The term ‘New Monasticism’ has developed from a paragraph written by Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1930s. In a letter to his brother in 1935, Bonhoeffer wrote:
“The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, having nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the sermon on the mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally men together for this.”
Over time, Bonhoeffer’s idea of “a new kind of monasticism” influenced numerous expressions of Christian community, from the Iona Community founded in 1938 (iona.org.uk) to the Rutba House group’s ’12 Marks of New Monasticism’ compiled in 2004 and 2006 (www.thesimpleway.org). These expressions of what came to be known as New Monasticism each have a slightly different understanding of the term, but to a greater or lesser extent all are seeking to rediscover and interpret the soul of early Christian monastic communities for contemporary western culture. This usually involves the community living by a ‘rule of life’ and having an emphasis on contemplative, mystical spirituality. However, it also often means a radical approach to social activism, for example in Rutba’s commitment to relocate “to the ‘abandoned places of Empire’ [at the margins of society]”.
Llan interprets being a new monastic community in two main ways; firstly, all members are committed to live by a ‘way of life’; secondly, we are strongly influenced by Christian mysticism and emphasise contemplative practice.
The Way of Life – a dynamic spirituality
The way of life is a trellis for our spiritual growth that helps to keep us mindful of Jesus’ example on a day to day basis. It consists of three aspects: radical hospitality, radical blessing and radical journeying. Here are the commitments that members make to the way of life
As Cadoc shared his home and food with soldiers who had come to kill him,
I commit myself to radical hospitality, welcoming friend, stranger and enemy with equal enthusiasm
As David brought hope and encouragement to people through proclaiming the Gospel,
I commit myself to radical blessing, seeking out people and places where I can bring light, life and hope
As Samson travelled over hill and vale, looking for opportunities to deepen his faith,
commit myself to radical journeying, being mindful every day for the deeper things Christ is calling me into
Contemplation – a mystic spirituality
Mysticism can be summed up in the phrase ‘experience first, ideology second’. Its basic premise is that only after experiencing unfathomable and mysterious Divine Love for ourselves can we believe the correct things about God. Although all such experience is ultimately a manifestation of God’s grace, there are practices that can help us be receptive to this gift that is always being offered. Such is the role of contemplative prayer and meditation. Through ongoing and consistent engagement with these disciplines we learn to put the false self to death and develop the ‘mind of Christ’, which is always ready to be filled with God’s light, love and peace and able to perceive the universe as it truly is.
Dynamic and Mystic
Dynamic and mystic spirituality (which can alternatively be described as action and contemplation) are two sides of the same coin, one being dependant on the other. Here is Thomas Merton explaining this connection:
“What is the relation of contemplation to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action.”