Cistercian Lay Contemplatives define themselves as ordinary Christian men and women who have formed an association of support in their effort to live a contemplative life. The group gathered several times at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and developed a Plan of Life, a suggested guide for living a contemplative spirituality in their ordinary lifestyles.
The Plan of Life, rooted in the Cistercian (Trappist) and Benedictine charism and monastic disciplines “gives expression to the desire of laity who want to experience the richness of Cistercian spirituality within the context of the secular lifestyle.” The major elements discussed in the Plan of Life are prayer, work, study, silence, solitude, simplicity and service/ministry. Each point of the Plan is developed in the light of centuries of Cistercian experience, yet modified and integrated into today’s lifestyle for lay people.
There is not a structured formation process for CLC associates. There is, however, a recommended reading list providing information and guidance on Benedictine and Cistercian history and spirituality, as well as on contemplative prayer and the contemplative dimension of life.
There are currently three local communities of Cistercian Lay Contemplatives in Louisville, Kentucky, Bardstown, Kentucky, Washington, DC/Northern Virginia, and in Cincinnati, Ohio. All local groups come together three times a year for a day of prayer at the Abbey of Gethsemani. In addition, they meet for an annual retreat at the Abbey.
Locally, each group meets monthly. The Cincinnati branch meets the first Saturday of each month in a parish hall for morning prayer, sharing over breakfast, then a prayer service or discussion.
It is important to note that, although CLC had its origins with a group who met at the Abbey of Gethsemani and has supportive unofficial ties with some monks of the Abbey, CLC does not have any official recognition or approval by the Abbey of Gethsemani or any Cistercian monastic community.
CLC is not a third order nor does it seek canonical recognition in any way. Members of CLC see themselves as having a common interest and thus encourage one another in spiritual reading and spiritual companioning. The heart of the CLC program, members feel, is in the practice of living out the elements of the Plan of Life.
The only cost involved in becoming a member is a $5 annual subscription fee to the CLC newsletter. The newsletter keeps members in touch, and the meetings and retreats allow them to share with those on a similar path. That sharing can be a great nourishment and encouragement toward growing deeper into the contemplative dimension.
Though CLC is loosely structured and probably would require self-motivation and some previously developed spiritual disciplines on the part of the member, it would provide a welcome association and network for those laypersons attracted to the Cistercian tradition of contemplative spirituality.