A New Monastic Way of Life: A Divine Call to the Soul of Humanity
The desire to pursue the new face of monasticism—to be a universal monk of peace—is a response to the fragileness of the Earth and the alienation of our collective psyche. This call arises from the threat under which much of life, human and planetary, now endures and suffers. It is a call to probe more deeply and profoundly the capacity of the human heart, the efficacy of love as a force of transformation, and the significance of mystical participation in the building up of the world. It inquires: who speaks for the soul today? Is it just the material world? Is it just violence that speaks?
The commitment to be a universal monk is a promise to put our lives in service of the dignity of all beings, and become a friend of the soul. It is the integrity of standing alone, advocating for silence, and developing a spiritually mature outlook that signifies the monk's vocation—the fulcrum or still point around which his or her heart revolves. The new monastic may not be identified with a specific religion or belong to a community. Rather, such a person is staking his or her life on yes: the affirmation of love and nonviolence.
Being a monk is not attachment to an identity—even to being a monk—but following the call within to honor the sanctity of creation and the miracle of spirit, holding the divine presence in one's heart. It is a commitment to be for the other and not for the self, which yearns to give away all that is petty, constricted, or selfish in one's heart. It is the soul's witness to the tragedies that wound our world, which offers a home for the homeless, a balm of forgiveness for human cruelty and pain. What is this inner silence that leads us away from the common to the rare, that fosters protest against the way things are, that requires that our wills be harnessed to the divine will, and our feet walk in the footsteps of the saints? There is no new monasticism without the aspiration of the person who yearns to be free and—in a gesture of faith—surrenders to Mystery.
As in times past, monks continue to live as hermits, in small traveling groups, and in established residential communities. Yet the size of monastic communities—especially in Western industrialized nations—has diminished, and many of my monastic friends wonder if monasticism will survive in the form it has assumed these past centuries.
If the monastic orders as we know them are in danger of becoming obsolete, the archetype of the monk within us is not. I hold, as many others do, that the monk is an original essence within each person. Each of us retains a core of silence and solitude that belongs to Mystery alone. An intrinsic part of human nature, the monastic instinct never is extinguished, but expresses its passion for the sacred wherever life is found. It is the quest for the Absolute, which burns like fire in a person's being and will not be quenched until the longing is heeded.