“Vice is waste of life. Poverty, obedience and celibacy are the canonical vices.” George Bernard Shaw
As kid I was told by a teacher that I “should be a monk.” Because I was very quiet. Meant as a joke but it has left it’s mark in me (a good mark I mean). You know, jokes that adults make sometimes get taken seriously by unwitting kids. I really thought I’d become a monk (even a saint!). Since then I’ve lost my faith, (well, it transformed really, into something it wasn’t before) and I don’t know any suitable monastic communities to attach myself to with my present beliefs.
And now I’ve learnt that the cornerstone of the monastic life are the vows of ”poverty, obedience and celibacy” (not silence, lol). And the part of me that is still a bit of a monk wants to make sense of these, reconcile them with my lifestyle that isn’t celibate, doesn’t shun money and doesn’t obey any sort of Church hierarchy. I like the idea of a life dedicated to contemplation and spirituality, but something that’s more involved with the world, not hidden in a cloister.
And so here are my thoughts:
I made a connection the other day between the subjects in the title. The monastic vows being celibacy (sex), poverty (money) and obedience (power). The hope of those that make monastic vows is to deny the influence of the three sources of “sin”: money, sex and power. If truth be told these three things are, perhaps, the most contentious and controversial subjects, and many problems, especially in human relationships are based upon these three (those monastics were on to something I think). If these three can be resolved then most human problems and relationship issues are most probably resolved.
So the answer according to monks and nuns? Deny them. Renounce them. Renounce personal ownership of wealth and problems of “having too much” or “not having enough” go away, and because there is “an eternal wealth awaiting us beyond this world”. Renounce sexuality and those wayward urges don’t have a place to intefere with the important things in life (like praying). Renounce personal will, defer it to a “higher power” and you don’t have to worry about making the wrong decisions or taking responsibility for something too big for you.
But this, in my view, only sweeps problems under the proverbial carpet. Money, sex and power will not go away. Thousands, millions of people have taken these vows and the problems still exist. Small groups of people have managed, with mixed results, to find a little pocket away from all these “bad influences”. But they have not managed to effectively resolve these issues for the world.
Energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be changed or diverted. The energy that money, sex and power represent cannot be effectively renounced. It is still there, being repressed. Being dammed up and fit to burst! Engineers know that rivers cannot be stopped but only diverted, unless you stop the rain (ask a miracle from God).
The conventional way is to get carried away by these currents. Put in other terms we become ruled by money, sex and power. We become their servants and they are the driving forces behind our lives, our raison d’etre.
Two choices: to resolve these powerful forces by denying them (even if, really, they cannot be denied) or just don’t bother to resolve them and be controlled by them (seemingly easy but fraught with problems).
But a third choice remains: to embrace these forces and to redirect their energies to positive ends. A working principle that means that money, sex and power creatively serve human life and relationships instead of being forces that rule human life. Instead of reducing human life to these dimensions, or cutting them out of human life altogether they can become forces to enhance a more whole way of being human.
Jesus said “Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man.” Religion, and any of the vows that go along with it, are made for us, not us for them.
We don’t have to make vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. We don’t have to resign ourselves to greed, domination and lust. We just have to put money, sex and power in their proper perspective; in service of life.
And so, hear me now and my monastic vow*…
I vow to take responsibility for my wealth, enjoy it, not be controlled by it and apply it in the service of life.
I vow to take responsibility for my sexuality, enjoy it, not be controlled by it and apply it in the service of life.
I vow to take responsibility for my power, enjoy it, not be controlled by it and apply it in the service of life.
And not a robe in sight…
*vows more as an process ongoing process rather than rules to live by! Can anyone be that perfect?