On his "Crunchy Con" blog Rod Dreher has been talking a lot lately about what he calls the "Benedict Option," which is going to form the central idea of his next book. Though I believe Mr. Dreher has yet to offer an official definition of what the "Benedict Option" actually is, from what he has written so far one can see that he is talking about a withdrawal of faith-filled families from the prevailing culture, and the forming of intentional communities of people who share similar values centered, preferably, around a place of worship which becomes the focus and unifying point of the community.
For what I tend to think, generally speaking, of the idea, please see here.
Don't get me wrong. I do sympathize with the desire to return to a simpler way of life. The idea of rural tranquility has been calling to people for many generations; the rural life has been praised in poetry and prose, and even on television. There is a temptation, I think, to confuse substance with accidents, to believe that cleaner air will inspire cleaner thoughts, to dream that a purer and simpler way of life will automatically restore the soul to purity and simplicity.
Unfortunately, that's not true. And no one knows this better than the people who do live according to the "Benedict Option," the cloistered monks and nuns of the world.
Any novice in either of these institutions who expresses such unfounded hopes will be subject to gentle correction by the wiser and more experienced voice of the novice master or mistress. One does not join a convent or monastery to escape the world, for the world is everywhere. All the vices and temptations that batter the hearts of men in the city lurk within the quietest cloister; and the humblest cell is as likely as the busiest boardroom to shelter the heart of a Judas.
Does this mean that there's no hope, that we have no options at all in our quest to be in, but not of, this world that is not our home?
No. We have a perfectly good option: the Salt and Light Option.
Hundreds of Christian people all over the world live this option daily. They raise their families to be faithful and hopeful people; they keep out the poisonous influences of our culture not by walling themselves off from it, but by teaching their children how to discern the difference between good and evil.
They become involved with their churches to the extent that they can, and volunteer their time and efforts in good works for their fellow men.
They follow and live their vocations, wherever God calls, wherever He leads them.
They found and staff crisis pregnancy centers, and pray outside of abortion clinics. They collect food and clothing for the poor. They teach inner city children to read, or set up scholarship funds. They work without pay or recognition in these and thousands of areas.
They pray, daily. They offer their prayers for others, people they know, people they've met, people they've never met. They pray for those who suffer, for those who mourn, for those who are sick, for those who are approaching death, for the souls of the departed.
They sit and talk for hours with someone who is curious about the faith, or with someone who feels as though he is on the verge of losing his. They answer questions, offer hope and encouragement, go out of their way to be available even when it's not convenient.
They live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, in other words. And when they fail to do so, they turn to God in sorrow and ask His forgiveness for their failings.
Can an intentional community live these works of mercy? Yes; but if at the end of the day they withdraw to what they see as a safe enclave, a shelter from the world and its demands on their charity, then no matter how shining a city they create on no matter how magnificent a hill, they are busily engaged each day in lowering the large (probably handmade) bushel basket of their isolation over it.
A handmade bushel basket may not be a hand basket, but it's no less likely to lead inexorably to the wrong destination in regards to our eternal salvation, isn't it?