The Monk Within is written for the person seeking a deeper, contemplative orientation to daily life. Yearning for inner realization of divine wisdom, this "new monk" draws on four interlocking themes: embodied spirituality grounded in the sacred web of life; the mystical path of the feminine, inspired by women's monastic communities; the archetype of the monk that is the deep truth of every person; and the interdependence of the world's wisdom traditions, expressed through interfaith, interspiritual dialogue.
Idea/Concept: The Monk Within is the first volume in a projected trilogy that explores and advocates for the new monasticism. Lanzetta dedicates much of the book to demonstrating that individuals each possess an innate "monastic instinct" that yearns for connection to the divine, through daily commitment to interior solitude. With this book, Lanzetta connects contemporary existence to ancient monastic tradition, surveying centuries of the history and practice of monasticism, while also considering -- and adapting -- concepts like celibacy and solitude, and even laying out her own "via feminina," a path that seeks the wisdom of women's monastic orders. The book is written with the presumption that the reader already is interested in working elements of monasticism into their own life, which might limit its reach.
Prose: Lanzetta's prose is scrupulous and inviting. She writes with great clarity and is rigorous about stripping her language of the dogmatic and hierarchical. She does not presume her readers come from any particular religious background and takes great care not to elevate one idea of the Divine over any other; shrewdly, she entertains opposing viewpoints and always defines her terms with crisp clarity.
Originality: Lanzetta steeps readers in the history of monastic thinking, drawing upon deep learning and research and even devoting some 50 pages to the "Wisdom of the Elders," a series of illuminating disquisitions on Augustine, St. Teresa, Gandhi, and others. Her research is her own, and her "via feminina" is wholly unique.
Execution: While it's rich with challenging, inviting thought and judicious excerpts from the work of other monastic thinkers, The Monk Within is light on instruction or practical guidance. Lanzetta writes marvelously well, and her material is engaging, but as she considers the power of contemplation and "the deep self," readers might desire additional coaching into the "disciplined practice" that the book suggests such explorations demand.
Date Submitted: November 24, 2019