While on a week-end away in a monastery, I came to seek the deep wisdom of Father Marc, a Cistercian monk I had befriendedon a previous retreat. Our short but very intense discussions were enlightening (here some bits and pieces):
We all belong to some community, whether this is family, a business or a spiritual home. These define us as much as we should in fact be defining them. We do not usually consciously choose them, we often just find ourselves being part of one. Even if we chose a community rationally and therefore consciously, it would be almost impossible to fully understand why. This is because it is a journey only God knows but does not yet fully reveal.
With this in mind, a question still worth asking is why do we want to be part of a particular community, what is it that it offers and we do not find anywhere else. This should in fact be part of a deeper reflexion on one’s past and one’s lessons learnt (whether we have reached the right conclusions on previous experiences or not). The question is vital not only to the one looking to join a community, but also for the community itself. One of the best ways for a community to fail is to have its members each being there for a different reason, or even worse, a reason that has only to do with their own selves rather than in relation to other members in the community. Monks and nuns are part of a monastic community because they are to serve Christ together (in whatever creative way that may be) and this is what holds them together – nothing else.
Father Marc and I also discussed the ‘fluidity’ of moot: people joining, people leaving, but also and in particular because there are effectively different levels of commitment. Singles might be in a position to commit more to the community than married couple (although I think this is not necessarily true). Also, those abroad can only participate to a certain extent. Add to this the fact that faith and beliefs are not provided through dogma but through discussions, the sharing of experiences, and non-normative narratives. This effectively forces mooters to define themselves, their beliefs and their roles much more so than in a traditional monastic community. He saw that as being very positive: indeed following the temptation to offer some consumption-ready experience instead of leaving it up to community members to discover why they have ended up with a particular community would mean the beginning of the end.
Because of this particular constellation however, the danger of theological drifts is also greater. Being part of an established Church provides a safety net. Being under the supervision of a Bishop is also a guarantee that a community will not turn into a cult. There is obviously a need for individuals to keep their own (critical) thinking, and perhaps also to have a spiritual father or mother from another monastic community outside moot. Through that will they not only enrich the community, but also preserve their own integrity and that of others.
[No particular conclusion here, but I guess this is already some food for further meditation…]