Having got interested in the theme of urban monasticism, I followed it up, and found that it seemed to be linked to the idea of a new monasticism. This led me to review an old paper on Pilgrims of the Absolute, by Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican religious order.
In his paper Brother Roger mentioned Jack Kerouac's book The Dharma bums, and referred especially to this passage:
Japhy leaping up: 'I've been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up salves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that's the attitude for the bard, the Zen Lunacy bards or old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general
demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the
garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume. I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures, that's what I like about you Goldbook and Smith, you two guys from the East coast which I thought was dead.'
So having this obsession with the topic, I searched blogs and the web generally for the key phrase rucksack revolution, and was amazed to see how many people had quoted that exact same passage. It seems to have impressed quite a lot of people. So I wonder how many Dharma bums there are out there, real ones, or just wannabes like me.
Brother Roger had a vision, which he tried to share with young people, of Pilgrims of the Absolute. Not so much a new monasticism, but new wanderers, new Franciscans, perhaps, similar to the protagonist of The way of a pilgrim, a bit like the Irish peregrinati.
The fools for Christ were examples of Pilgrims of the Absolute, and though Orthodox Christians often believe that there are no examples of this kind of spirituality in the West, Brother Roger drew my attention to at least one, Benedict Joseph Labre, and if Angela of Foligno ever did go from church to church with rotten fish draped around her neck, then she was probably one too.
Another more recent example of a pilgrim of the absolute was Peter Maurin, but I'm not sure that he counted as part of the rucksack revolution. (An aside: in searching the web for the phrase "rucksack revolution" I noticed that many Americans commented that "rucksack" was not an American term, yet both Gary Snyder -- the model for Japhy Ryder in The Dharma bums -- and Jack Kerouac were American writers, and they found nothing strange about it, and did not speak of "the backpack revolution").
I close with another favourite quote from Brother Roger about the Beat Generation, on holy poverty:
"The New Poverty is the disaffiliate's answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi
revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: 'I'll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.' It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty" (Lawrence Lipton, The holy barbarians.
If anyone is interested in reading Brother Roger's paper, you can find it here. Comments welcome, either in the forum you will find on that page, or here.