I just came across this article I wrote over five years ago, and I still really like it. I called it: "Does Jesus need a 'movement'? Lessons from the old new monasticism." And I have to say, I'm not disappointed to note that the "new monasticism movement" seems to have faded over the past five years...
"So you're gonna be a bum?!"
That was my father's initial reaction when I told him I was leaving on a long walking trip, hundreds of miles, without backpack or tent or sleeping bag—or money. I tried to explain that Jesus was my inspiration. Jesus' life and the way he sent out his disciples:
Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals... Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' (Lk 10.3-4,8-11)Three years earlier I had joined the Dominican Order, following that same inspiration, looking for a way to follow those words of Jesus. Dominic, and also Francis of Assisi, had also been inspired by those words when they started the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, introducing a new form of monasticism in the Middle Ages. That's what drew me to them. But during my years of novitiate and seminary I struggled, resisting the wealthy and established organization that the Order had become. Eventually one of the brothers sat me down and told me I was "not fitting in." It was then that I gave away the rest of my belongings and took to the road, to try to experience the life of the kingdom of God that Jesus had described.
Before I joined the Dominicans I read the story of Dominic and Francis and was impressed by their desire to follow Jesus example more closely. The monks and clerics of their time were wealthy and politically connected. Many people were rejecting the Christian message because of the obvious corruption and oppressiveness of the church leadership. Francis, however, found inspiration in Jesus' call to "sell all, give to the poor, and follow me." He gave up his inherited wealth and embraced poverty with a passion, believing that the church would find healing along the path of selfless giving and humble poverty rather than the path of wealth. Dominic had a similar vision. He noticed that the common people had lost respect for the powerful, pampered clerics, while "heretic" preachers wandered among them demonstrating their zealous commitment with lives of charity and extreme austerity. Dominic saw Jesus' life of poverty, and the way he sent out his disciples with nothing but their faith, as the best way to preach the gospel.
I agreed with this when I joined Dominic's Order, and after leaving the Order, and spending months at a time on the road over the next eight years, I was even more convinced. Jesus' life was not just a good way to preach the gospel, it was the gospel. His good news was that God was offering salvation from sin and freedom from fear as a gift. We were only asked to believe, to put our faith in God completely, to depend on his love to protect and sustain and guide us. And this is clearly seen in Jesus' life of poverty. Like the birds and lilies he trusted God for everything, and God provided. He sent out his disciples without money and without power, as "lambs among wolves," to demonstrate what it looked like to depend on God completely. And at the end of his life, when Jesus asked them if they had lacked anything, they answered, "Nothing." This was also my experience. And I saw that presenting this good news to people from a position of weakness and poverty does not diminish the message, but rather directs all attention and honor to God rather than the poor, weak messenger. It encourages faith in God's power rather than faith in our own.