Showing posts with label Beguines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beguines. Show all posts

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beguines Old and New

The world's last Beguine died in Flanders on April 14, 2013. The movement lasted nearly one thousand years. See a report on this here.

Marcella Pattyn died on April 14, the day after I moved into the new intercommunity house. This is particularly poignant because in one listing, I named this community the Beguines of St. Louis.

There is a sense in which I feel blessed by this last Beguine who stayed around till this house opened and we could re-ignite this women's movement that is rooted in radical gospel living. Marcella will have to stay with us, as we rekindle the fires and gather anew in this way of life.

I blogged sometime back about the Beguine movement - you can check out those posts here. I find this movement intriguing. The women faced challenges to living religious life in the conventional way in their day and age. So they found creative ways to build communities and a lifestyle that would support them in their vocational choice.

I call on Marcella to be with us, and bring all her Beguine sisters to pray for us and support us as we continue the great work of religious life, under their special patronage and inspiration.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Move In Day

Inter Community House
The snow is melted, and it's starting to green up.
Today is move in day.
For years, we've continue to talk about religious life, where it is and where it is headed. One of the issues we have identified is the need for vibrant communities where religious women can live among other younger religious who are in active ministry, committed to justice, sustainability and spirituality.
So tomorrow, that dream takes a giant step toward reality. I mentioned earlier that we were moving toward concrete plans. Well, I guess moving in is about as concrete as you can get.
It's a modest house in a working neighborhood. We will be part of an eco-village - a group of families in the neighborhood committed to sustainability and justice.
There are also other intentional Christian communities nearby, so there is lots of good energy and mutual support in that network as well.
There is room for four sisters, I'm the first to move in, and there are several others interested in the project. I'm hoping someone will be ready to move in soon. There are also other places in the neighborhood, when we outgrow our current space.
The veggies are sprouting and there will soon be fresh greens and other signs of spring. We'll cooperate with others in the ecovillage to work at sustainability practices.
If any younger sister finds herself in the St. Louis area and needs a place to lay her head for a bit, let me know. There should be space over the summer, e.g. for urban retreats or vacations.
Say a prayer for a smooth move in and lots of good greening energy for this project.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New House Forming

For some time now, I have sensed the urgency to commit to the future of religious life as it is emerging today. I have been longing for a community where we share our radical commitment to living the Gospel personally, communally and in ministry. I have been involved in many conversation circles that explore the new energy stirring among us, circles where we expressed a desire to continue the contemplative process and conversation, moving into action.
In this spirit, I am joining with others in starting an intentional community of younger women religious where we can explore this emerging future in a practical manner. Two of us are currently looking for housing, in St. Louis, probably a rental house with 4-5 bedrooms where we can begin community together. Others are interested in the project, and as the group grows, we hope to find nearby houses. Following a village model will provide some flexibility as we grow into our new reality.
This community will be the chance to move forward concretely with plans for vibrant community, simple gospel living, and commitment to spirituality and to sustainability. If this sounds like what you are looking for, let me know.
One of the keys to the project is providing a community where younger women religious can support one another in prayer, community and mission. As each of our communities ages, it becomes more and more difficult to find 
Over the past several months, in addition to networking with sisters from various congregations, I've been networking with intentional communities in the area. We have various foci: sustainability, community, spirituality, peace and justice. We also know that by sharing our journeys and networking with one another, we can all bring our dreams closer to a reality.
Giving Voice - St. Louis
St. Louis Ecovillage Network

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beguines IV

The image to the left is a satellite image of a Beguinage. It shows a small neighborhood - a small subdivision by today's standards. I drew in the boundaries in blue. The earliest dwellings on this site would have been constructed of wood and straw and are no longer present. The earliest of the current buildings is the Church which dates from the 16th century and still functions as a church today. The current dwellings were build in the 16th century and have been preserved over the centuries since, though some were lost in various wars and battles.All the photos on this site are from Beguinage at Leuven.  They are now rehabbed for university housing for KU Leuven. For more photos, click here.
The life of the beguines was somewhat anomalous for the medieval period. Women were able to come together in communities with a good deal of autonomy from male domination. As a child, a girl was under her father, till she married when she was under her husband. If she chose to enter a monastery, the community was lead by sisters from that community. However, at the time, every women's community had to be under the authority of an external male superior. This was generally the abbot of a men's monastery.
While this sounds quite patronizing by today's standards, there was at least some concern at the time for the men to ensure the protection and support of the women's monastery and to administer the sacraments which could only be done by male priests. Generally the men had more access to education and the politics and commerce of the day were very much a men's world. However, there were also examples of the less admirable side of this arrangement, keeping women in their lower place in church and society.
The beguinage would have been in contrast to this social order. Women sought entrance into the community which was governed by exclusively. After a time in residency, under the closer supervision of an experienced Beguine, she would build her own dwelling, with the help of her family. On her death, this would become the property of the Beguine community. Alternatively, a woman might acquire one of the existing dwellings or a room in such a space. The Beguines elected their own leadership from among their members and had a governing council that met to address issues of the community.
It is not well known why the beguines lasted as long as they did or why or how they resisted incorporation into the recognized forms of religious life at the time. The beguines, both individually and as a group, were condemned as heretics and suppressed by various popes and councils, beginning in 1312 with the Council of Vienna. The cause of concern was generally either because they were centers of mysticism or because of severe ascetical practices. These condemnations were sometimes withdrawn. In any case, the movement flourished up to the protestant reformation. After that time, the movement continued up to our own day; the last Beguines died in the mid to late 20th century.
As the movement was waning, apostolic religious life was getting its start in various parts of Europe. Women's apostolic religious life is very much in the spiritual tradition of the Beguines. Both sought to live a deep spirituality and to serve the social needs of those about them, to feed the poor, heal the sick and educate children. Both sought to do so outside the strict cloistered life that was required of women religious at the time. They sought ways to balance their internal autonomy with the requirements of external pressures by church and society.
As women's religious life is again facing a turning point, due to internal and external pressures, we may find it helpful to turn to our Beguine sisters for inspiration.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beguines - III (Spirituality)

Having examined some of the historical and societal aspects of the Beguines, I would like to turn to the spirituality this week. I think it' important to remember that this movement had deep spiritual underpinnings and contributed to the mystical flowering of the middle ages.
One writer that comes out of this tradition is Beatrice of Nazareth. To be honest, she was a Cistercian Nun, but she was educated by the Beguines before joining the Cistercians, and for some time it was believed that her Seven Manners of Holy Love written by a Beguine. It has been seen as a good example of Beguine Spirituality.
Beatrice points to seven ways of loving God, alternating between the intense experience of the presence of God and the profound experience of a felt absence of God. I quote some passages below, and then give a link to the whole brief text. It is a lovely way to begin Advent.
From the highest come seven ways of love which work back to the highest. 
This is the first way of love. The first is a desire actively originating from love. Long has this desire to rule in the heart before she can dispel every resistance thoroughly, and she cannot but work with strenght and intelligence, and courageously grow in this.
The second way of love: Now and then the soul has another way of love. Then she serves the Lord for nothing, only from love, without any why and without any reward of mercy or of bliss.
The third way of love: Sometimes the good soul has another way of love connected to much pain and misery. ...She knows all right that this desire is only to fulfil far above her power and above human reason and above every notion ; yet she cannot moderate this desire, or conquer, or quiet. She does everything she can ; she thanks and praises love, she works and drudges because of love, she sighing desires love, she gives herself completely to love. And all that does not give her peace.
The fourth way of love. It happens that love is sweetly been awakened in the soul and happily raises, and that she moves in the heart, without any help of human effort. And so the heart is been tenderly touched by love, and so full of strong desire been pulled inside love, and so hearty seized by love, and so strongly dominated by love, and so lovely contained by love, that she is completely conquered by love.
The fifth way of love. She desires to rest in the sweet embraces of love, in the desirable beatitude and in the satisfaction of what she has from Him. Her heart and her senses seriously look for it and ardently desire for it. In this state she is so powerful of mind, very undertaking of heart and strong of body, so fast in working and busy inside and outside, that it seems to her as if everything that has to do with her works and is busy, even if she is so calm from the outside.
The sixth love: When the bride of our Lord has made progress and has climbed up to greater salvation, she experiences yet another way of love, closely connected and with higher knowledge. She feels that love has conquered all resistance in her, and that she has recovered all shortcomings and has brought her into her power. Without resistance she has mastered herself, so that she knows her heart is safe and she can use it in peace and she can freely lay herself out.
The seventh way of love: ... There, the soul is with her Groom and she becomes totally one spirit with Him, in inseparable loyalty and in mutual love for ever. The soul that, in times of mercy, wanted to do everything for Him shall enjoy Him in eternal glory, where one shall do nothing else but praise and love. May God bring us all to that.
Read the whole text here: Seven Manners of Holy Love
This deep spiritual experience of immersion in the God of Love was at the heart of the spirituality of the Beguines which Beatrice learned as a child when she was educated by the Beguines. Next week, we'll look further into this fascinating movement.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beguines - II

The Beguine movement began with medieval women who devoted themselves to prayer and good works at a time when many men were lost in wars and in the Crusades. This left many single women and widows. Some entered convents, however, each convent had to be under the supervision of men's monasteries, and some men's communities refused to take on these responsibilities. And some women might not have been drawn to the strict cloister; some families might not have been able to afford the doweries required at the time.
Women began to take up a life of prayer and service independently. The movement was an attractive option in the particular historical context. The women lived alone or in small groups, and as more gathered, they formed villages of beguines with loose organization.
The brick and mortar evidence of the movement are these villages, called Beguinage in French or Begijnhof in Dutch, which are more or less extensive villages of small houses where the beguines lived. The homes are surrounded by a wall with an entrance gate. No men were allowed in the Beguinage which was organized and governed by women. Most of the Beguinages had their church, some had several churches. Some also had a school house or a house to take care of the sick, or the elderly, though not a hospital in the modern sense. Rows of houses lined narrow streets of their medieval villages.
The movement began in the 11th century and spread rapidly throughout the Low Countries and eventually reached across northern Europe. Some of the villages had nearly a thousand women living in them.
The women did not profess vows and they had no unifying rule. Instead each Beguinage developed its own style of life and of government. For example, some Beguinages welcomed only women from the higher classes, others were open to women of the lower classes. These local rules were characterized by moderation and pragmatism. The literature from the time indicates that the beguines practiced voluntary poverty in which they avoided riches, but also avoided destitution. Their witness was a striking contrast to the riches of monastic foundations of their day and to the pomp of ecclesiastical lifestyles. The implicit critique of their lifestyle along with eclecticism of some beguines provoked the ire of clerics of the day.
Beguines also developed a characteristic spirituality which I will examine in succeeding posts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beguines - I

Then and Now...

Simple lives: a new beginning for the Beguines?

I ran across this article from Commonweal from 2009. I missed the original publication, but I would like to respond now.

 While I was studying theology and canon law, I had the opportunity to live in Belgium for a few years, It was a great opportunity on many levels and I really appreciate my time there.

File:Begijnhofleuven2007aug1.jpgFile:Leuven-Groot-Begijnhof.jpgOne of the great privileges of that time was the opportunity to become more familiar with the Beguine movement in its native region in the Low Countries. In the area where I lived each town had its town square, church, city hall and beguinage (begijnhof). The images here are from the Grote Begijnhof in Leuven where I lived. They are the brick and mortar remnants of a movement that lasted nearly 1000 years, spread through much of northern Europe and influenced life and spirituality at the time. Writings of Beguines continue to influence spirituality today.

The essence of the life of the beguines was women who devote their lives to good works, quiet contemplation and living out their spiritual values. They found that a loose community structure enabled them to support each other in an era where single women were quite vulnerable.

With this post, I begin a series on the beguines, their historical reality, the current resurgence of the movement and what this all may have to contribute to the conversation on the future of religious life.

Anyone who would like to contribute to this series, let me know and I can put your post into the conversation.

Peace, Amy