A Monastery for Families

April 18, 2010 | 27 comments
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800px-LitomMy wife and her friends chat together in the quad while the kids play outside. This last week, one of her friends said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just buy some land and move out there together?” This kind of sentiment is what I’m all about. We just need some place, some facility, to do it. How about a monastery?

I mean, who doesn’t like monasteries? They’re peaceful, worshipful, and beautiful. In fact, I could become a monk. Except that I’m married. And have kids. And am Mormon…and we Mormons don’t have monasteries. But if we did have monasteries, I bet they would have space for spouses, and for kids. Could a church-supported monastic order fit in our conception of the gospel and the Lord’s plan?

A monastery is a place of retreat. It would be a place where harried people could escape from the chaotic pressures of a demanding world.

A monastery is a place of reflection. It would provide a turning place, where people trying to figure out theirs lives could explore new fields in a safe environment. A place of self-discovery and becoming.

A monastery is a place of residence. It provides rhythm and stability, as well as neighbors and social rituals. It means having friends to chat with in the mornings and sing with in the evenings.

A monastery is a place of education. It offers resources — books, computers, music, art — for learning and mentors who guide you to use them constructively and effectively. It would also be a place of creation, a place of service, and of all manner of wondrousness.

I don’t really know much about real-world monasteries, but I used to live near Mt. Angel, which has a beautiful abbey (in fact, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a monastery and an abbey — is one for men and the other for women?) In my uninitiated understanding, monks live in simple quarters. They share responsibilities for the care of the facilities and the undertaking of its mission. They meet together in conversation, work, song, and worship. And the facilities are designed to allow this flow to happen more-or-less conveniently.

27 Responses to A Monastery for Families

  1. Katie P. on April 18, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Why would that need to be a separate place? If there are schools and places of worship and houses of learning and fields for recreation and every one has their own place to live, isn’t that simply a neighborhood?

    The appeal of a monastery or a convent to me has always seemed to be the privilege of a place to not worry about the practical details of life and instead focus on the spiritual details. But all those practical details – earning a living, finding a place to live, local taxes and home owners insurance, zoning meetings, health care and how to pay for it – those concerns won’t go away, but the responsibility for them would be put on the church and the monastery would be supported by those not in the monastery. I agree that that does sound marvelous – for the people inside the monastery. I’m glad, however, that our church doesn’t have them, because it privileges the few at the expense of everyone else, and it would divide Saints into those who have been granted space and time to be spiritual and confined everyone else to a practical life supporting the few’s spiritual space and time.

    Secondly, closing oneself in means shutting the rest of the world out, and as much as the idea appeals to me, the rest of the world is made up of people just the same, and I think we are supposed to serve. It’s hard to serve from the other side of a wall.

    Well, then, what about a self-supporting monastery that does community outreach? Add in the children and families, and I think most of the benefits of a monastery, as a place of reflection and retreat, would fade away.

  2. Wilfried on April 18, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Nice thoughts, Dane. Of course, we must recognize that we entertain romantic views about monasteries. With few exceptions, monasteries are places of strict obedience, with an extremely regimented life, no personal possessions anymore, and harsh rules. Some monastic orders even forbid talking. I had a great-aunt who entered her convent at age 18, lived behind bars and was not allowed to talk except for murmuring prayers. For 70 years — until she died. We could visit her only once a year for a few minutes, and as a child I remember her waving to us behind bars at 10 feet away for she was not allowed to touch us nor talk to us. True, rules have been relaxed in many monasteries, but at the same time they are dying institutions in most countries.

    As to our own Mormon version of monastic community — well some neighbourhoods in Provo and Orem may go into that direction. And I know people who have fled them in order to find some diversity elsewhere.

  3. The Monk on April 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

    “we Mormons don’t have monasteries.”
    Oh yeah? http://mormonmonastery.org (It’s a name…)

    My siblings have been saying this for years- we should all just buy some land together somewhere. My wife and I have been theoretically assigned to run the cheese cave and teach Hebrew in our sibling commune. As you can tell, it’s a very practical daydream…

  4. kmtown0043 on April 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Actually, I always considered the Missionary Training Center as a sort of monastary–maybe we as individuals and families could have some aspects of the MTC in our homes…

  5. Dan on April 18, 2010 at 8:34 am

    my comment went into spam. Can someone please pull it out. Thank you.

  6. Derek on April 18, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    The author is describing an intentional community.

  7. Sscenter on April 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Honestly I love the idea except that Mormonism requires me to work and have a calling and try to produce. Even missions only last two years.

  8. Kevin Barney on April 18, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    When I was in law school at the University of Illinois, there were a bunch of Mormon families living in married student housing in Urbana. We often would gather together to talk while our children played in the extensive playground out back. It seemed idyllic and very communal; I have fond memories of those days.

  9. Dan on April 18, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    okay, so let me try my comment again, this time masking the words that put my comment in spam.

    This last week, one of her friends said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just buy some land and move out there together?” This kind of sentiment is what I’m all about. We just need some place, some facility, to do it. How about a monastery?

    Or a compound? That’s just too eerily close to polygamists.

    I mean, who doesn’t like monasteries?

    Um, er Victor Hugo apparently doesn’t like them.

    From the point of view of history, of reason, and of truth, monasticism is condemned. Monasteries, when they abound in a nation, are clogs in its circulation, cumbrous establishments, centres of idleness where centres of labor should exist. Monastic communities are to the great social community what the mistletoe is to the oak, what the wart is to the human body. Their prosperity and their fatness mean the impoverishment of the country.

    The Spanish convent is the most funereal of all. There rise, in obscurity, beneath vaults filled with gloom, beneath domes vague with shadow, massive altars of Babel, as high as cathedrals; there immense white crucifixes hang from chains in the dark; there are extended, all [bleep] on the ebony, great Christs of ivory; more than bleeding, – bloody; hideous and magnificent, with their elbows displaying the bones, their knee-pans showing their integuments, their wounds showing their flesh, crowned with silver thorns, nailed with nails of gold, with blood drops of rubies on their brows, and diamond tears in their eyes. The diamonds and rubies seem wet, and make veiled beings in the shadow below weep, their sides bruised with the hair shirt and their iron-tipped scourges, their [bleep] crushed with wicker hurdles, their knees excoriated with prayer; women who think themselves wives, spectres who think themselves seraphim. Do these women think? No. Have they any will? No. Do they love? No. Do they live? No. Their nerves have turned to bone; their bones have turned to stone. Their veil is of woven night. Their breath under their veil resembles the indescribably tragic respiration of death. The abbess, a spectre, sanctifies them and terrifies them. The immaculate one is there, and very fierce. Such are the ancient monasteries of Spain. Liars of terrible devotion, caverns of virgins, ferocious places.

    I don’t really know much about real-world monasteries,

    They’re really not that great of places. I tend to agree with Victor Hugo. They are dead places, lacking in growth or expansion because they look backward rather than forward in history.

  10. Velikiye Kniaz on April 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    As I enter the allegedly “golden years” of my life single and alone, I have often considered purchasing one of the large old mansions in Salt Lake City’s historic district and opening it as, “Saint Moroni’s Monastery for Single Mormon Men”, so that at least some of my brethren,(as well as myself), won’t have to face death in an empty house or a “rest home” for the “sweet old things”. I have a 79 year old aunt who is facing that inevitable end in a shabby, circa 1950’s ‘care center’ while being cared for by sarcastic caretakers who call her “Honey” and “Mother” while not knowing her name or anything about her. My counsel to all younger, married Saints is this; stay with your suburban homes, filled with a loving spouse and children and be grateful that you gave your children enough good memories of their upbringing that they will never let you spend your last days and hours alone. Being a private person anyway, I won’t mind it that much that there are no witnesses to my demise. I just hope that I can pass quickly and with some dignity. My final goal is to die without any ‘loose ends’ so that I won’t be a burden to my
    (distant) heirs.

  11. Mark D. on April 18, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    The questionable attributes of some monastic (and quasi-monastic) orders notwithstanding, it is difficult for me to think too ill of institutions that produced such scholars as William of Ockham and Thomas Aquinas.

  12. Bob on April 18, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Dane. a sad story/dream like Velikiye Kniaz’s should not be. I know you wish for happier places for the young to grow in. But in this rich and service Church___there should be no stories like Velikiye Kniaz’s.

  13. Melynna on April 18, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Your use of the word “quad” makes me think you live in Wymount like I did. That place was the best place to live with little kids. We parents (usually moms but dads were common, too) would spend a lot of the day outside together talking while our children learned to play with each other. In the winter we’d go down to the communal basement. There were camp chairs and toys all over the place that people had contributed for everyone to share — when something broke, we threw it away and someone would go to DI and find something else to put out in its place. We could discuss anything — even politics — and have respectful discussions (and don’t think we agreed with each other — far from it!). Trading babysitting was a breeze, visiting and home teaching simple. We were, in so may ways, of one heart and of one mind. We had a blast.

    Now that I and most of the people I knew there have moved on, we miss it. Nothing else can fill the gap of such a close, supportive community. But I like the idea of the first comment — isn’t that what neighborhoods are for? If only we could learn to reconnect as a community. That would require setting aside our differences and really getting to know each other. And actually having people who have the time to spend time together, which is a huge hurdle all by itself. But it would be great.

    Sorry if this is too long. This post just made me remember all of the best things that come from living in a close community with people who really care about each other.

  14. Iowa_Pilot on April 18, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    I’m thinking of buying an island in the south pacific…maybe then I could get a GA to visit ;-}

    Any takers?

  15. Dane Laverty on April 19, 2010 at 12:58 am

    Katie P. and Melynna, you’re both right that our neighborhoods do contain all the elements of an idealized monastery. As you say, Melynna, “If only we could learn to reconnect as a community.” The issue is that “reconnecting as a community” isn’t a trivial problem. It requires more than sacrament meeting talks telling us to go out and befriend our neighbors. It requires a culture and infrastructure that makes “reconnecting as a community” a reasonable and rewarding activity. The family monastery is an attempt at doing that. It’s probably not a great one, but it’s a start. I’d love to hear other more practical ideas for reconnecting us as a community.

  16. Cameron Nielsen on April 19, 2010 at 1:12 am

    I just call that a home. I think an isolationist attitude kind of dissuades us from sharing the Gospel. I’d rather just work on getting to know my neighbors better and having my home be an example to them. I definitely am looking forward to a new opportunity to do this when I move in two weeks!

  17. Dan on April 19, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Dane,

    The family monastery is an attempt at doing that. It’s probably not a great one, but it’s a start. I’d love to hear other more practical ideas for reconnecting us as a community.

    When you say community, are you referring to the Mormon community or geographically the community in which we live? As a Mormon community, I think we connect fairly well. Outside of the Mormon community, well, what other kind of connection are you thinking we should have?

  18. James Olsen on April 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Dane, I think there’s a sense in which we’re all waiting around for a community messiah, someone who can reconnect our communities in the way we all want them to be. For a host of reasons, I don’t think monastic life would work for us today, though I myself am very attracted to the life. One conspicuous thing from your description, is that Mormon family monasticism wouldn’t look anything like traditional monasticism – I wonder if our Wymount friends would claim that the “rabbit hutches” were a place of retreat and reflection. But St. Anthony & St. Benedict were among the most successful community builders in history; despite our outsider biases and the horror stories we like to tell, monasticism worked for people. Millions of them. Period. I too hope we can get a new St. Benedict, and I laud your attempt to garner practical suggestions toward that end.

    So how about Mormon monastic retreats as opposed to monastic life? What if you could take a month as a family, or a summer, and go join with other Mormon families in an idyllic, structured setting, that allowed us to accentuate our Mormon communal values? One successful function monasteries play today is by allowing lay folk to take short (often 3 day to 2 week) retreats there at the monastery, joining in prayers and meals, but allowed the rest of the time to just, well, retreat and reflect.

  19. Dane Laverty on April 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Dan, my experience is that we connect remarkably poorly as a Mormon community. When I served in an elders quorum presidency, I found that the most common complaint I heard from my quorum members was, “I don’t have any friends in the ward.” I’ve watched since then, and found that very few elders in any of my elders quorums were close friends. We come together for meetings and projects, but friendship and play, not so much.

    James, My time at Wymount was one of the best years of my life. Wymount is probably close to what my Mormon monastery would look like. The area (in, say, a two-mile radius of Wymount) provides space for socializing, space for solitude, space for worship, space for learning, space for shopping, and space for working.

    If Mormon monastic retreats are the best I can get, then I’ll take it. But what I’m really trying to get is a sustainable lifestyle. The one-month retreat sends the message, “This is nice, but it’s not really practical. You can only live this way if you have the luxury of being able to take a month off from your life.” I believe that’s not true — I believe that a well-structured community could allow residents to meet their temporal needs while still providing time for and encouraging the use of social, spiritual, emotional, creative, and any other ennobling desires of the heart.

  20. Jared D on April 19, 2010 at 10:20 am

    A monastry? wouldn’t be a place of retreat if I took my kids – I love them dearly but they’re hard work. Also the idea of living in a very very close knit community does not appeal, I like my space. Anyway sounds like a recipe for crackpot fundamentalism if you ask me.

  21. Adam Greenwood on April 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

    In the sequels to Ender’s Game, OSC has a Catholic married order show up. Seemed Mormonish.

    The married housing at Notre Dame was a lot like that. Everyone who lived there loved it.

    I’ve argued before that Mormonism has room for intentional communities that aren’t quite Zion but that are intended to model Zion values or explore how we get there from here. I like your idea a lot–but for most Mormons, calling it a monastery is probably a turn off.

  22. Dane Laverty on April 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

    How about “proto-Zion”? Or is the “proto-” prefix too science-fictiony?

  23. Adam Greenwood on April 19, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I like it. if we’re going SF, lets go the whole hog. Zion simulations. Beta Zion. Sim Zion.

  24. Dane Laverty on April 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great idea! That allows for all sorts of spinoffs:
    – Zion: Babylon Strikes Back
    – Zion 2: The Next Generation
    – Zion 3: The Battle for Adam-ondi-Ahman

  25. Iowa_Pilot on April 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Zion 5: the Final Frontier
    Zion 6: the Undiscovered Zion

    How many iterations of Zion do we have to go through before we accept the simple meaning of the term adn just do what is necessary? It seems that Zion is not a destination, but a process.

  26. Adam Greenwood on April 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Zion: The Process Continues!

  27. Daniel Toy on April 20, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    “A monastery is a place of retreat. It would be a place where harried people could escape from the chaotic pressures of a demanding world.”

    Something we are asked to do through prayer, scripture study, and temple worship. Other than that we are expected to participate in the chaotic world for the betterment of it.

    Not that I don’t think monasteries are beautiful places that do provide some escape from the world. I have often fantasized about living in one.