UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Forming “Mediators and Instruments of Grace”: The Emerging Role of Monastics in Teaching Contemplative Ambiguity and Practice to the Laity Pryce, Paula


Drawing from long-term ethnographic research with a global network of contemplative Christians, this paper discusses an emerging teaching role for North American monasteries as the numbers of avowed religious decline. Since the Trappist community of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, first developed the Christian meditation technique called Centering Prayer in the 1970s, monks and nuns have increasingly become teachers, models, and stabilizers of non-monastic practitioners who attempt to transform their ways of being and thinking towards monastic-inspired sensibilities. Their guidance includes the use of face-to-face, literary, and virtual means to teach methods of contemplative intersubjectivity and a commitment to lives based on service, hospitality, and humility, as well as on study and formalized rites. The paper focuses on non-monastics’ strong attraction to monastic teachings on ambiguity as a source of creativity and wonder in uncertain times, as practiced through a combination of cataphatic and apophatic ritual, including Centering Prayer. The number of monastic postulants continues to falter, yet a much larger, “non-gathered” community of non-monastic oblates and neo-monastic contemplatives has grown increasingly reliant on monastics to help provide alternatives. The rising interdependence of monastics and non-monastics may become the basis of a transformation of Christian monasticism and a new concept of religious community.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


CC BY 4.0