Thoughts on New Monasticism

February 9, 2008

church / spirituality

Over the last year or so, I have noticed a lot of interest in new monasticism. Blogs, organizations, churches, and so on have been learning about mysticism, hospitality, living in community, and embracing a simple life. They’ve been learning concepts of monasticism, and applying them to the emerging culture. Thus, they are learning to study, pray, and engage in social action as a real community.

Some of these include Missio Dei, The Simple Way, and to varying extents lots of other places.

I’ve watched these developments, and this week there was an article in the Boston Globe about new monasticism. It’s a great article. Worth a read.

More fundamentally, New Monastics consider themselves “monks in the world.” They are not interested in extreme isolation or asceticism (though there are stories about the occasional Protestant “hermit” living in the Mountain West). Nearly all have regular jobs and social lives. From the traditionalist perspective, many break the most essential monastic rule: they are married…

More importantly, these groups do not aim to separate themselves from society – on the contrary, they see New Monasticism as a means to better integrate core Christian values into their lives as average citizens. This is the fundamental difference between old monks and the new. New Monastics often quote one of their heroes, Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who captured the ambitions – and the ecumenical limits – of the movement when he wrote in 1935, “the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new kind of monasticism which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ.”

In watching and thinking about these kind of things, I find that it speaks to me, but I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. It’s entirely possible that I could end up living in community. I find the thought challenging. I want to learn to engage in solitude, hospitality, and prayer in ways that I don’t know. It, also, is challenging.

Regardless of whether I end up getting a house with a bunch of other people, it is essential that I, and the church, learn from this kind of thing. I believe there are ways to integrate this at my faith community, and ways that we are, and probably ways that we are not, called to this kind of life.