Today, we are watching a film about monasticism. This is specifically about the Christian tradition, but of course, monasticism is a common theme in many world religions. We think of the Buddhist sangha, of Taoist monks, and also of the Hindu tradition of ashrams, and of "withdrawers" (sannyasis). As you watch the film, I want you to think just why this kind of behavior seems so common a manifestation of religious sentiment. What are people trying to achieve or gain by this kind of withdrawal from the regular world? What are they trying to avoid? Can we find the answers from the comments of the monks we see interviewed?
Several points occur in this film that could easily feature in a discussion of monasticism in other religions. Some issues you might think about for later discussion:
· We see the constant use of music, chant and ritual. Why is this so important in the monastic life? (Remember the Buddhist monks we saw in the film about Tibet).
· Note how the monastery tries to consecrate (devote to God) every time of the day.
· Note the stress on observing a special sacred year, with its special days and times.
· How is work used as a spiritual exercise?
· Monasticism as such is not specifically ordered by the Bible. How do people justify this practice from other kinds of religious authority?
· Why is the communal nature of the life seen as being particularly close to God.
· What do we see here about the nature of hierarchy and authority in the community. Does this contradict the communal idea?
· Why do individuals find their way to this kind of life? Are there any common themes in the explanations given by the monks?
· How would other religions without a monastic tradition criticize a place like Christ in the Desert, and its occupants? What do these criticisms say about the different assumptions they are working on in their own tradition?
· Monasticism has declined dramatically in the western world in the last thirty years, and numbers are way down. Why? What does this trend tell us about contemporary spirituality?
· Two short and simple questions in conclusion: what are monks for? What do they think they are doing?
You might be interested to know that one particular monastery has an excellent web-site with lots of other information. You can find it at