This text is a compilation of the various presentations offered at the annual Monastic Institute at the School of Theology- Seminary of Saint John's University held in 2006. It is divided into four major sections: Global Setting of Monasticism, Monastic Practices, Monastic Women's Experience of Community Life, and Community Life Now and into the Future. Each section includes several well-delivered presentations as well as a transcription of the conversation that preceded the prepared remarks. Additionally, one chapter was dedicated entirely to a colloquium discussion between Abbot Primate Wolf of the Benedictine order and several other participants.
There are several strengths to this collection. The essays are academic in nature, yet also spoke deeply from the heart and soul about the beauty and difficulties of community life. The presentations were profoundly human and spiritual. There are truly piercing reflections by several different authors that will not only motivate readers, but will also bring about real moments of reflection. The essays are moving and real, deriving from authentic struggles, questions, and joys of those in different forms of monastic communities. A second positive feature is the conversational tone of the book. The inclusion of the colloquium and the discussions that took place after each presentation was give allowed the reader to enter into the conversations, hear the feedback, and sit in on the dialogue that took place. A third strength of the book came about because of the diverse group assembled at the Monastic Institute. Namely, the book is relevant for all Christians. Not only was there an ecumenical focus, there were reflections and responses given by members of monastic communities, intentional communities, and married lay persons. Thus, the book as a whole speaks powerfully to any reader interested in Christian community life and spirituality. One example is Christine Pohl's essay on the Practices at the Heart of Community Life. Her reflections on gratitude and hospitality in particular were very powerful and would be meaningful for readers regardless of their specific situation in life. Many of the other essays, likewise, would provide excellent critical reflections for all readers.
In my estimation, the book has one shortcoming (as many collections of essays seem to have). Although the essays are relevant for a wide variety of readers and are not just meaningful for those in monastic communities, the in-class use of this book might be limited. It would be a good text for courses on spirituality and monasticism (contemporary and historical), but does not seek to provide any systematic reflection on these issues. This makes for a powerfully communicated text on current issues in monasticism, but a difficult fit into courses as a primary text. However, although this book may not be used as a primary text, it is highly recommended for faculty as well as graduate and undergraduate students of theology and spirituality.