By Barry L. Callen
The word “monk” comes from the Greek monachos meaning single or solitary. With this definition in mind, we naturally think of a monk as an isolated individual living privately behind high walls. But that’s hardly the thrust of the New Testament call to most of us believers. We are being invited to practice a “worldly” holiness. John Wesley insisted that any holiness that is not “social” is less than holy. So, down should come the dividing walls between us “holy” people and the rest of humanity.
We are all being called to be monks. Getting the definition right makes all the difference. A Christian monk is to be in the world in a special way, a holy way. Praying for the world from behind walls or in private closets can impact the world for good, of course. God bless the isolated monks and closeted prayer warriors. But most of us live our lives in the middle of the rush and noise of the world.
The holy ones of Christ do not usually have the luxury of living apart from immersion in the everyday—and they wouldn’t accept the isolation if they had the luxury. The difference that makes them “holy ones” is not their physical separation from a world of evil. Nor is it that they are morally superior beings who can look down on others. The critical difference is this. The holy ones have found the grace of God that allows them to live in the world with a single-hearted and undivided and redeeming presence.
Can you join me in celebrating the vision of poet Wendell Berry? He seeks to “come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” He is running away from nothing, denying nothing, not refusing to address the evil around him. Instead, he is focused on something that settles his heart and clears his mind.
What monkish method is he pursuing? Berry is focusing on the presence of still water, on the delicacy of a bird drifting on a gentle wave, on the hope of unseen stars that will stream their light when the clouds finally are dissolved. He is admitting into his soul a solitude that is bigger than the screaming of his surroundings. He is choosing to be wrapped in a gentle presence bigger than his circumstances, more eternal than the momentary, a presence that sustains him even when wars continue to rage.
The holy people of God are not the ones shielding themselves from all evil temptations, staying as far as possible from the fray, trying to rise above it all and let it collapse of its own ugly weight. No, the holy ones of Jesus are those who are graciously released from disabling fear, who have eyes of faith that can overcome grief without running from it, who are resting in a silent stillness that quietly hovers even in the midst of the storms of life.
Who are the holy ones? They are the Spirit-filled ones who know the peace of Christ within. They are the comforted ones who can and will pass on the comfort and hope to others. Let’s all be monks!