We are in time. We practice the active life in time, knowing that our goal is in eternity. The role of the contemplative is to remind us that there is in the world something other than the world, that the goal of human life is beyond the human. Contemplation is the goal and meaning of work just as sabbath is the goal and meaning of the weekdays.
The second of a two part series on Byzantine theology by English Orthodox professor Andrew Louth. Here Louth discusses apophatic spirituality, ascetical and mystical theology, and the liturgy.
September 1, 2010
Part one of a two part series on Byzantine theology by English Orthodox professor Andrew Louth. He’s a delight, and his subject is of interest to anyone concerned with Christian mysticism and contemplation.
The third of six videos filmed at a talk I gave last August. Here I look at contemplation, reflecting on the traditional understanding of this prayer (“a form of wordless prayer… with faith and love”) and how the elements of love, silence, and gazing into the mystery of Christ can be such a nurturing form of prayer for spiritual seekers today.
The second of six videos filmed at a talk I gave last August. Here I look at Karl Rahner’s oft-quoted statement (“the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist”) and reflect on what it means for the Christian community to be called into mystical spirituality in our time.
Here is the first of six videos filmed last August — I’ll be posting the others in the near future. This video is a brief introduction to one of my favorite Christian mystics, Julian of Norwich.
This is a short little book — 135 pages — but it very clearly spells out the mystical theology embedded in the New Testament letters of Saint Paul. An excellent corrective to the common (but erroneous) idea that “mysticism isn’t in the Bible.” In fact, mysticism is in the Bible the way love is in God — it’s inherent, but centuries of left-brained approaches to reading and interpreting Scripture has meant that, for most people, the mystical theology of the New Testament is hidden in plain sight. Jesuit author George Maloney looks at Paul’s theology of the Body, of Mystery, and of the Holy Spirit to weave together a wonderful introduction not only to the mystical thought of the Apostle, but of Christianity altogether.
This is a delightful book. Mysticism is not a topic generally associated with C. S. Lewis, who even claimed in one of his later books that he was not a mystic and never would attempt to be one! But Professor Downing does a wonderful job of showing that this was just Lewis’s humility speaking, and in fact there is a strong vein of mystical wisdom and insight coursing through his writings, especially his fiction. Lewis loved reading the writings of the great mystics, corresponded with Evelyn Underhill, and described his own conversion as moving “into the region of awe.” Like they say, “if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…” What I find particularly lovely about this book is Downing’s down-to-earth but spot-on description of what Christian mysticism is. If you’d like a case study of ordinary mysticism, this is it. And if you love C. S. Lewis’s fiction, this book will open your eyes to an entirely new way of thinking about the spiritual writing of this beloved author.
Mystics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)
This wonderful book explores the question “what is mysticism?” through the life stories and teachings of nine mystics: seven from the Christian tradition (including Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Merton), plus Rumi (Sufism) and Dōgen (Zen). So the book is anchored in the Christian contemplative path, but has a nice interspiritual dimension as well. Emerging out of Fr. Harmless’s experience as a college professor, he had done a marvelous job at balancing scholarship and accessibility in creating this book, which is a delight to read and packed with insight. He successfully demonstrates that, far from being a monolithic type of “experience,” mysticism actually comes in many shapes and sizes, although all its varieties are linked together by an intentional commitment to nurturing the soul (and, for theists, nurturing intimacy with God).
Following the passing of Anglican contemplative theologian Kenneth Leech, I’ve been revisiting several of his books. In the back of his book True God: An Exploration in Spiritual Theology is Leech’s manifesto “Toward a Renewed Spirituality.” It’s an important statement that deserves wide consideration. Ken offers thirteen points that he considers essential for the ongoing […]
Inner silence means “no thinking.” This seems to be very simple and easy. But it is very difficult. It is not the beginner’s work. I think it is everything to mystical training, including Zen. Indeed almost every method or device is nothing but a means to keep us in complete silence.
Walk into a Catholic bookstore — or a general bookstore large enough to have a “Christian mysticism” section — and you will see books by or about Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila, along with anonymous works like The Cloud of Unknowing or The Way of a Pilgrim. These are the “A-List” mystics: […]
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011)
Here is a six-hundred-page treasure: a collection of 77 sermons by a seventh century mystic, Isaac the Syrian (also known as Isaac of Ninevah). Syriac Christianity has a long mystical streak, and St. Isaac one of its most eloquent and renowned voices. Be sure to check out homily 28 — if you’re anything like me, you’ll find St. Isaac’s theology of eternity and the love of God to be beautiful (but not sentimental) and profoundly intuitive.
Truly, there is so great a din in your heart, and so much loud shouting from your empty thoughts and fleshly desires that you can neither see nor hear Him. Therefore, silence this restless din, and break your love of sin and vanity. Bring into your heart a love of virtues and complete charity, and then you shall hear your Lord speak to you.