The City is My Monastery, Richard Carter. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2020.
Summary: A monk moves to the heart of London and forms a community sharing a rule of life and offers a reflective account organized around that rule.
Richard Carter was a monk with the Melanesian Brotherhood in the Solomon Islands, a simple ordered life where he encountered God. Then he answered a call to serve a congregation in the heart of London, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. After a time, he lost a sense of the nearness of God amid the busyness of parish life. After a discernment retreat in Dorset, his conclusion was not to return to the monastic life but that God was saying “the city is your monastery.” So he returned to St. Martin’s with this conviction:
“I needed to discover the simple disciplines that can enable a community to grow: an obedience, a listening, a life-giving rule of life. I discerned that the way forward was to write down a ‘rule of life’ for a community living in the midst of the city. This was the community, at that stage yet to be formed, which now has become known as the Nazareth Community.”Richard Carter, p. xxv.
This book is about the creation of that rule, the formation of that community, and the life that followed. Carter organizes the book around the rule which has these seven elements:
- With silence — to behold
- With service — to accept
- With sacrament — to gather
- With scripture — to ihspire
- With sharing — to enrich
- With sabbath — to restore
- Staying with — to live
The community began with forty-eight members with more to follow. Each is given a cross from made from timber from a wrecked boat on the island of Lampedusa, and becomes a part through a liturgy of commitment.
The book takes each of the elements of rule and devotes a chapter, not so much a description of “how to” as a narrative of the rule in life, written both in free verse and prose and black and white illustrations. We learn about the members of this community including the homeless who sleep on the church steps and the realities of sharing when an all-season sleeping bag bought for camping becomes the sleeping roll of a homeless man.
Here is an example of one of the poems, from the chapter on silence that I particularly liked:
Into the silent world Into the space beyond the clutter Into the depths of your heart As though lowering a bucket to draw fresh water Like the discovery of the well crystal-clear below the ground Or becoming the wellspring. Or like oxygen in the blood of your body This life flowing through your limbs Like walking into to a shower of light The warmth replenishing you through the pores of your skin Like being unwound Like being healed Like being loved At the very centre of your existence.
Along the way, his own narrative intrudes as a hospitalization leads to a new appreciation of sabbath and prayer. He acknowledges his own need for community and direction, sharing about his twenty year relationship with Fr. Simon Holden, the last retreat they led together, and his last visit, two weeks before Fr. Holden’s death of leukemia. Among his last words, he expresses this longing, “I want to disappear into God’s love. I want the me to become us.”
This is a beautifully written book that makes the case that it is possible for a city, and a parish in the midst of the city, to be a monastery–a community ordered by a common rule and bound together by the love of Christ. If this is what it means for a city to be one’s monastery, I can’t help but finding myself hoping more people hear this call.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.