What is Neo-Monasticism?

What makes Monkfish Abbey a neo-monastic community? Well, it’s not celibacy, poverty or wearing robes. (Phew!… ’Though Polyphonic Spree has killer robes…that wouldn’t be so bad.) We’ve been together since the spring of 2001. During that time we watched some neomonastic traits bubble up amongst us. Here’s what we’ve got so far.


You know how time seems to fly by? We recognize that time is not a renewable resource. Rather, it’s limited and we should treat it with respect and care. We’d like time to feel holy, healthful, and fun. We’ve noticed we feel more balanced and centered when we acknowledge and celebrate the rhythms the passage of time creates around us. Because of where we live and who we live with, we celebrate traditional Judeo-Christian holidays (Advent, Lent, Passover, etc) as well as significant days in the seasonal calendar (Winter and Summer solstice, Spring and Fall equinoxes, etc.) The Celtic monks were very attentive to the way seasons impacted their lives with regard to work, play, prayer, study, what they wore, and even with regard to what they ate. We are playfully exploring that as well. Fish around to find out more about our rhythms.

Blended Living:

In many religious traditions there is a separation between the holy and the profane, work and ministry, worship and play, prayer and conversation. We think these things are more fluid; there is crossover and fuzzy edges between and around each of these things. Life doesn’t fit into neat categories. The Celtic monks knew this, and tried to weave prayer and work together. (Ora et labora – prayer and work.) They had prayers which they would burst into while they scrubbed the potatoes, or milked goats. Plus they had a beautiful (albeit time consuming) habit of praying through the various hours of the day. We’d like to live more like that – in our own culturally current way. We’d like to value a good conversation as much as we value traditional prayer. We’d like to honor a trip to explore another culture as much as an official “outreach.” We’d like to put as much emphasis on going out with friends as we do on attending a sacred service. We’d like to treat a good meal as respectfully as a good rite. To our understanding, all these things are cut out of the same creative cloth. We’d like to learn to live out of that reality. To hear some stories about how we’re learning to do this, look here:

Multiple Levels of Belonging:

The ancient monks didn’t think jumping in with two feet was a good idea – especially if you weren’t sure what was under the surface of the water. They offered different levels of belonging. You could live in the neighborhood and just drop by for a church service. Or you could come every week because you needed a little help with your groceries. Or you could sign on for the long term. There were (and are) tertiary members (lay monks), novitiates (seriously trying it out) and full fledged monks. We’ve got that too. You can come to our parties, call us when you need a hand, practice some spiritual disciplines with us, or even live with us for a time. Paul and Rachelle–our host and abbess–may hold down the abbey house, but everyone else has their own ebb and flow, their own levels of commitment, and we’re okay with that. We’re trying hard to nurture an environment that honors all types of involvement equally. We understand our journey not as a climb through various “levels,” but as a wandering through a finely wrought web. We’re committed to living generously—and out of that flows an understanding that each of us has a big, messy life which requires each of us to make space for the other. We’re not shooting for perfection, but we would like to know each other enough to live graciously with one another.

Sense of Place:

As the Host and Abbess of Monkfish Abbey we (Paul, Rachelle, and our family) have a strong sense of belonging to Seattle, to the neighborhood (Fremont/Wallingford) and to this house. We are the un-cloistered anchorites of this community. Others may come and go, marry and move; have kids and disappear for awhile into babyland; need or find a better spiritual fit elsewhere; be heavily involved at one time and more lightly involved another; go back to school; find a job elsewhere; succumb to their travel lust, etc.  But so far, we’ve stayed here. We’re the place holders. And we hope that while you’re here with us, you fall in love with these people and this city.

Spiritual Disciplines:

Discipline is a loaded word. But every good monk has a set of disciplines, or practices they follow to help them stay connected to God and connected to others. At Monkfish Abbey we are still watching our collection of disciplines grow. But so far you’ll find us practicing the practice of presence – that is of being attentive to our lives and the lives of those around us. We also use contemplative practices like lectio divina to help us sink into holy texts, contemplative prayer to ground us in the divine, and the ignatian examen to help us keep track of what God is unfolding and shaping in our lives. Generosity is important to us and shows up as hospitality, charitable giving, attentive listening, and time spent serving our community. And finally, but perhaps most difficult to define is the practice of seeking shalom. By this we mean that we strive to create wholeness – in our lives, in our friends and family, in our neighborhoods, and in our world. Peace keeping, being true to ourselves, and seeking relational health with ourselves, our others, and the created order are all part of the practice of practicing shalom.