How do we embody the contemplative life? And how does the contemplative life make a difference in our bodies (both as individuals and collectively)? Fran and I had dinner the other night with a charming couple named Ray and Lee. We had met Ray a few weeks earlier when I spoke at a UU Church […]
What is the relationship between holiness and joy? A reader named Gordon writes, in response to my concerns about how “experience” can be misunderstood in a spiritual context: I agree with you that experience is not there for entertainment. But given my background in a very dreary fundamentalist religious upbringing, I always find the word […]
Reading books about the spiritual life can be a substitute for actually devoting time each day to prayer. So if you have to choose between prayer and reading, make prayer your priority. Nevertheless, one of the best ways to nurture an ongoing prayer practice is to devote some time each day to reading nurturing and […]
A Facebook friend shared with me that she has been “thinking about contemplative prayer as a resource for peacemaking or for community building.” Especially given the horrors in Orlando this past weekend, perhaps this is something we all need to be thinking about. Is contemplative prayer a meaningful tool for fostering reconciliation? Can it foster peace […]
“Do Gifts of the Spirit, especially those like tongues, have any connection with mysticism? Historically, theologically, experientially, in connection with the Divine… If so, in what way, and if not, why not?” A few months back, I asked folks on Facebook if they had any questions they would like me to address on my blog. Here is […]
Friends, I’m so excited to announce my forthcoming book, due in October 2016 from Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints and Sages. This book is designed to be a companion volume to The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. While that book explained the “what” and “why” of Christian contemplative spirituality, this book covers the “who” — […]
I hope you have had a wonderful and prayerful Lent, and that your Holy Week is likewise a time for reflection and contemplative waiting. Here’s looking forward to Easter — and the Easter season. May it be filled with joy, warmth, and plenty of “alleluias”! One thing that won’t be part of this Easter season: new […]
Do not, then, stir yourself up to useless interior activities. Avoid everything that will bring unnecessary complications into your life. Live in as much peace and quiet and retirement as you can, and do not go out of your way to get involved in labors and duties, no matter how much glory they may seem to give to God. Do the tasks appointed to you as perfectly as you can with disinterested love and great peace in order to show your desire of pleasing God. Love and serve Him peacefully and in all your works preserve recollection. Do what you do quietly and without fuss. Seek solitude as much as you can; dwell in the silence of your own soul and rest there in the simple and simplifying light which God is infusing into you. Do not make the mistake of aspiring to the spectacular “experiences” that you read about in the lives of great mystics. None of those graces (called gratis datae) can sanctify you nearly so well as this obscure and purifying light and love of God which is given you to no other end than to make you perfect in His love.
I talk a lot about silent prayer in this blog, which is understandable considering that my focus is on contemplative prayer, which the Catholic Catechism describes as “wordless prayer.” As important as silence is to contemplative and mystical forms of prayer, it’s only one of five essential dimensions of Christian prayer. In this post I look at […]
I’ll be teaching this class on the history and basic concepts of Christian mysticism through Emory University’s continuing education program. It’s a fun class that approaches the topic from an inclusive perspective, as we seek to understand what the mystics have to tell us and why their wisdom remains relevant today. Class meets weekly for five weeks; we’ll be reading The Big Book of Christian Mysticism.
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Practical Mysticism & Abba (New York: Vintage Books, 2003)
Two of Evelyn Underhill’s shorter works are collected in one beautiful paperback edition. Practical Mysticism I consider to be one of her most acessible and important books, a gentle affirmation of how the mystical life is for everyone, not just saints or monks or nuns — and the steps that we “normal people” can take to begin to cultivate prayer, meditation, recollection and contemplation in our life. It’s beautifully written, easy to understand yet in no way “dumbed down,” and just as relevant today as when it was published in 1914. Many inexpensive editions of Practical Mysticism (both print and ebook) are available, but I like this particular one because it also includes a lesser-known gem: Abba, a series of meditations on the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), originally published the year before Underhill’s death. These two short works span Underhill’s career, so together they provide a rich introduciton to one of our most under-appreciated 20th century mystics.
Is contemplation dangerous? Some people think so. This past weekend I read a book that has given me some food for thought on this subject. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? is by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, two psychologists in England who study the idea that practices like yoga or mindfulness meditation have observable health benefits. They […]
September 1, 2010
Spirituality is all about love, and love only exists in relationship. Therefore, spirituality is healthiest when it is expressed in a communal way. For better or worse, this means — at least for followers of Jesus Christ and the Christian contemplative/mystical path — finding some sort of church or other faith community. That’s not always easy. […]
“If the goal of the contemplative is union with God, does the individual begin to disappear and lose his or her unique self (personality, emotions) in pursuing this goal?” The above question came to me in an email from a reader of this blog. It’s a huge question and I’m not sure a single blog […]