The New Monasticism

Mark Walter
Nov 15, 2017 · 7 min read
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The New Monasticism

A significant change in monastic traditions has been gradually occurring since the 1990s, if not earlier.

While no one is predicting the end of monasteries and convents, religious orders are losing members, funding and in some cases are being forced to close. Perhaps coincidentally, a new Christian-based movement has emerged, characterized by the concept of being a lay monk or lay nun in everyday life.

The concept is by no means revolutionary.

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Luther and Calvin both saw value in the institution of monasticism provided it did not involve life-long vows (especially those made indirectly to the pope), was not seen as a superior form of the Christian life, and did not displace baptism. Thus, monasticism was not a superior form of life since all Christian believers were called to the same high standards of holiness. In the words of Luther,

“When a [monk] takes his vow he vows nothing more than that which he already vowed at the start in his baptism, and that is the gospel.”

Monasticism was simply one form of the Christian life along with non-monastic singleness or parenthood. — Source

The basic concept behind The New Monasticism is two-fold. First, laity often desires a method which allows them to participate more deeply, and allows the message of the ‘way’ to resonate more thoroughly and dynamically within themselves. Second, it is the layperson who makes or breaks the church and its practices, and monks are considered laypeople. Similar to what’s needing to occur in today’s class warfare environment, genuine change can only come from a massive, people-based movement. In this context, we can think of monks and nuns as being community organizers, but on behalf of a higher human calling — that of caring and consideration, combined with deep thought, prayer and meditative practices.

Catholic Camaldolese Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths spoke of monastic life being essentially a lay calling, and saw the future of monastic life in lay communities.

“The monk is a lay person…An order of monastics is essentially a lay order. Some monks may live in monasteries, but increasingly the majority will live in their own homes or form small communities — a monastic order in the world.”

He went on to express a new vision for monastics, one in which communities and individuals live spiritual lives independent of religious organizations or institutions, independent of celibacy and overarching rules and dogmas. — Wikipedia

The movement is both spontaneous in its emerging — exemplified by our own monastery — as well as being loosely organized under the umbrella term “The New Monasticism.”

These redefined monasteries are, in some cases, organizing under common visions and guiding principles. (Please see at the end of this article which, by way of example, displays a sample set of New Monasticism vows.) Many monasteries are housed in vacant warehouses, individual homes or small apartments. Far from being secluded in nature, the “New Monastery” may just as easily be located in highly urbanized settings.

The ‘monastery’ is in all of us.

The Foundation for New Monasticism & InterSpirituality (FNMI) is dedicated to the emergence of a newly conceived contemplative life, one which embraces the non-separation of contemplative and prophetic traditions while traversing the world’s wisdom traditions. FNMI strives to support the emergence and development of interspiritual wisdom.

FNMI also supports the production of literature and audio-visual resources which serve as teachings and guidance for new monastic life, including the preservation of teachings from interspiritual pioneers, as well as support for the emergence of new voices from the next generation. In addition, FNMI forms partnerships with traditional wisdom traditions, monasteries, and emerging communities to help deepen their understanding of interspirituality, and to join together in joint projects that breathe life into these emergent forms of spirituality, and provide avenues for the maturation of one’s spiritual life.

While able to trace its origins to a redefining of Christian monastic traditions, the New Monasticism also incorporates an openness and inclusiveness that any modern reworking of religion demands. In some cases, the refresh remains ideologically tethered to Christianity, while in other cases it makes room for a more ecumenical or even secular approach.

The Lindisfarne Community is an independent, ecumenical religious community in the Anglo-Celtic tradition. We are committed to the “new (or secular) monasticism.”

Our spirituality is a balanced life of prayer, study, service and rest . . . . a new form of monasticism. We are relational, egalitarian, contemplative, sacramental and inclusive. We are part of a grass-roots movement, sometimes called “emerging church” exploring spirituality for the twenty-first century.

We are deeply rooted in historical Christianity, yet are open to insights from other traditions. Our community prayer is “to be as Christ to those we meet, to find Christ within them.”

We have embraced emphases from, among others, the Celtic Christian communities of the fourth to ninth centuries in Northern Britain and Ireland; the desert fathers and mothers and the early monastic movement; the Christian mystics; the radicals of the sixteenth century; the charismatic, Christian feminist and home church movements of the twentieth century. Community members have received wisdom from Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu, Jewish, and secular traditions, in the belief that “all truth is God’s truth.”

“Monasticism in all its expressions is, in part, protest.” — Dr. Andy Fitz-Gibbon, abbot.

Dr Andy Fitz-Gibbon, abbot of the Lindisfarne Community on the New Monasticism. What is Monasticism?

It is true that The New Monasticism often focuses on social activism and responsibility, and generally defines itself within the context of existing organized religion. And it is also true that some traditionalists within the New Monasticism movement itself may be put off by anything perceived as a turning away from the message of Jesus.

But there are important subsets contained within New Monasticism. The more socially responsible Orders, for example, have an apparent advantage in that they provides their members with something to actually do, something to become involved in- a turning, if you will, of the inward practices of meditation and prayer into an activity that is demonstrably beneficial right now. This in-the-now activism has often been the focus of other Christian-based groups, such as the Universalists or Unity.

Other Orders may concentrate more on the mystical journey, the inner path in which the seeker endeavors to become more acutely aware of the subtleties of consciousness or perhaps even what we define as reality. This, of course, includes Orders that are not necessarily religiously-based. Which may alienate some within the New Monastic movement, yet not bother others in the least.

From our perspective, the essence of the more inclusive form of monastery is to broaden the definition of ecumenicalism, widening it to include eastern and western philosophies and religions, as well as those of an agnostic or atheistic preference. Perhaps just as importantly, to also embrace the cast-offs, those who are often clad in sarcasm, coarseness and skepticism.

These interspiritual monasteries could also serve as incarnate manifestations of a unity that underlies all religious, theological, and spiritual perspectives, without diminishing the diversity of praxis and spiritual realization that exists. As such, they become beacons, symbols, and signifiers of that unity. — The New Monasticism, McEntee & Bucko

The Little Creek Monastery’s philosophy is primarily based on and martial arts philosophies and approaches, with an ad hoc sprinkling of Taoism and Zen. Our membership is informal, and includes atheists, agnostics, Dudeists, Native Americans, Catholics, Protestants and those from the Jewish tradition. Our members decide, each in their own way, the extent of their personal involvement with respect to the monastic life, as well as within the context of social justice and awareness issues. Some members may prefer music, poetry, art, bowling, motorcycles, tattoos, cooking, gardening, solitude or meditation.

We believe that it is vitally important to recognize and answer to the inner calling that an individual may experience. And to simultaneously recognize that there are ways for us to enter into an exploration and expansion upon this inner yearning, even in everyday life circumstances.

Our monks and nuns include those who are white collar, blue collar and no collar.

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Mark Walter, founder, The Little Creek Monastery

The Little Creek Monastery has a determined and on-going focus on inner transformation. In addition to advocating inclusiveness and social fairness, the monastery promotes:

  1. Sharing individual experiences in consciousness and awareness;
  2. Encouraging discussions concerning the challenges of the teacher/apprentice relationship;
  3. Constantly seeking better ways to experience a more connected, relaxed and simpler way of living.

Our own vows are simple, and we also support the The Nine Vows of the New Monastics.

1. I vow to actualize and live according to my full moral and ethical capacity.

2. I vow to live in solidarity with the cosmos and all living beings.

3. I vow to live in deep nonviolence.

4. I vow to live in humility and to remember the many teachers and guides who assisted me on my spiritual path.

5. I vow to embrace a daily spiritual practice.

6. I vow to cultivate mature self-knowledge.

7. I vow to live a life of simplicity.

8. I vow to live a life of selfless service and compassionate action.

9. I vow to be a prophetic voice as I work for justice, compassion and world transformation.

— McEntee, Rory; Bucko, Adam (2015). The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

To these nine vows, our monastery adds a vow that’s a tip-of-the-hat to our Dudeist members:

10. I vow kindness to strangers.

A Monastery for Everyday Life & Leisure

beyond these walls, walk those who wear and weather time

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