I have spend one month in an abbey in southern Germany where sisters of francis and capucin friars live together.
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Excerpt from my book: Book: Of Veils and Hoods
Sister and brother, that‘s easy to write now. But in the beginning I had to get used to these traditional terms. Later I have been called brother Kiên. I gained the trust of the sisters and friars. Me, the 30 year old stranger, who‘s not christian, rather buddhistic and who‘s trying to understand the world with his camera.
I have been living for one month with four sisters and four brothers in the abbey Stühlingen closed to the border to Switzerland - a unique experience.
Brother Kiên - my new salutation soon did nor occur strange to me anymore. I guess it was an unconscious process of assimilation. The life in an abbey is the life of a community with its different individuals and distinct group dynamics. The same clothes as a habit gives the community a basis. It is reflecting their inner spiritual call to lead a life in poverty, humility and for Jesus. However it is not obligatory to wear the habit anymore. The sisters and friars do not possess any private money. Their belongings are limited to the little things they have in their rooms. In the abbey all the meals are cared for, partially from the harvest in their garden and partially by donations from supermarkets down the valley. By surrendering possession they gain an enormous freedom. The freedom to concentrate on anything without the need to cater for necessities. One could nearly say: an unconditional basic income. The idea is that the community is catering for the basic needs of each member. Thus he is able to concentrate on what he does best. This freedom was once bigger, because the afflux and the acceptance was numerous and the strain on each member was little.
Today the orders feel the secularisation. Each year they have about one or two new novices and still then it is not sure whether they will stay and decide to lead a life in the abbey. What remains is an economical calculation. How do I sustain abbeys if the strength is vanishing. In the first phase each member has to adopt more responsibiliies and time for worldly affairs. The growing number of responsibilities are a huge burden for the siters and brothers. They need time and silence to go inward for a spiritual dialog.
If the concentration of man power is not sufficient anymore, abbeys have to close or members of different orders, as well as layman have to join the abbey. In the abbey Stühlingen the capucin friars have ask the sisters of Francis to join them. The sisters are virtually hired by the capucins but they do act equal.
It is a radical decision to leave all behind and join an order. However the sisters and friars have not been radicals. I met very open people who were always up for a discussion.