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An 'interspiritual' take on monasticism: young adults' manifesto outlines a vision of mentorship in contemplative life.

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. In most cases, they rejected their children on the basis of religious beliefs.

In addition to helping clients find shelter, teaching them life skills and trying to connect them with internships and employers, the staff of Reciprocity also guides them in being in touch with their spirits.

"We ask them bring all aspects of themselves into the room," Bucko said. "Their fears, their hurts, their beauty. We sit with it together and hold it and are present to it. And if we sit long enough, something will emerge. It really is a contemplative process, but it is a more experiential approach to spiritual direction and spiritual friendship."

There is a teacher who leads the youth in yoga classes, and some eventually go on retreats at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York.

For McEntee, broadening the circle of who is welcome to explore their "inner monk" is an important way to reach the new generation. "Many of the arguments we're having now will be gone in 20 to 30 years. The new generation won't be interested in fighting those baffles" that many religious groups are struggling over today, such as gender equality and LGBT inclusion, said McEntee, who is a mathematics teacher in Los Angeles and the administrator for the Snowmass Inter-Spiritual Dialog, formerly known as the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, founded in1984 by Trappist Fr. Thomas Keating. "We will be ready for a whole new conversation," he said.

McEntee and Bucko's inclusive position is founded on their belief in the goodness of the human body. "The new monk sees the body as a holy incarnation," they write in the manifesto, "and part of her spiritual work is in maintaining a healthy, nurturing and transformative relationship with it."

Bucko explained that his observations of both the Catholic Worker as well as the evangelical versions of new monasticism have shown him it is possible to be in a committed relationship and live in a monastic type of community. "New monasticism is concerned with discovering the divine nature and proper place of all relationships. It is not opposed to celibacy; rather it recognizes it as a profound and genuine calling, albeit a rare one."

The goal is of this movement is to bring in the some of the most sought-after monks, hermits and spiritual teachers to serve as elders for young contemplatives. The hope is that this mentorship will foster the creation of small communities of young adults who are committed to sacred activism and to helping one another discover their own vocations.

"Adam and I have been blessed with wonderful teachers and elders for most of our young adulthood," McEntee said. "We would love others to have that, too. We are not looking to create guru and disciple relationships, but spiritual mentorship. We don't want the wisdom of our elders to die with them."

Their hope is that these communities of young contemplatives grow organically "Some groups may want to live together in a more formal monastic way Others may want to live alone or just with their partners, but gather together regularly with their communities for prayer, contemplation, or sessions with an elder," Bucko said.

These communities should develop "beyond the borders of any particular religious institution" while also drinking "deeply from the wells of our wisdom traditions," Bucko and McEntee write. This is especially important since many young adults seem inclined to engage with multiple wisdom traditions, such as Buddhism, and spiritual practices, such as yoga and Zen meditation.

Bucko and McEntee have identified four specific projects:

* HAB (an Aramaic word that evokes the active dimension of love) will be an "ecumenical and interspiritual contemplative fellowship for young people," especially those on college campuses. It hopes to offer educational programs and retreats that are co-taught by respected spiritual teachers.

* They envision a seven-year process for those who want to do longterm work with a spiritual director and learn from elders. This includes daily contemplative practices, intellectual study, psychological work and extended retreat periods.

* A third goal is to found New Way Publishing to produce materials that speak to the longings and questions of young adults. These publications will offer dialogues with elders and "help shape what a contemplative culture in the modern age looks like."

* Finally, they hope to establish "a small, interspiritual New Monastic ashram."

McEntee and Bucko already have offers from spiritual teachers, monks and hermits--many of them Catholic--to speak to groups of young adults who are interested in contemplation and action.

Asked whether they are concerned about funding and resources, Bucko insists that this is a movement that will operate on a different kind of model. "This isn't about building a big organization and then hassling to get money," he said. "This is about utilizing and sharing our gifts. It doesn't cost anything to be friends with people and create this kind of community."

ON THE WEB

A longer version of this article originally appeared online in a three-part series on the new monasticism by Jamie Manson in her weekly Grace on the Margins column at

NCRonline.org/blogs/grace-margins.

Read Adam Bucko and Rory McEntee's manifesto at www.scribd.com/doc/101981052/New-Monasticism-An-Interspiritual-Manifesto-for-Contemplative-Life-in-the-21st-Century.

[Jamie L. Manson is an NCR columnist based in New York City.]
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Author:Manson, Jamie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 7, 2012
Words:1506
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