New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century

As we look out at the world today, we take inspiration from what is happening around the globe, from young people participating in movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street; to the new monastic movement among evangelical Christians dedicated to prayer and radical service to the poor; to the conversation among Protestants of an ‘Emerging Church’ (“. . . not a new religion, but a new way of being religious”); to small groups of Muslims who are gathering together, allowing women to lead worship, and reinventing what it means to answer God’s call; to ‘engaged Buddhism,’ blending the sublime practices and compassion of the Buddhist path with social activism; to the ‘spiritual but not religious’ youth who are beginning to take responsibility for their own spiritual lives outside the walls of our traditional religious institutions. 

We see these movements as spiritual impulses, moving us away from an era of fixed dogmatic religious formulations and embedded power structures.  These impulses are awakening a whole new generation of people across the globe. These are people who are not interested in imposing a new and fixed rule, but rather want to commit to a daily practice of  ‘putting aside their egos’ and exploring what it means to create a world that works for all, a world that is rooted in the principles of direct democracy, mutual aid, trust in our ‘original goodness’ and a radical acceptance of each individual and the unique gifts they have to offer.

These movements need the deep contemplative wisdom of our human race to ultimately be successful; without this, the movements risk playing a diminished role in the ultimate triumph of the human race. It is the triumph of the Human Soul (in totality) that we all await, and our lives long, consciously or not, to serve that birth. It is only through a contemplative path, a path leading to spiritual maturity, that this service is ultimately achieved.

New monasticism aims to take on this responsibility, cutting across traditions, across academic disciplines, across vocational differences, across the secular and the holy . . . breaking boundaries and building bridges to a contemplative life in the 21st century. We assert that new monasticism names an impulse that is trying to incarnate itself in the new generation. It is beyond the borders of any particular religious institution, yet drinks deeply from the wells of our wisdom traditions. It is an urge which 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. 

This article originally appeared in the Spring | Summer 2013 issue of Kosmos Journal. To download the entire article as a PDF, please click here.