(c) 2012, Davd
Just over six years ago, i spent three weeks in an old-fashioned, comfortable Canadian-Prairie household of about 25 men and no women. The men ranged in age from the twenties to the nineties—i believe two of them were past 90 years old. They worked two or three hours a day, six days a week, and that was enough to feed and house them in a climate harsher than i’m aware exists in the “contiguous” United States (in what Alaskans call the “Lower 48”.) They ate together, and i ate with them, in a plainly pleasant dining hall with a kitchen many small restaurants might envy. Each man had his own bedroom; i slept in a “spare” one on the north side of one floor.
I spent a few hours talking with one of the 90+-year-olds, and can report he was articulate and for his age, lively. It’s no flattery, rather my best guess, when i say he looked 15-20 years younger than he was.
Since i was a guest, i didn’t go to the meetings where the “brothers” made their planning and work decisions, but a 40 year old teacher-brother who was there, said that 90+ year old was a tough-minded, disciplined contributor to the discussions. Something about that household helped men age well—and happily.
I helped out one man of maybe 70, the best vegetable gardener in the group but not by much, as he protected his prize squashes and tomatoes from an early frost, and harvested the newly ripened fruits of each. I helped the head-cook in the kitchen and helped on the janitor crew that swept and mopped. I picked tomatoes—impressive big crops of tomatoes for where this place was located. I packed big juicy carrots in sawdust to store for the coming winter.
These two dozen men were “Going Their Own Way”—a way they had freely agreed to share—and they lived well on 2-3 hours a day of work, because of the efficiency of how they lived. I was impressed, and i wanted to stay the winter and learn from them. Two things stopped me: One was that they didn’t allow dogs, and i had an 11-year-old dog named George with me. George had given me loyal service for all but the first eight weeks of his life, he was still lively and strong, and i was not willing to cut his life short. (While i visited, he slept in my car, and i walked him 3-4 times a day—but that wouldn’t have worked in January.)
The lesser reason was that they spent more of their time in church than anywhere else except possibly sleeping. Nearly all of that time was “ritual time”, following prescribed formula prayer and chanting. I spend more of my day at prayer than most men, even most churchgoing men—but six church services a day probably would have been too many for me as a lifetime practice (but wouldn’t have kept me from staying the winter to learn). I didn’t get to find out, because George needed me to provide him a home.
The name of that household is St. Peter’s Benedictine Abbey. The Brothers wear Brother as their title, and call themselves monks. The Benedictine Order has been in existence for more than 1,000 years. I learned that autumn, that “monk” means not only living in an intentional community like St. Peter’s, but also spending the best and most of one’s waking time, in liturgical ritual. I had admired other things monks have done through history, from agricultural research and development to philosophical and contemplative writing. Those were the monastic achievements that drew me to St. Peter’s.
If i was disappointed—not badly disappointed, but somewhat—to learn that a monk’s life is distinctive for liturgical ritual, i was gratified to see living proof that men can “go our own ways” in groups. All-men households work sociologically, they are efficient economically, they are gratifying personally. Those three weeks were the best three-week interval in my year-2005.
I’m guessing that most of you who read this—like me—would prefer to organize your time so that less than half of your non-sleeping, non-eating, non-washing time goes for liturgical ritual*. I’m convinced that men who are going ways other than the ritual-centred, “strictly monastic” way, can still learn the social-organization genius of the monasteries, and indeed there is a more general term, “cloister”, that refers to households organized like St. Peter’s whether or not their main work be liturgy. (Short of the cloistered life, co-operatives offer similar efficiencies and serenity, but in part of a member’s life rather than pervasively.)
There’s a folk saying in engineering,“Don’t re-invent the wheel.” We needn’t re-invent the cloister and the co-operative.
If you are one of the minority of readers who would like to try cloistered living for a few months, and perhaps make it your way for life, you can write me using author01 [at everyman dot ca]. One of my next few posts will be about the kind of land-stewardship (forestry and orchard-ry) and post-Feminist (Christian-based) social reform, that i would like to make the work of a cloister on the 94 secluded rural acres where i live. Buddhists, Muslims, humanists and other men who aren’t Christian, who want cloistered life following your Faith or philosophy, i will try to help you group-up into communities of your own, with what skills i have developed as a rural and small-group sociologist.
I also plan to post on two less-than-cloistered ways for men to go their own way in small groups, which have desirable social effects and efficiencies—housing and worker co-operatives.
* Those who prefer liturgical ritual—may your choice also be blessed. There are, last i heard, many monasteries in Canada and the USA with room for Candidates and Novices; so i would encourage you to find one you like.