An 'Interspiritual' Take on Monasticism: Young Adults' Manifesto Outlines a Vision of Mentorship in Contemplative Life

Article excerpt

The dwindling number of vocations to the priesthood, religious orders and monastic life make it clear that traditional religious life no longer speaks to newer generations the way it has for centuries. But some young people still long for lives of the service, prayer and simplicity that are the hallmarks of monasticism.

"Even our elders, our spiritual mentors know that something new is emerging," said Adam Bucko, co-author of the extended essay "New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century" The piece is an attempt to put into words what has been stirring in their hearts of many young adults who feel called to lives of contemplation and action but who do not necessarily feel drawn to one particular religious tradition or to traditional forms of monasticism.

"The sisters, brothers and hermits that have been our mentors all have a real desire to connect with young people, but they are having trouble figuring out how to do it," said Rory McEntee, who co-authored the manifesto with Bucko. "We are hoping to serve as a bridge to connect the generations."

"The manifesto is a response to something we've been feeling in our hearts for a long time," Bucko said. And apparently it is resonating with the hearts of both old and young contemplatives alike. The manifesto has "gone viral" since the pair began mailing it to friends and colleagues during the summer (Full disclosure: Bucko and I were friends and fellow religious studies majors at St. John's University in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., in the late 1990s.)

In the manifesto, Bucko and McEntee, both 30-somethings who were raised Catholic, bring their connections to interfaith spirituality to the milieu of new monasticism. Both have been inspired by Catholics whose spiritual lives drew from the contemplative wisdom of the East and the West, like Raimundo Pannikar, Trappist monk Thomas Merton and Benedictines Bede Griffiths and Henri Le Saux.

Rather than calling their vision "interfaith," though, they use the word "interspiritual," a term coined by McEntee's mentor, the late Br. Wayne Teasdale.

"Brother Wayne believed that the world's wisdom traditions were moving beyond the stage of dialoguing about one another's beliefs and rituals," McEntee told NCR. "Interspiritual means that once that deep respect and trust has been established among different spiritualities, we can actually move to the next level of sharing our mystical realizations with one another"

"All of us, at some time or another, have felt stirrings of what the monk aspires," Bucko and McEntee write in the manifesto. "We have all had moments of 'transcendence,' moments of deep passion for justice and truth, outpourings of compassion for others in suffering, or a perfect feeling of love towards our partner or children."

Bucko and McEntee understand the monk as the person who commits to seeking the deeper reality behind these experiences.

Theirs is a vision of a monk who cannot renounce the secular world because there is holiness there as well. "The new monk may be an artist, a scientist, a spiritual teacher, an elementary teacher, a social worker, a waiter. It is not so much the job that matters, as the place from which they approach their work," the manifesto explains.

Both McEntee and Bucko take it as a given that all may participate in this vision of new monasticism, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or relationship status. Bucko's own work with homeless youth in New York City has heightened his awareness of the critical need for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in religious and spiritual circles. Many of the homeless and at-risk young people he works with through the Reciprocity Foundation, which he co-founded, either ran away from or were thrown out of their homes because their parents refused to tolerate their sexual orientations or gender identities. …