No, no, no—not a jail cell, or a prison cell, or a cancer cell . . . I’m talking about a monastic cell here. In this context, a cell is the place where a monk or nun sleeps, prays, and reads sacred texts in solitude and quiet. The style of these cells vary widely, but they are usually plain and simple affairs: a bed, a chair, a desk, a kneeler, a few books, and a crucifix or icon. That might seem like pretty bare living, but compared to the very first monastic retreats—usually a cave or simple shelter in the desert—a modern monastic cell looks like the Ritz.
Why live in such an empty space? Go ask a monk or nun, and they’ll give you the full story, but the basic idea is to remove anything that would distract the monk from becoming more open to the presence of God. Over the millennia, millions of Christian monastics (as well as monks and nuns of other religious traditions) have retreated to their cells in order to grow spiritually stronger. In a sense, the monastic cell is kind of like a spiritual workout room.
For this bucket list challenge, strip down your bedroom (or your part of a shared bedroom) to the bare essentials. It doesn’t need to be a permanent arrangement; maybe it’s something you will try for a week, or a month, or for Lent.
What are the “bare essentials”? Well, figuring out what is truly essential in your life is just the beginning of your little experiment in monastic living.
Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.