When we think of monasteries, we think of medieval monks cloistered away from society and living in silence amidst a formidable fortress of solitude. Historically, that certainly was true in many cases. In an effort to live holy and pure lives, many monastic orders retreat from the world, and even from each other. In a Benedictine monastery, for example, monks were not permitted to speak, even at the dinner table… and not even to ask someone to pass the butter! “Monks should cultivate silence at all times,” writes St. Benedict. There’s a belief that wrong behaviour can be easily addressed by limiting our behaviour. Although we could probably learn to say fewer words (and so get into less trouble), such external restrictions lead to legalism and deny the powerful work of the Spirit in a believer’s life.
In fact, the Spirit often uses our interactions with others to teach us how to be more like Jesus. For example, you never realize how proud you are until someone offends you! You never realize how little patience you have until someone exasperates you! We not only need those offensive and trying people but we ought to thank God for them!
"The temptation to avoid others so that you can live a perfect and holy life is what makes monastic living so appealing to so many."
The temptation to avoid others so that you can live a perfect and holy life is what makes monastic living so appealing to so many. Human beings are always striving for an ideal world—a heaven on earth—and unfortunately, Christians are no exception. Just like medieval monks, modern Christians tend to retreat from the challenging demands of staying connected with fellow believers, especially those “difficult to love” saints in their local church. The current crisis has certainly exasperated this tendency toward isolation. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, however, to not neglect meeting “together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
We are tempted to turn to our favourite online preachers or authors, and campout in social media echo-chambers. We may even focus on our own spiritual growth—which is valuable and essential; however, God has not only called us to be devoted to him but also to love our neighbours.
During this COVID-19 crisis, as many Christians are unable to meet with their congregations or even interact with their family or neighbours, be sure that you are still connecting with the saints. Pick up the phone, chat via texting, send an email, use one of the many online video chats (Google Hangouts, Skype, Google Duo, Zoom, Webex, just to name a few free applications). You need to body of Christ to help you be more like Christ, and the body needs you to help them become more like Christ too.
So fellow COVID-19 monks, don’t be a recluse! Be sure to “break the silence” from time to time, and reach out (virtually) to fellow saints, friends, family, missionaries, pastors, neighbours… especially those who are on their own. “As iron sharpens iron,” the Proverb declares, “so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
For more on the importance of staying connected to the body of Christ, here’s a link to a sermon I preached at Rosedale Baptist Church call “Why Your Church Matters” on Ephesians 4:1-16.
 Benedict, and Timothy Fry. The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2018.
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.