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The Appeal of the Monastic Life

Updated on August 27, 2018

My Mixed Feelings About Monks

Hanging out at a Benedictine monastery for a couple of days, I find that I have mixed feelings about the monks. On the one hand, I am in awe of their level of commitment. Here are a bunch of guys who have taken vows of celibacy and have chosen to live largely separate from society, focused primarily on prayer and spiritual contemplation. It is difficult for me to imagine a spiritual lowlife like myself sticking to any part of those vows. Still, there is a part of me that is rather envious of the level of faith that it takes to devote oneself so exclusively to a spiritual path. These guys seem totally committed to a God they cannot see. Meanwhile, I am rarely certain about anything.

On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if many of these monks are running away from something. There are, after all, definite advantages to going off to a quiet place and living a life of contemplation. You don't have to worry about establishing and maintaining a career that produces enough money to pay the bills. You don't have to worry about keeping a spouse happy or fulfilling all of the day-to-day responsibilities of being a parent. And most importantly, you don't have to deal with a wide variety of people and all of their annoyingly human traits. The only people that the monks at this place seemingly interact with are their fellow monks and the visitors who come here for spiritual retreats, and these visitors do not exactly represent a cross-section of the human race.

I do have to admit, however, that there is a certain appeal to the idea of getting away from it all. In fact, I have been more monastic than usual in my teaching career over this (soon to be ending) summer. After seventeen straight summers of teaching community college classes in classrooms, I have taught exclusively online over the past two and a half months. This represents the longest that I have been away from a classroom in almost eighteen years. Undoubtedly, there are huge advantages to this whole online teaching thing. You can't beat the schedule, and interacting with students in a virtual environment saves me the trouble of dealing face to face with those few annoying students who periodically venture through my classrooms. I am also less inclined to mess up in the virtual classroom since I can always pause and edit whatever I say before posting.

There is definitely a part of me that likes the idea of becoming a semi-monastic teacher in the not so distant future by going completely online. When the kids move out of the house, and we can maybe get by with a little less income, the idea of teaching whenever from wherever makes even more sense than it does now. But would I be doing this because it would be the most productive use of my skills, or would I be going fully online just to avoid the stress and inconvenience of commuting, of putting myself on public display, and of dealing with a few people who might get on my nerves? Would I be settling into a comfort zone and as a result no longer growing very much as a teacher and a human being?

For the time being, I am going to resist the temptation to become overly monastic. I will keep putting myself into situations where I might embarrass myself in front of crowds and may not know how to deal with unique individuals complete with their personalities and struggles. Living in the real world can be a messy thing, and many humans are strange creatures who think and live in ways that I will never understand. But I'm not quite ready to take the easy way out. Easy tends to get boring after a while anyway.


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