, Renee finds the theology of Celtic Christianity and the methods of the neo-monastic movement to be especially suited to the remote small towns that God has called her to serve. In her spare time, Renee enjoys knitting, reading Andrew Greeley novels, and obediently responding to the commands of Abbess Hilda, her rescue dog.