November 19, 2006

"The Monastery" on The Learning Channel

It continues tonight.

I have watched all the episodes so far.

As a Benedictine monk myself (Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California), I have been frustrated by the failure of the series to lay out the monastic schedule in a way that makes sense. It's a helter skelter presentation as far as the daily schedule goes. However, the show has a website with a good presentation of the monastic day.

Last week I believe Abbot Philip gave Warren (the Episcopalian) a good response to the challenge that the abbot was not giving the visitors the "theological" underpinnings or the "why" of Christian and monastic discipline and faith-- that the abbot was leading or guiding the men psychologically instead. The abbot answered that since at least two of the men were somewhat skeptical of religious reasoning, he was trying to reach them on the level of their interior experiences of the whole experiment. In my judgment the abbot wanted to use that as a springboard for showing the men a path to possible Christian faith, hope and love.

Two of the men confessed last week that the departure of Alex affected them in a strong emotional way.

Despite the show's lack of explaining much of monastic life, the show nonetheless reveals the personal qualities and attitudes of some of the monks. That's good witness.

The show succeeds in portraying things from the perspective of the visitors.

Now, here's a shocker for me personally. Two Thursday's ago my own abbot told me the show's producer had approached him about having the show done at MY monastery. The producer wanted to live with us for six months first in order to get to know our life before starting a documentary with the five visitors.

I think the choice of the Abbey Christ in the Desert was a much better one than my monastery. There's much more geographical isolation there, and with that greater isolation much more of St. Benedict's vision of monastic separation from the world.

By the way, in the Benedictine order, the Abbey of Christ in the Desert is quite famous and admired. Other monasteries are much larger, have more monks and are older by centuries. However no other monastery has such a setting and that kind of isolation. To get there, you leave a state highway and drive thirteen miles down a dirt road.

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