New Monasticism movement: a modern take on an old tradition
Garth Bunting at St Werburgh's Church in Dublin. photographs: david sleator, alan betson
A yoga class in St Stephen's Green, Dublin. photographs: david sleator, alan betson
There's a growing movement of people using monastic traditions in everyday life
It’s hard to open a newspaper these days – particularly health supplements – without reading about the benefits of meditation. These articles (and I’ve written some myself) usually expound the virtues of practices derived from Eastern religions and philosophies. But there is also a growing international movement of lay and religious people seeking inspiration from the Christian monastic traditions.
Loosely defined as New Monasticism (see panel), this group includes people of all ages who are drawn to the rhythms of monastic life and seek inspiration from Christian prayer and scriptures to live more fulfilled lives of benefit to their communities and wider society. These New Monastics don’t aspire to live in monasteries but instead lead ordinary lives and mark their days with pauses for prayer and reflection – sometimes even being called to prayer by Twitter and Facebook.
Garth Bunting is a member of New Monasticism Ireland. He works for the Church of Ireland diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, and is based in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. “It’s about how we can be inspired by the traditional monastic ways of life. For example, the [monastic] rhythms of the day with their time for work, time for rest, time for study and time for reflection can be reinterpreted for modern-day living.”
Ian Adams, an Anglican priest who lives in south Devon, has written a book, Cave Refectory Road: Monastic Rhythms for Contemporary Living (Canterbury Press, 2010). In the book, he recommends three paths in the traditional monastic life which people can follow in their everyday lives. The first path or starting point, he calls “the cave”: a place of stillness, prayer and simplicity. The second, “the refectory”, is the point of reconnection with community, work colleagues and neighbours. The third, “the road”, is an engagement with the wider world. “I sense that there’s a deep stream of possibility in the monastic way that can help us in the 21st century to find new ways to live – in balance with ourselves, reconnected to our fellow humanity, in harmony with the planet and at ease with mystery,” he writes.
Adams suggests that not only does each path have the potential to bring about change in us for good in an age of “dislocation, upheaval and uncertainty” but also each may also “shape an emerging Christianity in the 21st century. If you are tired of pastiche, parody and the cult of celebrity, this represents an exhilarating return to the garden of our beginnings.”
Adams will lead a retreat in Dublin later this month, offering people a contemporary take on monastic practices they can use based on his forthcoming book, Running Over Rocks (Canterbury Press, 2013).
“The small, the local, the quiet have as much to show us about how to live as the big, the event, the spectacular,” says Adams, who rises before 6.30am each morning to spend time in stillness, prayer and yoga, and then also takes prayerful pauses in late afternoon and before bedtime.
Dr Bernadette Flanagan, director of research and lecturer in spirituality at All Hallows College, Dublin, manages the newsletter for New Monasticism Ireland. She says there is a lot of academic and corporate interest in New Monasticism (also known as Monastery Without Walls). “Lots of world-class academic disciplines are integrating the skills of a contemplative mind into practice, and business leaders are taking it into their workplaces,” she says. “There is also global inter-monastic dialogues on issues like health or ecology. Many people think monastic practices should not be confined within the walls of monasteries.”