Review: Totally Devoted: An Exploration of New Monasticism

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Starting at the end of the book may be a better way to grasp Simon Cross‘ message –

There is something immensely romantic, idealistic and utopian in the idea of monasticism. (p200)

Indeed, Cross shows easily enough the values of the New Monastic movement as something wholly utopian.Yet, what he does is something wholly non-utopian in that he seeks to do violence to our picture of New Monasticism. As is easily recognized, my view on mediation and the like is that it provides nothing; yet, Cross shows that as Christendom, especially the British version, reels from its own self decay, people are being drawn to a life style centered on ancient practices (think McLaren here, but with depth) which are meant to build a community of believers, evangelists, and those whose heart is for the Gospel.

I might disagree with some of the precepts that Cross covers and suggest; however, he shows that these precepts are being picked up not from other religions and foreign practices, but, many times, from native Christian lands. He shows himself to be heavily influenced by the ancient Celtic monastics (which is this long-distance, both in time and miles, Celtic descendant is frankly, wonderful) and knows, really knows, the Benedictine rule. In my brief acquaintance with Benedictine monks, I can testify to their heart and peace, as Cross relates. His history of ancient monasticism (and, of course, the New Monasticism) makes this book worth the purchase, although the bonus is introduction to the New Monastic communities which are springing up in England and Europe (as well as the U.S.).

What is the New Monastic movement? Cross answers this, not in the academic or uber-religious language of an examination, but almost with a psalmist approach given by someone intimately familiar with the movement. Cross’ work is easily readable and yet not too tame. It is an easy read and one which should stay with you for a very long time, especially as you sit, as Archbishop Reno would say, among the tombs of Christendom. Reading Cross’ work, I find hope for Western Christianity, and some pitfalls (I cannot understand the need to equate our practices with Islam), which is rarely seen in the media. All is doom and gloom for Christianity in the West, but the New Monastics are showing a people who are creating communities to safe guard Christian practices, very similar to the last time that Europe stood on the precipice of losing Christianity to secularism.

I would counter Cross’ statement given above – what he shows is not a romantic community nor one which has achieved utopia. Yet, what he does show are communities which are recovering the strengths of the past which meets the violence of dark ages with the counter-violence of prayer, community, and a focus on listening to God.

If you are into that sorta thing, that is…

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