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Posted April 29, 2014

Book: Religious Life at the Crossroads: A school of mystics and prophets
Amy Hereford, CSJ
Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY. 2014. Pp. 206

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

This book explores the movements in religious life today, particularly the currents that are emerging among the cohorts of younger women religious. After tracing the history of religious life, Amy Hereford examines some of the theological sources for the reinvention of religious life today, and explores how religious life will fit into an emerging church.

An Excerpt from the book:

I suggest that God has a dream. God's dream for religious life in the United States is a dream bigger than those who are living the life right now, a dream bigger than any of their congregations, a dream the size of God, more than they can ask or imagine (see Eph 3:20). I believe this dream centers around several important elements: charism, community, connectivity, consciousness, and contemplation.

Charism is the deep story of each religious congregation, the story of what was done, but the more important story of why it was done, and why it was done in the particular way it was done. The charism of an institute is that particular insight into living the gospel that inspires and impels each succeeding generation of a particular community to live as Franciscans or Dominicans or Mercies. This story resonates with the personal vocation of the individual members and their personal spirituality and helps to shape it. And together with their sisters, they reinterpret the life for a new generation, for a new place, and for a new cultural situation. And so they write new chapters of their story with their lives.

Newer member of these various communities are in a position to hear the founding stories, to breathe in the spirit, and to live the spirituality of the institutes. They gather the riches of each of their congregations as they nurture their own life, spirituality, and ministry. They do this even as the new is emerging and unfolding within and among them. In a slightly awkward metaphor, they take on the DNA of the charisms so that they can carry it forth into the heart of the twenty-first century, blessing those who have shared it with them so generously.

Community is an imperative element of the dream; it is a sign of our times. Individuals, families, and whole societies are feeling the fragmentation of modern living, and many cultural thinkers and spiritual writers are telling us that the healing of our personal and global spirits will happen through community or it will not happen at all.

Connectivity is an important element of the dream. Religious of the future will not build institutions but webs, not mega-communities but small local communities in relationship, like the communities of Catholic Workers and l'Arche discussed in Chapter 2. So many of the most influential movements in the new consciousness are small networked organizations. This is the genius of the Occupy movement, of the peace movement, and of the Arab Spring.

New consciousness is an important element of the dream. Our world is becoming increasingly conscious of itself as a global, connected reality to which the good of one is intimately connected to the good of all. Moving forward, religious life must take stock of how it can live and contribute to this evolving consciousness.

Contemplation is the final element of the dream. The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have seen a flourishing interest in spirituality, even while it has seen a waning interest in organized religion. And within organized religion, there is growing interest in developing a personal spiritual life that is nourishing and that sustains gospel living and empowers us for mission.

Table of Contents:

1. The history of religious life from an evolutionary perspective

2. Theological community

3. Seeds of newness

4. Reimaging religious life

5. The new form of religious life

6. Mystics and prophets