Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Technology & Monks

I had an awesome experience over the weekend.  Our family and some friends took a little weekend vacation to Bulgaria.  To most Americans, Bulgaria is probably not high on the list of vacation spots, but it’s a beautiful place.  I’ll write more about the vacation on my other site, “…one missionary in Kosovo,” but I wanted to post about the spiritual implications of the trip.

            Having arrived at the hotel on Thursday, we headed out for the Rila Monastery on Friday.  This was actually our second visit to Rila, the first being last fall.  The monastery was built in the 10th century and continued to function for hundreds of years until it was declared a national historical monument in 1976. 

The paintings and artwork in and around the church are simply spectacular.  The whole place just breathes ancientness, history, permanence.  Visiting this place always reminds me of how long men and women have followed Christ and under what difficult circumstances they served.  The monks who lived here, for example, lived in obscurity far, far away from even the most rudimentary comforts of civilization.  They lived, prayed, worshipped and died way up high in the mountains.  And yet, they painted the types of phenomenal artwork pictured to the left.  Monks still walk the grounds, dressed very much the same way they’ve dressed for hundreds of years.

            On the way home on Sunday we happened by a different monastery.  We simply saw the sign on the road and decided to check it out.  After driving up the mountain for several hundred feet we arrived at a vey different monastery.  This one was brand new.  In fact, it was still under construction.  It consisted of a small building for lodging, some farm buildings and a brand new church.  The church had been provisioned and decorated and even included an assortment of relics.  Here too monks walked the ground, wearing dark beards and wearing simple black robes.  Around the grounds were a number of walking and hiking trails that look out over the valley and the beauty of God’s creation.  Along the paths are a number of simple, wooden benches looking out over particularly fantastic views of Bulgarian countryside.  One trail leads to a small cave, outfitted with a bench, icon and candle-holders.

Now, I’m an evangelical Christian. I’m an ordained minister by the Christian & Missionary Alliance.  I was raised by fairly conservative parents in fairly conservative churches.  But I continue to find a powerful presence in eastern Orthodox churches and monasteries.  I’m not saying I find some mystic, spiritual power…though there may be some of that.  Rather, I find in them places of profound commitment, artistry and commitment to God.  These men spend their lives in simplicity, worship and prayer.  Their lives are manifestations of “a long obedience in the same direction.”

What in the world does this have to do with technology?  I very much enjoy technology.  I’m completely taken by my Tablet PC.  I’ve used a Palm device for nearly ten years.  I’ve been using PC’s in some form for nearly for 25 years  I enjoy listening to podcasts and I subscribe to just about ninety RSS feeds.  In short, I’m about as geeked out as any vocational-ministry person you’ll meet.  And yet, I am again challenged by lives and the life-style I witnessed over the weekend.  It’s not my first visit up close to traditions other than my own,  but it’s been a powerful reminder about the life of faith and how exactly God works in our lives.

We have to create space in our lives for God to work.  Sometimes all my technological gadget…most of which really do help me get work done faster and cleaner…keep me from opening up space in my life for quietness, solitude and the other ancient disciplines.  These disciplines are the keys to living completely free in Christ.  They’re the training that enables me to live the life Christ has intended me to live.  A friend recently mentioned that while I’m highly productive, I just use the time I’ve won back by being productive to do more work.  That struck me and I was struck again by the simplicity of the monks lives this weekend that I need to continue to create the space necessary for the Lord to work in my life.


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