Meditation and culture: a place for new spirituality

The spirituality of the monasteries appeals even to the non-Christian public, although they often seek different interpretations of it.20 For example, temples, monks and meditation are very often connected with Eastern mysticism rather than to the Christian religion. This connection between a monastery and (Eastern) meditation can be found in the Broumov Monastery, where there are no monks in residence. Jan Skolnik, the founder of the Educational and Cultural Centre and Broumov Region Development Agency, who identifies himself as a non-religious person, has nevertheless decided to integrate regular Christian meditations into the programme of the Broumov Monastery in the form of meditation weekends:

We have recently introduced meditation programmes, which are designed as spiritual or personal growth ones. First, we learned about the World Organisation for Christian Meditation, and then I went to visit Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk who lives in London. He, together with his predecessor John Main, developed the tradition of Christian meditation, referring to the early days of St Benedict and his contemporary John Cassian. When John Main saw that Englishmen prefer Eastern religions, he started, drawing from his own experience, speaking about the benefits of meditation, but stressing that meditation is integrated into the European Christian tradition. He started to organise Christian meditation groups across Europe, and we are happy to join them.

(Jan Skolnik, Educational and Cultural Centre, Broumov Monastery,

May 2018)

Uncertainty expressed by the narrator is clear from the terms used to describe the spiritual programme which is offered to guests as a programme of ‘personal development’. The Benedictine origin of meditation is also emphasised to fit within the frame of monastic discourse. Even though a local Catholic priest criticises such events, they are very popular with clients from different parts of the Republic or from abroad. However, Jan Skolnik is aware of the fact that from the position of a secular organisation, the monastic experience cannot be compared to a stay in a monastery where a community of monks actually live.

Both tourists in need of accommodation and people who want to spend some time in a monastery come to stay here. We wish to have more monastic visitors, but then we reach the obstacle where, in this context, it becomes just the ‘game of a monastery’. We can only offer this kind of experience, so I assume that most tourists will come to visit us in the future.

(Jan Skolnik, Educational and Cultural Centre, Broumov Monastery,

May 2018)

The identification of the complex as a monastery is caused by the absent community in Broumov and is therefore ambiguous. Its secular administrators try to work within the monastic tradition, choosing specific attributes of monasticism to address its contemporary guests - accommodation in monk’s cells, morning meditations, silentio reinterpreted as a tool for meditation and self-development - these are all attributes of monastic life which are consumed by guests and are products of commodification. However, it does not necessarily reduce the spiritual experience, indeed quite the opposite: this crossover translates spirituality for the non-religious who understand it better when expressed in this way.

Summary: Is monasticism the means for a sustainable life?

Where the Benedictine tradition meets ‘non-religious society’, discussions may arise for reinterpretations and translations of ‘monastic’ values, such as understanding silence, as a key to spiritual enlightenment or for transforming monastic ‘ora et labora’ into harmonious life. This is possible because society seeks spiritual values which lead to fulfilment and Benedictines can meet those desires halfway. Joan Chittister OSB describes this in the introduction of the book Listening to the Earth: An Environmental Audit for Benedictine Communities (Bartlett et al. 2006):

Clearly the whole world needs Benedictinism again, needs a mindset that cares for the tools of life ‘as if they were vessels of the altar.’ We need a sense of balance, of enoughness, of stewardship and a sense of the eternal presence of God. We need a life lived in harmony with the seasons, the sun, the self and the other.

(Chittister 2006)

To meet halfway is desired by both sides. Nevertheless, it is hard to establish a framework within which such a meeting would be possible. It is nearly impossible for non-religious society to experience and understand monastic sustainability. Time spent in the monastery by visitors is very short and is not intended to stimulate a change in lifestyle: on the contrary, it serves as silent relaxation, it prepares them for the return to the world outside, making a spiritual holiday of the time spent within its walls. The monasteries welcome all guests regardless of background, offering time and hospitality, while creating new possibilities for a reinterpretation of monastic values for the needs of secular society. And different kinds of guests are coming: pilgrims and Catholics seeking to deepen their spiritual life on the one side,

God or ‘something more’ seekers on the other.21 The effort is to also be sincere and inspiring, for this second group is a part of the moral economy of Czech monasteries. The need to maintain cultural heritage and to engage with the world through the efforts of the moral economy has transformed monastic tradition considerably in the Czech Republic. The extension of monastic values through dialogue with secular society brings about a unique reflection on the core values of monastic life. The moral economy of the monasteries in the Czech Republic also makes gains in spiritual values by the administration of its cultural heritage and monastic economy.

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