It was a few years ago now that I (David Cole) became a vowed member of the dispersed New Monastic community ‘The Community of Aidan & Hilda’ (CA&H). Much more recently (at time of writing) I had the privilege of facilitating the service of one of the Explorer members of CA&H taking their vows to become a Voyager. These are terms which CA&H use for those people who have been spending time exploring living by the Way of Life (our monastic Rule) who are becoming a vowed member of the Community.
On my way to the service I went to collect a friend and we both drove up together in my car. The three of us, the person taking their vows, the friend I collected, and myself, are all mutual friends, but the one I had collected did not know a great deal about CA&H or New Monasticism, so on the journey, a little over an hour each way, they took the opportunity to ask questions and discover more about it. We discussed all the different aspects of what it meant to commit to take vows to live by a monastic rule as a lay person in a dispersed community, and various thoughts on spiritual disciplines. However, it became apparent as we spoke that something was not quite matching up.
My friend just wasn’t quite getting what I was saying. Then it became clear why this was. Although I was speaking clearly, some of the words I was saying were leaving my mouth one way and hitting the ears of my friend in a different way. Specifically one, quite key, phrase. You see, as I said the words ‘New Monastic’ my passenger was hearing the words ‘pneuma nastic’.
Being an intelligent person, they knew that ‘pneuma’ was the Greek word for ‘spirit’ used in scripture, and so was assuming that this was something to do with the Holy Spirit, but was not really getting the gist, as this little miscommunication changed everything, and made much of what I said unintelligible.
Once we had cleared up this little misunderstanding, by my friend stopping the conversation and asking me ‘what is nastic?’, and laughing about it, things began to get much clearer for my friend. However, it got me thinking, I liked the idea of ‘Pneuma Nastic’, of a Spirit led something or another, but as far as I knew, ‘nastic’ was not a real word. It wasn’t a suffix of ‘monastic’ as the prefix included the letters ‘na’ from the monos of monk, meaning ‘one’, or ‘alone’.
However, I decided to look it up anyway. Some of you may already know this, because you are cleverer than me, but to my delight I discovered that ‘nastic’ is an actual word! And it has a wonderful meaning to be allegorically translated into the Christian (Pneuma led) life. Nastic is a term which comes from botany, it is the movement of plant parts in response either to external or internal growth stimuli. Nastic movements, which are generally slow, can be observed with time laps filming, which we have probably all seen on the amazing natural history and nature programs on telly.
How wonderful! Nastic means to grow, slowly, from an internal or external stimuli. Certainly Pneuma Nastic has now become a thing, at least it has for me! Being that I am a branch of the vine which is Christ, a nice botanical allegory, Pneuma nastic is the slow and gradual transformation and growth of my inner self due to the internal work of the Holy Spirit (Pneuma) or the external work, that is, through other people, of the same.
Therefore I am a Pneuma nastic New Monastic!
However, you don’t have to be New Monastic to live a Pneuma nastic life. In fact, the Pneuma nastic growth of our inner selves is really what being a Christian is all about! For example, this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he suggested to the church in Rome that they be transformed by the renewing of their minds. This ‘renewing’ was Pneuma nastic. Or when he wrote to the church in Corinth explaining how we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next to become more and more like God, and become a better reflection of the Divine glory.
We may not all be New Monastics, but we should certainly all be Pneuma nastic! We should all be led into slow transformative growth by the prompting and stimuli of the Holy Spirit!
For many people the joy of spiritual disciplines, or following a monastic Rule or Way of Life is a life-giving wonder, and, speaking for myself, has been one of the greatest helps in my own growth. But whether or not you choose to be New Monastic, as we all continue on the path to which we have been led, I pray that we will all always live a Pneuma nastic life, and that the Holy Spirit will always be the stimuli for our nasticness (I think I made that last word up!).
Justin Coutts and I have put together a virtual retreat on the subject of New Monasticism. It includes six sessions each with a series of talks and a meditation video featuring beautiful nature scenery and Celtic harp music. There are a few videos available for free preview so that you can get a sense of what it’s all about before signing up. You can click the button below to learn more.