Rejection: being in osmosis with the world

NMCs reject some consubstantial practices of monastic life which are also partly disappearing from traditional communities. But, in contrast with the latter, NMCs’ rejections, like their innovative characteristics, reveal the logic of challenge guiding new foundations in the protest against earlier monastic institutions (Seguy 1971). An analysis of the relationship between JMF and the world will help us to understand this conflictual drive. For the JMF, being open to the world is a multi-directional endeavour - it may be found in their relationship with the city, work, and the structure of daily routine.

Something has been lost of enclosure’s traditional value in JMF. A rne- taphorisation process has radically transformed its meaning from ‘mural’ to ‘moral’, that is, from a place of radical separation from the world, a tangible expression offuga mundi, to a tool for safeguarding the self and contact with God. Enclosure becomes a matter of time-management rather than of space, even when it is partly ‘mural’. The Constitution of the JMF states:

The monks/nuns adopt the reality of effective enclosure by living in a house reserved exclusively for them, particularly safeguarding the inviolability of their cells, every day ensuring periods of complete silence and perfect solitude and every week an entire “desert” day favouring a heart-to-heart with God alone.

JMF members consider traditional monastic enclosure as a means adopted in the past to meet historical-cultural contingencies. On this point Delfieux writes: ‘Do not worry about that which is difficult to base explicitly on the text of the Gospels’ (Delfieux 2005, p. 127).

Brothers and nuns repeat that the aim of their vocation is to be ‘... in osmosis with the contemporary world (here meaning the city), being accessible, and being witnesses of God’. According to interviewee М2, the Jerusalem Community aims at ‘living in osmosis with the world; we are not separated from it by any enclosure’. Osmosis with the city takes place on many levels: living and working within it, and understanding themselves as individuals brought up in that city:

The city looks in from every side. Sometimes there is silence, but [not when] something is going on outside, or there is a demonstration in the street. And it is our task to be monks in such a world, without abandoning it [...]. The founder [claimed] that we could theoretically be close to and separate from the world, but we have a form of life to share, being holy, living in harmony with God, and at the same time seeking the deep connection with God which takes place in the heart thanks to silence and self-discipline (М2).

Osmosis with the city is not only being practised by monks, it is also embedded in the fabric of their monasteries. In Warsaw, the monastery is located in the noisy city centre, next to a soccer stadium and a busy road. Sometimes the community lives even more in a shop window:

We have a place in Cologne in the tourist district where there is a lot of activity, carnivals, and so forth. The reading room has many windows, and in the evening it’s like brothers in a goldfish bowl: people walking down the street can look inside. It is similar in Paris: the kitchen windows look out on the courtyard which is surrounded by multi-storey tenements, so that we can be seen from the 10th floor. And this is a conscious choice, to be among people [...] In any case, this life-choice is based on solidarity with our neighbours, the desire to be close to them, to be available and to feel compassion for them (М2).

The specific spatial collocation of communities in the urban context is related to other choices: not only do they not observe papal enclosure, but they prefer to rent rather than own property. They make their living (and by doing so demonstrate solidarity with lay people) by working either inside or outside the community. Brothers and sisters in Warsaw have chosen to work part-time. There are four brothers in Warsaw and one novice (around 60 brothers worldwide). Now, only one brother works outside the monastery (in a Catholic institution), while others work within the monastery (three focus on church services and one - a hermit - as a translator). The sisters work in different professions but only within Catholic institutions, because this was the decision taken by this Polish community. In the words of one of them:

We work in various occupations according to what we can find. Sometimes we look for work which is consistent with our studies, but when this is not feasible we are happy to accept any available work. We must work only part-time and we cannot work on Mondays, because we have a ‘desert’ day. And this limitation means that work is becoming harder and harder to find (SI).

The founder’s criteria in the Fraternity Rule resonate in the interviewer’s words. Quoting Saint Basil, Delfieux points out: ‘Choose the activities which safeguard our life in peace and tranquillity, which are not technically very difficult and do not lead to dangerous or unsuitable encounters’ (Delfieux 2005, p. 36).17

The tension between contemplative and active elements is mirrored in the daily rhythm. A day is divided into two parts: the first being work and activities: the second, communal and meditative. On Monday, there is ‘a day of the desert’ (no work and no communal prayer). From interviews with the nuns, it further emerges that one of the severest difficulties of their monastic life - which they interpret as the most fatiguing form of ascesis - is the rhythm, the rigid timetable structure ‘fragmenting’ their days and governing not only opus Dei but also their other daily activities, giving them the sense of always being interrupted. The nuns also testify that while one gets used to this daily routine, it is still a disruptive aspect of their lives which they must accept: even if they are talking to someone or reading, they have to stop and obey the call. Nuns who are required to meet and talk with others may arrive late to the chapel for (individual) prayer, but they are expected to be punctual for the collective liturgy. They are not reprimanded by superiors if this happens infrequently, but this kind of ‘annoyance’, that is, ‘being disturbed by the world to the extent of finding oneself of the world’, is a consequence of choosing to live in the city rather than in the country. On Wednesday evenings after Chapter (an assembly of the whole community with males and females segregated), ten minutes are devoted to ‘self-confession’ where, after a hymn to the Holy Ghost, everybody (male and female) is free to talk about his/her omissions (for example, being late, breakages, uncharitable thoughts and forgetfulness) and to ask for the community’s forgiveness. This can be seen as a renewed form of the traditional ‘chapter of faults’ which was abandoned after the Council.

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