Book Review: The Universal Monk, The Way of the New Monastics by John Michael Talbot

The call to “the universal new monasticism . . . is an almost irresistible urging of the Spirit to a life beyond the status of quo of any religion. But it fulfills every religion,” writes John Michael Talbot.  Jesus restores the authentic personality we have lost touch with. He restores us to “the deepest ‘us’ that makes us who we really are, ” a relationship of selfless and self-emptying love.

Unlike the traditional call from the world, the new monastics are not called to leave families, jobs and their homes for a completely new environment within the monastery walls. In the midst of the secular world they renew it by embracing this hidden monasticism. In the world but not of the world, they live in a personal relationship with Jesus, trying to live as Jesus with those here on earth.

The new monasticism leads people of every state of life into relationship with God in a specific, unique way by the power of the presence of God living within us in the Spirit. “As St. Paul said it is no longer I but Christ who lives within me! This is the reason and the goal of the new monasticism and the universal monk and within us all.”

Living in the world, the new monastics work to get to the real core issues that challenge our church and our world today. They are trying to solve the world’s problems by getting to the spiritual root of them, beginning with themselves. These are people who have hit bottom and know the meaning of salvation.  They are actively open to things of the Spirit and find support in emerging communities of the new monasticism.

A wealth of information about every historical diverse monastic expression is here along with aspects of meditation, and cross-pollination between world religions. Who knew there are vast differences between what the East and West mean by contemplation and meditation?  John Michael gives details on the how and why of it’s workings and moves on to the more familiar lectio divina and the Liturgy of the Hours.

His example of using his simple song “Breathe” to lead us into contemplation was one of the practical helps in this book. With a set time and place, it usually takes about 20 minutes to get into contemplation. Of that we will get about two minutes of real contemplation, which is enough to last the rest of the day.

He walks us through the Eucharistic liturgy, showing us how “it takes us through the externals of our human being in the senses, emotions and thoughts of the soul to the deepest part of who we are as human spirit in God’s Spirit in a way that is purely mystical.” 

He doesn’t shy away from dealing with membership, leadership and ministry conflicts in these communities. “It takes wise discernment, hard work, courage and vision but with enormous rewards.” He challenges us to follow Jesus in this exciting new way and find that universal monk within us all.

(Liturgical Press, 231 pages)

(© 2013 Nancy H C Ward)

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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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