The Associates of the Iowa Cistercians (AIC) is a Christian community of individuals drawn to the Cistercian way of living the Gospel and desirous of introducing aspects of Cistercian contemplative values and practices in their lives as men and women living in the world. The purpose of the AIC is:
1.to provide an introduction and on-going discernment of the Cistercian charism for people who do not live in the monastery,
2.to provide encouragement and support of members of the AIC community who are trying to introduce contemplative values and practices into their everyday lives, and
3.to join the Cistercian monks of New Melleray and nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbeys in their prayers and sacrifices for the Church of which we are all a part.
As such, the AIC is an extension in the world of the contemplative mission of the Cistercian Order in the world. While recognizing and valuing monks and nuns in the monastery and their vow to live apart from the world, members of the AIC feel drawn to the introduction of a contemplative dimension in their everyday lives. To do so, they turn to the Cistercian Order and the monks and nuns who live the Cistercian way of life for values and practices which can act as a model for their own lives. Members of the AIC are not interested in becoming monks and nuns; they have each chosen a vocation that is to be lived out in the world. On the other hand, members of the AIC feel strongly that the contemplative dimension, which is often missing from their everyday life, is not only important, but is necessary for their continued development within Christ’s Church.
Membership in the AIC is open to any Christian adult who is seeking to add or deepen a contemplative dimension in his or her life and who is willing to participate actively and supportively in a community of individuals with similar goals. The demands of membership are an attraction to a contemplative lifestyle, a willingness to learn about contemplative practices such as meditation, lectio divina, and the prayer of manual labor, a desire to introduce and maintain specific contemplative values and practices in one’s everyday life, and a willingness to value and support the on-going daily struggle of each member of the community to live a contemplative life in the world.
Who We Are
The AIC is comprised of men and women who have discovered that regardless of whether we belong to the laity or to the professed religious life, we share a similar desire to follow a contemplative path in our search for God. Our group includes Monks from New Melleray and Nuns from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbeys near Dubuque, single men and women, and couples. In addition to people who live in the Dubuque area, members drive from as far away as Sioux City, Iowa City, Jesup, Guttenburg and Waterloo in Iowa; Moline, Chicago, and Cherry Valley, Illinois; and Madison, Wisconsin.
The AIC meets on the second Saturday of each month at New Melleray Abbey near Peosta, Iowa. Members arrive between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. for coffee and informal conversation. Our day together formally begins with Terce in New Melleray’s beautiful church. We then move into the Meditation Chapel for twenty minutes of silent prayer prior to returning to the Community Room for a presentation by one of the monks or nuns on some aspect of the Rule of St. Benedict. The period of time from 11:00 to 11:35 a.m. is devoted to Lectio Divina on a scriptural passage that relates to the presentation we’ve just heard. Our morning ends with Sext after which we gather in the guesthouse dining room for dinner as a group. On alternate months we bring bag lunches and eat in silence while listening to a taped or live passage from a book–an idea borrowed from the monks and the nuns.
Our afternoon begins promptly at 1:00 p.m. with group discussion of a selected portion from the Rule of St. Benedict which we have reflected on prior to coming to the meeting. We return once again to the church for None at 1:45, and our final hour is spent in reflection and discussion of values and practices that unite us as members of the AIC. Our time together ends at 3:00 p.m. with a closing prayer led by one of our members as well as special intercessory requests that have been written down throughout the day.
At a time when the values and priorities of the culture in which we are living seem to be driven and shaped by greed, self indulgence and a thirst for power and control, those of us who are struggling to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ can feel overwhelmed by what we have set out to do. Many of us, whose search for God includes a contemplative dimension, have found that significant periods of spiritual growth have occurred at New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississippi Monasteries. It is here, during periods of silence, sacred reading and prayer, that we often find ourselves coming closest to living in accord with our deepest spiritual beliefs and values. Yet we must leave the tranquility and security of the monastery behind us and return to vocations which require a balance between the contemplative and the active, the spiritual and the secular.
These challenges have led us to form the AIC as a way of deepening our connection to New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississippi. With the support of the Abbot and the Abbess of both communities, we have been blessed in this opportunity to experience certain core elements and characteristics of the Cistercian charism which also apply to life outside the monastery. For Cistercians, this rich heritage extends throughout the world and back across the centuries, and provides a common grounding and orientation in which members of the order can support and nurture one another’s commitment to living a balanced and simple life focused on Christ.
Through our contact with the monks and nuns of New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississippi, we have observed the consistency and harmony with which our monastic brothers and sisters incorporate prayer, sacred reading and work into their lives and the manner in which they live in accordance with the values and vows that shape their lifestyle. The guidance, support and loving presence of those members of the AIC who live in monasteries has proven to be of great benefit to the rest of us who wish to come closer to living in a truly Christ-centered way.
The following comments from our members explain some of the values and characteristics we feel are important to us:
“Being a member of the AIC is a togetherness that extends beyond the monastery and pervades our daily lives.”
“For those of us who do not live in a monastery, being a member of the AIC is a way to incorporate the wisdom, insight and inspiration that is at the heart of the Cistercian Charism into our hectic and often distracted lives.”
“Being a member of the AIC is an intangible agreement among participants that grows out of a unity of life, action, prayer and contemplation.”
“Being a member of the AIC is a deeply felt need for spiritual nourishment which is satisfied in no other group or place.”
The AIC strives to remain open to the range and variety of needs of its members and flexible in the process by means of which the community as a whole progresses towards its ultimate goal of the introduction of a contemplative way of life in the world today. Except for mundane organizational needs for a planning committee and a treasurer, the AIC manifests no hierarchical structure and invests no decision-making in any single individual or group of individuals. As much as possible, the community acts in consort. When decisions must be made it is the community as a whole that makes them. In actively pursuing this model of organization, the AIC strives to introduce one of the fundamental characteristics of the Cistercian charismnamely that the AIC is less an organizational structure and more a school of love in which its members seek in community their own individual path in the world in which they live.
In pursuing these goals, the AIC ardently seeks the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of the monks and nuns of New Melleray and Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbeys, the understanding and acceptance of family and friends, and the blessing of the Church of which we are all a part.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude