I am thrilled to continue this weekly series of summer guest posts from each of the Wisdom Council members, with their reflections on what being a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life means for them, in the context of their own work and ministries.
I first met Ronna Detrick in person as I was in the throes of selling my home in Seattle a year ago and preparing for this great life adventure I am on now. I had seen Ronna’s work and felt a kinship to her spirit, so I am grateful for our chance to talk in-the-flesh, even in the midst of so much transition, because her passion and our conversation inspired me to ask her very soon after to co-create the Women on the Threshold program with me and two other fabulous women. Ronna’s yes was the start of a deepening dance of friendship and collaboration for which I am grateful. Here is some of her wonderful wisdom about the contemplative and creative life:
Christine graciously asked me to speak about how to be a monk in the world and an artist of everyday life. Here’s my honest answer:
I have no idea!
Making things even more complicated, particular images flood my mind at their mere mention:
The monk: a man in a hooded robe who takes vows of silence, poverty, and then some. Deliberate choices, actions, behaviors, and beliefs that enable him to give his life entirely to God. Devotion and selflessness in spades. And somehow, in the chosen sacrifice, becoming more holy, more pure, more God-like.
The artist: a tortured soul in front of a canvas who rarely engages with polite society. Brooding, dark, and possessed in some way. At the mercy of his/her craft and living in poverty until discovered. Every-once-in-a-while the muse shows up and inspiration strikes…until the inevitable return to lonely solitude.
Of course, there are more romantic notions: The monk who sits in quiet contemplation for hours, able to capture the very voice of God, and drafting sentences and sonnets, poems and prose that enable us to hear the same. The artist who sees beauty at every turn and then, in unencumbered and inspired freedom, makes that accessible to the rest of us.
Whether I go with the first or second set of caricatures, I am hard-pressed to see myself in either. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to understand and experience such; to live my life completely immersed in my spirituality and my craft; to somehow hear God speak through my discipline and devotion and enable others to hear/see the same through my art.
Here’s the thing: as long as I see either the monk or the artist as someone even slightly out of reach then, in effect, I conveniently shield myself from what it takes to become such. And as long as I can find reasons to not practice the disciplines of the monk or the habits of the artist, I can idealize them both and maybe even pout a little (albeit, humbly) about how the same isn’t true for me; a privilege apparently saved only for the special few.
It doesn’t take very sophisticated reasoning skills to realize that this may, in fact, be why there are so few monks and artists in our world. It is not easy. It can be grueling. It is often thankless, anonymous, and unrewarded. And it’s a life-long vocation, commitment, and way of being.
I realize that for me, more important than the question of how, is that of the why. Why would I want to be a monk in the world and an artist of everyday life? Why would I want to take on the disciplines and practices and day-in, day-out requirements for such a life?
Because being a monk in the world and an artist of everyday life is the closest I can get to God.
Ultimately, even when I feel resistant to admitting it, this is what I most want, long for, and endlessly search for. So if there are ways in which I can more consistently and closely hear God’s voice, I want them. If there are ways in which I can feel the very Spirit of God work through me in creative acts, I want them. And if, in the doing of these things I somehow have the privilege of inviting others closer to the God that they desire then that is gift and grace beyond compare.
And from the why comes the how:
Being a monk in the world and an artist of everyday life happens when I boldly and blatantly acknowledge my desire for God.
I can’t sort-of want to be a monk or an artist, nor can I sort-of want God. This desire is enflamed, alive, and hot. The desire pursues and compels. This desire requires commitment and conviction when ambivalence rears its head; when there are more days than not in which I’d rather choose lukewarm interest over on-fire passion. This desire means that I tirelessly seek new ways of understanding the Divine when well-known creeds, time-worn hymns, and dogged textual interpretation though comfortable, no longer challenge. This desire means that I speak and create in truth-filled, unedited, no-holding-back ways. All of these far easier said than done. No sort-of allowed.
Which takes me right back to where I started. To be a monk and/or an artist is not the glamorous or easy choice. It is one that is impassioned and intentional; made over and over and over again. The why is what matters most.
When I choose – in naming my deepest desire – to be a monk and artist – I am open to any and all ways in which God might show up, might speak, might be made manifest and revealed and real. When I choose – in naming my deepest desire – I can create from a raw and unedited place, less concerned with what others think and completely consumed by the Spirit within who longs to come forth. When I choose – in naming my deepest desire – I remain hungry and thirsty for God.
This is the why. This is the how. This is the challenge. This is the call. And all of these, at least for me, are impossible to ignore (even if I wanted to). Long robes, difficult vows, and tortured souls aside (more likely, included). I press on and fail and re-engage. I doubt and question and wrestle. I swoon and gush and laugh. I listen to and for God. I create because I can’t not.
How to be a monk in the world and an artist of everyday life? Say that you want to. Lead with your longing. And know that wherever desire dwells, God shows up. Ask any monk or artist: that’s what they’re looking and longing for, too. Just like me. And probably just like you.
May it be so.