Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm: A Book Review
I get it! A habit: a piece of clothing worn by a member of a religious group; a usual way of behaving; something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.
“Everyday people” need not wear the habit, but we can do the habit of everyday spirituality, and this particular Protestant needs that kind of reminder. First of all, I value having a name for spiritual disciplines and behaviors; and monastics, having built a life around spiritual practices, have forged a vocabulary that is both instructive and practical for one whose goal in life is to seek God. For instance, when I think about my conviction that one should “hang in there” with one’s church family through thick and thin as “the discipline of stability,” I am reminded that my commitment is truly to the body of Christ, not merely to a particular group of delightful believers whom I happen to enjoy — most of the time. When I hold my tongue instead of complaining about the sock on the living room floor — again, this is the discipline of restraint of speech.
Second, there is an intentionality to serving Christ that gives dignity and purpose to every task. Monk Habits for Everyday People high lights this truth very practically. Apparently, hospitality is a key discipline in the life of the monastery. Me, too! However, raising four boys and our 150 pound St. Bernard in a fixer-upper has always made inviting people into my home an exercise in vulnerability. Even if I managed to get the house “picked up” before company arrives, certainly the dog will throw up by the front door just as the guests drive in.
“No matter,” says the Benedictine monastic. “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for He himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'” So, we swoop up the vomit with the paper towels, wash the hands, open the door, and hope the aroma of beef stew in the crock pot and apple pie cooling on the counter top cancels out the, um, other odor, while making our guests the focus of our love and attention, since they have been sent to us that we may serve Christ in humility.
I long for the holistic perspective that the satisfaction of our spiritual needs is as essential as habitual times of eating meals. For me, this will mean prayer over the dish water, attention to the silverware, and to the needs of the dear hands that used it. Monk Habits for Everyday People is an invitation to change my world, in the tradition of Brother Lawrence (a Carmelite monk) who “practiced the presence of God,” and found, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that “without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer, work is not work.”
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.