Rory McENTEE and Adam BUCKO. The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015. pp. 215. $25.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-126-3. Reviewed by Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO 64110.
The term “new monasticism” describes a type of spirituality that is free from the rules and dogmas of institutional religions, committed to the development and maturation of the spiritual life, and fully engaged in the world. What makes it “new” is, unlike the monasticism of old, the spirituality of the new monastic is embedded in the world. “Rather than renouncing the world, the new monastic wishes to transform it” (xxii). For new monastics, the boundaries of religious traditions are fluid. New monastics take seriously the wisdom from many religious traditions, while embracing insights from science, sociology, and psychology.
The new monasticism should not be confused with New Age spirituality, which is “corrupted with shallow and narcissistic tendencies” (xx). Rather, the new monasticism is linked to the global community. It’s not just about my spiritual transformation but rather the transformation of the institutions and structures of society. Nor does the new monasticism replace traditional monasticism, which continues to be an important vocation for some. The relationship between traditional monasticism and the new monasticism is reciprocal, each contributing to the other’s spiritual journey.
The new monasticism grows out of an urge, an impulse that “speaks to a profoundly contemplative life, to the formation of small communities of friends, to sacred activism, and to discovering together the unique calling of every person and every community” (15). In a post-denominational age like ours, the new monasticism can be an attractive path for young people, especially the “I’m spiritual but not religious” generation.
This book provides a theological, philosophical, and contemplative foundation for the new monasticism. Rory McEntee is Executive Director of the Foundation for New Monasticism, and Adam Bucko is an author, activist, and spiritual director. Both are committed to living out the principles of the new monasticism, and both have had a major role in developing the concepts that define this movement.
After a lengthy introduction, the book is divided into four “movements.” Movement 1 is a portrait of the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, a lay Catholic monk, who was an important guide and elder to the authors. Movement 1 also reprints what is known as the “Manifesto,” a guiding document written in 2012 for a weeklong dialogue at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. Movement 2 seeks to unpack the implications of the “Manifesto” document, focusing on three different ways of being “interspiritual” (i.e., sharing experiences across traditions, p. 36): 1) One is firmly established in a particular religious tradition but reaches out to experience the wisdom of other traditions; 2) One “belongs” to multiple traditions and fully immerses oneself in them; 3) One follows the “inner light” within, belonging to no specific tradition. Though both authors grew up Roman Catholic, both have chosen the third path.
Movement 3 is an extended dialogue between the two authors, recorded in 2014 and subsequently edited. Movement 4 is an overview of the spiritual path itself, drawing from the works of Father Thomas Keating, Ken Wilber, and St. John of the Cross. Movement 4 also highlights the importance of the insights of modern psychology, such as stages and states of consciousness, the role of the unconscious, the shadow (unresolved personality issues and unfinished developmental tasks), the false-self, and others.
Though this book is essentially a theoretical manifesto for the new monasticism, the authors point out that the heart of the movement is a relationship with God, which requires certain spiritual disciplines. Therefore, they provide a suggested spiritual plan for the beginning new monastic (pp. xxvii-xxxi). As a daily practice, they recommend two silent routines a day, each 20-60 minutes, composed of a wide-range of practices from a morning walk to centering prayer to lectio divina. Weekly, they suggest meeting with a faith community and setting aside a day of mediation, silence, spiritual reading, or prayer and fasting. Recommended monthly practices include a “desert day” or week-end at a monastery or a home retreat. Once a year, they suggest an extended retreat. The goal of these practices is to create a structure in which spiritual growth might occur. The authors recognize that these practices must be adjusted to accommodate the uniqueness of each individual and his/her relationship with God.
While The New Monasticism accomplishes its goal of introducing the reader to this movement, the book is difficult to read for several reasons. One, co-authored books typically are challenging to the reader, who must negotiate two different styles of writing. Two, because the authors quote extensively from writers from many different traditions and disciplines, the unifying themes, and even the perspectives of the authors, are difficult to unravel. Three, redundancy abounds, especially in Movement 3 where the authors’ edited dialogue is simply reprinted. While the book is valuable as an introduction to the new monasticism, it could benefit from a good editor.