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The Manifesto of New Monasticism

The Manifesto of New Monasticism

There is a new monasticism forming in the world today, and Roy McEntee is at the forefront forging the manifestos of the movement.

Prologue

“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.”

So wrote Adam Bucko and I in our recent piece, New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century.

In it, we articulate a vision for the bourgeoning spiritual impulse we see arising in our modern times, particularly amongst the younger generation. The fertile ground giving rise to this evolutionary emergence has been tilled by many who have come before us, in all walks of life, both known and unknown, and to them we offer deep, heartfelt gratitude.

The manifesto makes heavy use of inspirations and guides such as Raimon Panikkar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Brother Wayne Teasdale, and others to articulate our vision; yet it is a vision born first and foremost out of the praxis of our own lives, being but an expression of our personal journeys. And so I’ve used my personal backstory to illustrate a handful of quotations from the manifesto, which bookend each section, in the hope that my stories will resonate with others on the path.

New Monasticism is about honoring one’s own unique path, cultivation of one’s unique relationship to Life, to God, in trust, fidelity, and partnership with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

* * *

January 1985; Riverdale, Utah

It was a fateful day–a beautiful winter’s day, with a cold breeze born of aliveness that blew across my rosy cheeks, straightening my spine like a splash of ice water. The sun glistened marvelously off the night’s snow cover, radiating all around. The sky was that bright, crisp blue that only shines such when the sun’s light is reflected so fully back upon it. Not a day to be sitting in class, I wistfully thought, my ears half attentive to the background rumbling of my third grade catechism teacher. Too many hills to climb, snowballs to throw, laughs to be had…

My ears perked up at a question posed by one of my classmates: “If Jesus threw around tables and yelled at people in the temple, isn’t that a sin?”

Now this was interesting. I had done some table-turning in my day—maybe I was off the hook! Thoughts of more table-turning churned in my mind and I smiled in anticipation. Alas, our teacher must have sensed my sly mode of thought and was having none of it, theology be damned. “Yes. That could be considered a sin.”

Another brilliant student protested, “But wasn’t Mother Mary sinless? So Jesus sinned but Mother Mary didn’t?”

“You can imagine it like this,” replied the teacher, authority in her voice. “Mary’s soul was like the pure white snow out there in the field, without a smudge upon it. Jesus’s soul was also like the field, with one step in it for his ruckus in the temple.”

The Divine truly works in mysterious ways, for this moment oriented much of my future spiritual journey. God bless that teacher, those wily students, the brilliant snow-covered winter wonderland and bright sun whose glory would not be denied. It was woven together so perfectly, bringing forth a profound moment of revelation. Simple, unpretentious, as only the mind of an eight-year-old could be: “She doesn’t know God.”

Now, to clarify, I would never claim to know, or to judge for that matter, how another’s relationship with God is. These days I would likely wax on about how some teachers are more concerned about dogmatic formulations than what is arising in their hearts and out of the depths of their being, where God surely is. However, on that fateful day, the innocence of a child kept my thought free from any judgment. Its straightforward nature resembled the sense of sight, as if I were saying, “She is wearing red.” On further reflection, I “realized” that my many other religious teachers, priests, and bishops, for the most part, didn’t have access to my own relationship with the Spirit, or in the mind of an eight-year-old, “didn’t know God.”

At the time, it was just matter-of-fact, no big deal. But looking back now I feel this experience had immense consequences for me. I had always felt I had a connection with “God,” and now felt that others who were teaching me about God didn’t necessarily share in this “knowledge.” As I grew, this awareness gave me permission to cultivate my own relationship with God, and I could look for those moments when this relationship bubbled to the surface—in the liturgy of the mass, conversations with friends, inner decisions. The Church from that point on became part of my relationship with God, rather than my relationship with God being part of the Church. In other words, my relationship with the Divine was primary, and my own inner knowing became my guide. I hesitate to call it a knowing, even though that’s what it is, because it’s really a relationship and a knowing within relationship. Everything else in my life, whether religious upbringing, life decisions, and future spiritual teachers, all became part of that—never the other way around. My relationship with the Divine could never be encased in a church or spiritual teacher. This relationship became the Whole of which they were a part.

New Monasticism is about honoring one’s own unique path, cultivation of one’s unique relationship to Life, to God, in trust, fidelity, and partnership with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

New Monasticism is about authenticity, humility, truth. It does not look to embody spiritual platitudes, quick ways to ‘enlightenment’, or pious ideas, but to cultivating the wisdom and uniqueness of each person, creating space to share and be transparent to one another, receiving and reciprocating our gifts in love.

October 2001; Chicago, Illinois

Brother Wayne excitedly brought me to his computer, childish giggles accompanying a look of astonishment on his face, “Look, The Mystic Heart is at number seven on Amazon!”

I was bit distant, in my naïveté even a bit disdainful. Wasn’t this supposed to be my spiritual teacher who cares not for success in this world? Should he even be looking to see how his book is doing commercially? Don’t you do the work and forget about it the next moment, like the karma yoga of the Bhagavad Gita or Jesus’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

We were on our way out to dinner. It was dark that night on the inhospitable streets of Hyde Park, where muggings were common and homeless people huddled in the doorways. Step outside of the ivory towers of the University of Chicago and across the street, literally, was one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. This is where Brother Wayne’s simple one bedroom “hermitage” was, amongst all the complexity and contradictions of life as a “monk in the world.”

It was only a few years earlier I had met Brother Wayne Teasdale, shortly after finishing my undergraduate study. He was working on a joint program on “The Mystic Heart” with the chair of our religion department, Ron Miller, towards whom I had grown quite close. During the program I had spoken up with a comment on humility, and Brother Wayne had challenged me with a cutting intensity, asking me “What is humility?”

I responded, “Humility is always thinking you might be wrong and being willing to reconsider.”
“Yes, that is true, but it’s more than that,” he responded, “Humility is truth.

After the program he came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and looked deeply into my eyes. There was a solemnity to his gaze. I felt little, exposed, as he seemed to scan all around my body as if there were some invisible egg encasing me. After some light chit-chat, he grew serious again, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “Make sure you come find me at the Parliament.”

Later that year, we spent nearly every night together at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. The deep friendship and mentorship that evolved led me to bypass my place in law school at USC in order to hang out with this Catholic monk who had no monastery. I learned a lot about the spiritual journey, the student/disciple relationship, and human intimacy in spiritual mentorship from this holy man who himself shared an intimate relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was initiated as a Christian sannyāsi (a wandering monk in the Hindu tradition) by Bede Griffiths, considered Father Thomas Keating his spiritual father, and coined the term “interspiritual.”

After dinner at the local diner that night we walked to the video store to pick up a movie. Brother Wayne stopped, as he often did, to speak with a homeless person wrapped in a blanket on the sidewalk. They knew each other well, spoke on a first name basis, and traded stories of their day and plans for the rest of the week just like two friends catching up. I had seen Brother Wayne like this with many of the street people in the area. He once remarked to me, “You know, it’s not about giving money to the homeless. It is a relationship that one commits to.”

We made it to the video store. As we scanned the aisles Brother Wayne’s voice jumped, “Ohhh, let’s get this one,” he said excitedly. It was an old movie about St. Francis. “This one has grace in it.”

Later that night, after Brother Wayne had has his fill of the sci-fi channel, we put on the movie. It started out slow, in black and white, a bit boring. Then, something began to trickle down, slowly at first, but building unmistakably. I began wondering, was it just me? Was something really happening here? What was going on???

It continued to build, and soon it felt as if the Spirit was physically descending into the room, washing over me, my body tensing up from its force. It became more and more dense, reaching a crescendo as I wiggled in my chair, a wave of transcendence leaving me almost immobile. I was barely aware of the movie in the background when the words seemed to boom from television, “Give up all that you have and follow the way of the Lord.”

“Ha!” Brother Wayne yelled out with childish joy, leaning forward in his rocking chair and clapping his hands, beaming sheepishly at me from eye to eye. “I told you it had grace.”

New Monasticism is about authenticity, humility, truth. It does not look to embody spiritual platitudes, quick ways to ‘enlightenment’, or pious ideas, but to cultivating the wisdom and uniqueness of each person, creating space to share and be transparent to one another, receiving and reciprocating our gifts in love.

New Monasticism is about ‘heading up the mountain’, only to return back into the world…

March 2002; Pushkar, India

I had arrived in India a little more than a month previous, flying on a one-way ticket. I wasn’t sure what I might find, but I had been drawn there by that inner guidance that was at the core of my journey. It wasn’t an easy decision to go. My parents and extended family had tried mightily to persuade me otherwise; even Brother Wayne had asked me not to go. Breaking with your spiritual teacher is never an easy road, but I was determined to follow as best I could the small voice within.

I found myself in the deserts of Rajasthan, immersed in a depth of silence rarely experienced. Here there were no birds chirping songs, no wind blowing through the trees, no running water, or cars rushing by, no twigs breaking in the underbrush, nor the patter of swift woodland paws. It was an ocean of silence, and like the ocean, there was movement within it.

My friend and I sat on the outskirts of a small town, meandering about in the dust when a being suddenly appeared on the horizon. He walked slowly, steadily, rhythmically towards us, as if emerging out of the fuzzy, watery background of the desert’s mirage. His hunched-over frame cast his eyes towards the sand, while his shoulders bobbed peacefully against the horizon.

Shuffling past us without breaking a stride, tightening the tattered bright orange cloth that hung loosely around his waist, he motioned for us to follow him. His head was still crooked downward, his eyes beyond our line of site. A somehow dignified presence surrounded him, a nonchalance that could not be ignored. I got an acute sense of the ordinariness of life, as if standing on the corner of Times Square watching all the people mill by, each carrying such a complexity of passions, problems, concerns, yet somehow each life seeming so extraordinarily ordinary. As we stared at his receding back I exchanged an amused glance of bewilderment with my friend, and we began to follow.

So I met my spiritual father, Joshi Baba, an anonymous Hindu sannyāsi, living in a four-by-six-foot concrete hole on the side of a sacred lake in the desert. We spent most waking hours together over the next month, after which I traveled to see him on numerous occasions. He had been a popular, well-to-do man in the Bollywood movie industry before leaving everything behind in his search for Truth. It became increasingly obvious to me that he had indeed found a great measure of that Truth. My experience with Joshi was similar in many ways to descriptions in the “guru” literature of Tibetan Buddhism. He became a mysterious portal into another realm of consciousness, impersonal and empty, yet at the same time we experienced the most deep and palpable of human friendships and intimacies, marked by simplicity and joy. I admired how he had given everything up and had clearly found some measure of success in his search. I could never find the words to express what lies in my heart for him, and to this day, reality reflects back to me his expressions. He was my master.

I thought of him a few months later when, in a fit of difficulty, I walked off in the middle of the night into the Himalayas. I had been staying in Dharamshala, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan people live in exile from their homeland. Sitting in a room surrounded by conversations among friends, I abruptly rose and swiftly walked out of the room, sharing not a glance with anyone. I could bear no more of this yearning and churning inside me, intense feelings of corruption all around, even of my own self. Wearing sandals and a tattered shawl I made my way into the night and up the mountains. I had no intention of returning without a sign from God. I would walk off into these majestic peaks to wander alone for years if need be, even to die. Archetypal stories of others doing the same flitted through my mind; I figured I wasn’t the first.

As I climbed, memories of Joshi came back to me, speaking before we went our separate ways of darkness and difficulties, in the haphazard and foreshadowing way he often spoke: “Someone say ‘I can’t do this’…but not so bad…just time…who cares how much, time just in the mind… no-where or now-here…just ‘happens’, like life, ‘happening’…not so bad…then you write.” He was smiling.

I arrived at the top of a great peak just as the sun began to break on the horizon. There, a Tibetan lady was sitting on the grassy top, a blanket spread under her, beyond her the vastness and aloneness of the inner Himalayas. She motioned for me to come over.

Feeling as if lost in a dream, I made my way over and landed on her blanket. She offered me some crackers. At first I declined, but she insisted, saying, “You need to keep your energy up…long way to go. Not this way,” she pointed back into the Himalayas. “That way,” she pointed back down the mountain. I had not said a word to her yet. Then she began sharing with me her own journey and how she had gone through such a difficult period, “Many years, very hard,” but now everything was wonderful. Her face glowed with delight. As our conversation came to an end, I found myself in a mini state of shock. My “sign” had convincingly appeared. I turned around and began the long journey back to Dharamshala.

New Monasticism is about ‘heading up the mountain’, only to return back into the world…

New Monasticism is about, as Brother Wayne often said, building the Kingdom of Heaven one friendship at a time…

October 2010, Pacific Grove, California

The bright light of my spiritual quest gave way to a dark night that enveloped me for a time. Attending a gathering of the Contemplative Alliance, I was still a bit unsure of myself. It had only been a few months since the first hint of divine whiff had re-entered my life; before that only darkness, for more years than I could count. It felt as if I had given everything to God, and God happily accepted it all, packed up, and left town.

Now I was looking to re-integrate into the world. I hoped for something to replace the loneliness of the past years, to find my own ground to stand upon and contribute to the whole, to find my voice, and a community to collaborate with. I thought of Brother Wayne, how integrated he had been in the world, how he lived out his vocation in such a special, unique and sacred way. I said a prayer to his departed soul: “Show me the way.”

I had received an invitation at the last minute at the behest of Dr. Kurt Johnson, a former Anglican monk, evolutionary biologist, and non-dual “spiritual friend” who had been carrying Brother Wayne’s interspiritual torch since his passing in 2004. We had corresponded briefly but had never met in person. Recently, Kurt co-wrote The Coming Interspiritual Age, a wonderful birthing forward of many of the concepts Brother Wayne had so tirelessly championed. Kurt and I shared a wonderful and fruitful discussion at the conference about Brother Wayne, our relationship with him, his work and its future.

At the Contemplative Alliance conference, I was rounded up with a group of “young contemplatives” led by Adam Bucko, a thirty-something who had co-founded a foundation for homeless youth in New York City called The Reciprocity Foundation. I was fascinated by the work, which applied a contemplative approach to social activism. I spent much of the conference reflecting back on the last decade, my time with Brother Wayne, Joshi, the intervening years. These times had so much to offer, so much I had received. Even the “night” seemed to yield tremendous fruits, not the least of which was the ability to identify with the lowest of the low, criminals, deviants, the poor and oppressed—the “least among us.” It felt as if I now viewed the unity of the human race from a wholly different perspective. Rather than seeing only a “transcendent oneness” among us, as I had in the early years of my journey, I now found the entire range of human capabilities, divine to demonic, within myself—anchoring my vision in the Earth and making it compatible with day to day reality, without losing a sense of the Divine.

On the final day I was sitting in a bay window, looking out at a bright day and the way the light filtered angelically through the forested pines of the grounds. Adam came and sat close by. We hadn’t had a chance to connect much during the retreat, but now something seemed to open up. We began to share stories of our journeys and thoughts on the path. Kurt strolled by to say goodbye. “Ah, I’m glad to see you two finally connecting. It’s about time.”

After a ride to the airport and a stop at a taco joint it seemed as if we had been friends for years. We shared stories and reflections on Brother Wayne, Raimon Panikkar, Father Thomas Keating, and Bede Griffiths. We spoke of homeless kids, lepers, and spiritual teachers; about a new longing in the youth and the arising of a new impulse. A contemplative impulse that lived outside of the traditions but yet was part of them, was born of them, and sustained by them. We spoke of a future of sacred communities, connected existentially but each incarnating a unique expression of the Divine. We spoke of dialogical dialogue and its power to transform. In all this we felt a shared lineage and responsibility to carry it forward. We left that day with a commitment to continue the conversation, one we kept almost daily over the next few years, leading to our article New Monsticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century Brother Wayne had heard my prayer that fateful day.

New Monasticism is about, as Brother Wayne often said, building the Kingdom of Heaven one friendship at a time…

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Manifesto of New Monasticism

Rory McEntee
Rory McEntee

Rory McEntee is a contemplative rooted in the tradition of interspirituality and new monasticism who works at an intersection of spirituality, education and culture. As a close friend and mentee of the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, he was part of the founding of the interspiritual movement. During that time he participated in dialogues and collaborated with many world spiritual leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Currently, Rory is the administrator for the Snowmass InterSpiritual Dialogue, formerly known as The Snowmass Conference. Founded in 1984 by Father Thomas Keating, it brings together spiritual masters from different wisdom traditions to engage in intimate dialogue. He works and collaborates with spiritual leaders from various traditions and is particularly interested in deep, contemplative formation processes for young people that can emerge from collaborative and intergenerational friendships among contemplatives. He credits elders like Joshi Babaji, Fr. Thomas Keating, and H.H. the Dalai Lama as his inspirations and mentors. Rory studied for a Ph.D. in mathematics and teaches math and physics while being a father. He is the coauthor of New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century. Rory can be reached at: rmcentee21@gmail.com