What Is a Strategic Monk?
People ask me quite a few questions about the name Strategic Monk.
Where did I get the name? What kind of a name is it, and what does it mean?
Many of the questions are about the monk part. People want to know whether I am a real monk, and what my connection is to monks. A few people ask about the strategic part.
Strategic Monk is the story of my life.
I was raised to be a strategic person, a person who finds the right answers and shares them with others. At school, at home, at church, I focused on finding the right answers. I went to school for a long time, including law school, and became a criminal prosecutor. The rightness of my answers was important to me.
I focused on being strategic and became the kind of person who accomplished goals.
Eventually, I arrived at a point of dramatic transformation. I realized I was asleep to myself, and neither knew nor considered what I wanted. My life was all about doing what people expected me to do.
It was time for me to make some changes. One of the most significant of my changes was discovering habits and practices that opened me to a more contemplative life.
I came to recognize a much deeper, more intimate connection to what was sacred and holy in everyday life.
Over time, I developed a relationship with a Benedictine monastery. I am a person who lives outside the monastery and who is committed to following a way of life which supports monastic, contemplative values.
I continue to rely on strengths and abilities which help me, and other people, get things done. We can find a balance which helps us be strategic and contemplative.
What Does a Strategic Monk Do?
I work with people as they explore the spiritual truths of their lives.
We live in a time where many people do not spend time or energy discovering much besides what is right in front of them. Some people feel intimidated, some have not seen what the possibilities are. We work together to find their paths.
It is not because I am smarter or stronger or more spiritual than other people. I do a lot of listening, and help people listen to themselves in deeper ways. I ask questions based in what I hear. Those questions can be insightful. I help people laugh when they might feel intimidated, which encourages them and helps them remember.
There is a lot of power in listening to someone, asking them good questions, and learning to laugh.
It helps that I know I do not have all the answers. I am not an expert with a checklist for people to follow. It is more that I have already gone a little further along the trail and can accompany people as they explore.
Not many kids decide we want to be a spiritual director when they grow up.
A spiritual director is not a substitute for a minister or a church. I do not have the answers to many theological questions, and have quite a few questions myself. I rarely tell people what they should do.
The idea of spiritual direction has a long history. Traditionally, people would seek out a member of the clergy or a monk and tell them their stories. The director would suggest ways they could approach specific problems or issues. Some of this direction was focused on particular questions while some developed into ongoing relationships.
Each of us is a unique person, and each spiritual director has their own approach.
Talking About Spiritual Life
Some people seem particularly uncomfortable talking to me about spiritual life. They might ask me whether I really am a Christian and, if I am, why do I not sound like one? They think all my talk of spiritual life and sacred stillness sounds a little vague.
Some people want to understand how I experience spiritual life. Others seem a little nervous I am trying to put something over on them.
Let me assure you my spiritual journey grows in and reflects the Christian tradition. I have spent time in a number of different Christian churches and denominations, primarily Protestant ones.
When I was eight years old I was “born again” and accepted Jesus into my heart. I was baptized there. It shaped how I have been talking about spiritual life since then in significant ways.
There have been other churches along the way.
Each church on my long and winding path has shaped how I experience and talk about spiritual life. Like with any friend we have had for a long time, the ways we know God grow and develop.
I am not talking about spiritual life the same way I did when I was eight years old.
What Do We Mean When We Talk About Spiritual Life?
I think many of us do not really know what we mean when we talk about spiritual life.
We feel overwhelmed by the size and power of spiritual life and decide we do not have time to really explore it. It seems easier and takes less time when we fall back on theological language.
When we look at the picture of spiritual life in our mind’s eye we think we see the same person as everyone else. Each of us, though, sees our own picture with its own, unique meaning.
We do not need to discover the final answers to all our questions, which is not the most important part. What is important is we explore and grapple with our questions.
Our questions are not intended to help us know everything. Each one is a gift which draws us to see our lives in new ways and remember who we are becoming.
The spiritual life I know believes in the power of asking good questions. It does not use jargon to avoid exploring.
How do we need a Strategic Monk today?
Who do we see when we talk about spiritual life this week?
[Image by Efendi]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.