The contemplative life in some way resembles the life of quasi-monastic scholarship lived by the dons of Oxford University. Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams taught there, and Sayers attended there and returned there repeatedly in her imagination. There is a culture there of, if not strict asceticism, then at least a communal life focused on the contemplation of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, through the study of texts and the mutual admonition and edification of minds and spirits brought together in a sort of quasi-Benedictine life of stability.
Though it would be stretching the point to call the Inklings “monastic,” it is clear that in the devotional reading and disciplines of Lewis, the pre-Vatican II Catholicism of Tolkien, and indeed the disciplines of the writer’s life and the clubbishness of Oxford, we have strong remnants of the Benedictine ideal of stability and the monastic ideal of a disciplined asceticism aimed at contemplation.
From these observations, we move (quickly) to look at how Benedictine and other monastic values can provide a bulwark against the kind of unmoored, individualistic, hyper-mobile life typical of modern Americans. I’ll dip into recent “new monastic” engagements with the old monasticism here. And I can reflect on the ways my own Bethel students have grabbed hold of the monastic legacy—seeing immediately how it speaks to the difficulties of being Christian in success-driven, mobile, consumerist, individualist America.