Answering the Contemplative Call (Hampton Roads, 2013)

Answering the Contemplative Call

Answering the Contemplative Call

Answering the Contemplative Call offers an engaging and reassuring invitation for anyone who feels an inner yearning to embrace the deep silence of Christian contemplative spirituality.

The mystical path is not some sort of static experience for the select few, says Carl McColman, rather, it is a living tradition, a rich and many-layered dimension of spirituality that is in large measure a quest to find the mysteries at the heart of the universe, paradoxically nestled within the heart of your own soul.

McColman first introduced readers to Christianity’s lost mystical roots in his popular book, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. Now he has followed that title up with Answering the Contemplative Call, to show readers how to apply the riches of the mystical tradition to daily living.

This book is organized in three sections:

  • “Recognizing the Call,” Explores how each one of us is called to the mystical life, and what that might look like.
  • “Preparing for the Journey,” shows what we need to do in response to the contemplative call.
  • “Embarking on the Adventure” considers what those first steps on the path might look like.

Along the way McColman quotes from the great mystics of the Christian tradition who have also traveled this path, including Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill and more.

In Answering the Contemplative Call, McColman offers a practice that will help readers come to a place meaning and purpose in their lives.

Purchase Answering the Contemplative Call:
Paperback: Amazon • Barnes & Noble
 Independent Bookstore (Online or Near You)
Ebook: Kindle Version • Nook Version • iBooks Version

Praise for Answering the Contemplative Call:

What Frommers, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet are to travel guides for physical locales, Carl McColman is fast becoming for the spiritual journey. There is so much that recommends this delightful guide — Carl’s own depth of experience, his wonderful ability to bring in apt quotations from the great contemplative saints of history, his ability to be both simple and deep without ever becoming simplistic or murky. As I read, I kept thinking of friends with whom I want to share this treasure — a travel guide to an adventurous journey that will last forever.

Brian D. McLaren, author of A New
Kind of Christianity
A Generous Orthodoxy

In Answering the Contemplative Call, Carl McColman creates a safe and beautiful space where each of us can come–human as we are–and learn how possible it is to befriend silence and to live in the certain joy of daily intimacy with God. Carl is a wise and gentle guide, and brilliantly well-read, just the sort of kind friend one welcomes to take us further into the mysteries of love, together. This book is for anyone who wishes to pray “validly and deeply,” as Merton said, and Carl reminds us; for anyone who yearns to ‘walk a simple path, routinely meeting the miraculous in the ordinary,’ as C. S. Lewis knew; for anyone living with the deep-seated, undeniable longing that is ‘the most direct route to heaven,’ as The Cloud’s Anonymous wrote; and for twenty-first-century Truth seekers and would-be peacemakers who want to experience how a ‘heart-centered approach’ to reading the Bible can take us into dumiyyah, the ‘quiet waiting’ that Psalm 65:2 describes. It’s a practical book written by someone who walks the very humble, joyful path himself and can teach us to open our hearts to Christ, to awaken in us a sense of wonder, to lead us to a true healing of our own soul wounds, and to grow in each of us a genuine love for those walkers with feet as dusty as our own. Answering the Contemplative Call fulfills its opening invitation with abundant joy: ‘Hey, come along; this promises to be a fun adventure!’

Carmen Acevedo Butcher, PhD, translator of The Cloud of Unknowing
and author of Man of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict

A contemplative seeker will find a mature, sane, reliable guide to that path in these pages. I found it full of the experiential spiritual wisdom found on that path, leading us into ever deeper intimacy with God. He well says that it is a path that belongs to everyone.

Any beginner on that path will find much selected wisdom from the great mystics of Christian tradition, along with McColman’s own gifted way of presenting that wisdom in an understandable and inspiring/insightful way for us.

More experienced contemplatives will recognize and benefit from re-looking at many dimensions and hopes of their own spiritual journeys in these pages as well.

Christian mystical tradition comes alive in both realistic and alluring ways in McColman’s lucid writing. It is an important contribution to the re-awakening and democratization of contemplative tradition in our time; that tradition carries so much of the depth of spiritual practice and awareness so needed in the church and world today.

The Rev. Tilden Edwards, Ph.D., founder and Senior Fellow,
Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation;
author of Embracing the Call
to Spiritual Depth

Overflowing with jewels of wisdom, Carl McColman’s generous new book, Answering the Contemplative Call, invites us on a journey of love where everyone is welcome and worthy, and it is impossible to get lost. It is a journey that necessarily begins within, and leads ever-deeper inward, to a place of resonant silence. Bountiful quotes from mystics who have walked the path before us provide a series of luminous stepping-stones for own adventure.

Mirabai Starr, author of God of Love

Carl McColman masterfully maps out for the serious spiritual seeker the nature of the mystical experience and outlines a clear and accessible pathway on how to get there.

Kyriacos C. Markides, author of
The Mountain of Silence

It is not often that a book is both very practical and very inspiring at the same time.  Carl McColman gives you much wise direction and broad understanding of the field of contemplative theory and practice.  The need is too great today to waste time relearning what has already been learned—so well.  Here is your teacher!

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, author of
The Naked Now

There is a sweetness—a candor—a gentleness to McColman’s work that makes him the most desirable of guides into the holy places of the soul. But there is also, as one would expect from such quietness, the enabling authority of one who knows and who, knowing, can wisely tell and share. This is a book to savor and then to treasure.

Phyllis Tickle, author of Emergence Christianity

Who else but Carl McColman could write such a magnificent primer on contemplative spirituality. If you long to journey deeper into the heart of God then this wise, accessible, practical, and engaging book should be on the top of your list. It is a first rate contribution to the conversation about the vital relevance of ancient spiritual practices for contemporary people thirsting for communion with God.

Ian Morgan Cron, author of Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me
and Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

This well-written book presents the classic precepts and practices of the Christian contemplative path in a clear and helpful way.

The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Ph.D., author of Centering Prayer and Inner
Awakening and The Wisdom Jesus

In this three-part narration of the spiritual journey, Carl McColman, in his own inimitable style, demystifies the mystical and clearly points toward a rich and rewarding life journey to be taken here and now. In his previous writings he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to break into bite sized pieces some really obscure, profound and paradoxical truths. Answering the Contemplative Call continues this approach as he explores the profound but illusive pathway of the mystic. If you find yourself haunted with a hunger “for something more” in life, this book will guide you in this eternal quest.

Ben Campbell Johnson, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary;
author of Hearing God’s Calland Companions in Contemplation

Answering the Contemplative Call not only offers a clear and compelling invitation to the contemplative life, but it points us toward the ineffable territory of the “pathless path”.   While reading this wonderful book I kept remembering that text, “when I am lost I am found”.  Carl McColman reminds us that the contemplative journey is the destination.    With deep insight and clarity framed by a lighthearted style he invites us to awaken to the Divine Mystery within and all around us.   Unambiguously, McColman affirms Christ consciousness as his spiritual anchor while also acknowledging the unity consciousness within other religious and spiritual traditions.  A remarkable blend of the universal and particular, Carl McColman’s unique perspective opens the reader to the Christian mystical tradition as a compass to the Holy Presence that pervades our lives—here and now.  These fieldnotes on the contemplative journey are so warmly written that the reader will likely hear in the author’s voice, a true spiritual companion.  If you have an appetite for spiritual food then here is a table where you will be fed.

 — Robert V. Thompson, former chair of the Parliament of World Religions
and author of A Voluptuous God

In a culture that seems to always expect a ‘big-box-store’ religion–with instant fixes and entertainments at our fingertips–Carl reminds us of the crucial nature of the journey in, with, and to Christ.  Only when we embark on this deep journey of exploration and wonder can we experience the fullness of intimacy with God.  This wonderful book should be chewed and savored within parishes who yearn with the question what might that Something More look like to a people who are truly hungry?

The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham, author of The Obedire Project

The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader

The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader

The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader

The Lion, The Mouse and The Dawn Treader shows the reader how C. S. Lewis was guided by two “templates” in writing Dawn Treader: first, an ancient Celtic folktale known as the immram, or wondrous sea-voyage, in which great saints like Brendan the Navigator sought to reach paradise itself.

But on another level, Lewis also built his adventure story around the traditional stages of the Christian life: from initial resistance to God’s grace, to discovering how sin enslaves us and “turns us into dragons,” to experiencing both the relief found in Christ and the cleansing waters of baptism.

From this period of purgation the story turns to the illuminating adventures of resisting further temptation, to exploring silence (and learning how to deal with distractions, or “Dufflepuds”), to a final terrifying journey to the “Island of Darkness” (the dark night of the soul). The final stage of union begins with a Eucharistic feast at Aslan’s Table where an ancient star and his lovely daughter sing joyfully every morning.

As the Dawn Treader sails beyond where the stars sing, the travelers find a world of wonders, characterized by light, and clarity, and finally the encounter with Aslan — Christ — himself.

by C. S. Lewis

…to Aslan’s country…

This book will delight fans of C. S. Lewis with new insights into one of his classic stories, and will also help the more casual reader (and movie-goer) to understand the rich meaning behind this charming children’s adventure.

A word from the author:

“To fully appreciate The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader, be sure to read it alongside C. S. Lewis’s Narnia adventure, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Each chapter in my book corresponds to the same chapter in Lewis’s. His book recounts the adventure; mine offers reflections for you to ponder as you make the journey to Aslan’s country at the very end of the Narnian world.”

Buy The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader:
Paperback: Amazon • Barnes & Noble
 Independent Bookstore (Online or Near You)
Ebook: Kindle • Nook • Kobo • Sony eReader

Praise for The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader:

Buried within C. S. Lewis’s children’s books are timeless messages about the Christian faith. Carl McColman reveals how Lewis’s fascinating adventure can help us more fully understand spiritual insights from not only Jesus himself, but also some of the great saints and mystics. By turns playful, provocative and profound, McColman asks us to ‘become like little children’ in order to understand some very adult lessons.

— James Martin, SJ, author of Between Heaven and Mirth

The Lion, The Mouse and The Dawn Treader is an amazing, thoroughly inspiring adventure. The Narnia stories are not just for children, but if you want help to assist children (or anyone) to understand their depth, read this book! You can touch the whole journey of the Christian search for God – and likely be spurred toward renewal in your own life – by getting on this Narnian ship.

— Trina Paulus, author of Hope for the Flowers

The publisher created this little video to promote the book…

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism

Selected as one of the best spiritual books of 2010 by!

Mysticism is a topic many people associate with eastern spiritual practices such as Zen Buddhism or yoga. But Christianity has its own mystical tradition with a long and rich history that reaches back to the New Testament — and remains surprisingly relevant today. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism explores this rich tradition and shows how it can be a powerful tool for transformation and the experience of the Divine.

One of the greatest Christian theologians of the twentieth century, Karl Rahner, once said “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” Such a statement challenges Christians of our day (we live in Rahner’s future!) to consider the role of mysticism in the Christian life. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism does just that.

As an introduction to Christian mysticism and an exploration of why mysticism remains relevant in our time, the first part of the book explores the question of what mysticism is, examining its Biblical roots, its paradoxical nature, and how Christian mysticism has evolved over time. The second part of the book considers how mysticism can make a difference in the lives of ordinary Christians today, considering how spiritual practices such as lectio divina, meditation, and contemplative prayer can foster a deeper openness to Divine presence. An extensive list of the greatest Christian mystics, a recommended reading list, and a bibliography round out this in-depth introduction.

Selected as one of the best spiritual books of 2010 by www.spiritualityandpractice.comThe Big Book of Christian Mysticism has been highly praised by a variety of spiritual teachers and authors.

Author’s statement
When I was eighteen years old, a friend of mine loaned me a copy of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. Like many folks raised in a mainstream Christian context, I had no idea that Christianity had such a rich and storied history of men and women who experienced profound, life-changing mystical encounters with God — nor did I have any sense that such a tradition could remain relevant, even today. But Underhill’s book opened the door to that wondrous spiritual world for me, and I have been an enthusiastic seeker of the mysteries ever since. I’ve come to believe that mysticism is Christianity’s “best kept secret,” and that a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, Christian mysticism can help Christians find greater meaning and joy in their faith, and help non-Christians to see the wisdom tradition that began with Jesus of Nazareth in a new light.

Given how important Underhill’s book has been to my own spiritual life, I discerned a desire to write an introduction to Christian mysticism for the third millennium. While my book can never replace or supplant hers, my hope is that it can help introduce its readers to the splendor and beauty of Christian mysticism, just as Underhill’s book made that introduction for me. So on a very personal level, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is my way of saying “thank you” to Underhill — and beyond her, to God, who Christians believe is the source of all true mystical experience.

Evelyn Underhill was a brilliant scholar who spent years researching the history and literature of mysticism. Her pioneering work led to further studies by such renowned academics as Bernard McGinn, Harvey Egan, Andrew Louth, and the late Grace Jantzen. My book is designed to serve as a complement to such important researchers and theorists. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism bridges the gap between the “ivory tower” of scholarly studies of mysticism, and the everyday experience of ordinary Christians, for whom mysticism is not a topic for bookish research, but rather an invitation to a deeper experience of God. Because I assume that my readers may not know anything about mysticism (or, for that matter, anything about Christianity!), it can be an ideal introductory book.

My spiritual journey, like that of many seekers in our time, has been marked by a variety of twists and turns. I was raised a Lutheran Christian, moving to the Episcopal/Anglican communion as a young adult. But I was also drawn to the wisdom of other traditions, including Buddhism and Neopaganism. Eventually I spent about seven years outside of Christianity, exploring Wicca, shamanism, Goddess spirituality, Celtic Druidism, Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, among other spiritual paths. But the Christian contemplative path called me back, and in my 40s I entered the Catholic Church, placing myself under the spiritual guidance of Cistercian monks and Benedictine wisdom. What all this means is that I’ve been able to ponder the meaning of Christian mysticism for people both inside and outside the institutional expression of Christianity (the church). With this in mind, I endeavored to write The Big Book of Christian Mysticism both for Christians who might be new to the topic of mysticism, but also for people outside of the Christian tradition, who may or may not be students of the mysteries, but who are unfamiliar with how mysticism has been uniquely experienced and expressed within the lineage of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth.

Mysticism is a wonderful “location” of spiritual experience, particularly for those who are more drawn to what unites all people, rather than what separates us. All through history, Christian mystics have been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue: the great conversation between people of different religions. Unlike how some Christians too often approach “others” merely as targets for conversion, the great mystics and contemplatives of the Christian faith, especially in the recent past and present, see mysticism as the bridge that enables fruitful and positive interaction across religious boundaries. Thus, Thomas Merton explored Buddhism, and Henri Le Saux became so immersed in Vedanta that he even took a new religious name as Swami Abhishiktananda. More recently, contemplatives like Cynthia Bourgeault, Tilden Edwards, Mary Margaret Funk, and Paul Knitter have been leaders on the frontier where Christian spirituality engages with the wisdom of other traditions. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is not an interfaith book per se: it really is intended to serve as an introduction to the distinctively Christian expression of mysticism. But it is written as a contribution to an understanding of spirituality that is both deep (as in deeply-rooted in the Christian path) and inclusive (open to the wisdom of others). It is my hope that readers who do not identify as Christians will nevertheless find in this book a lovely expression of a particular stream of spirituality. Meanwhile, those readers who do identify as Christians will find themselves called to a deeper, richer, more intimate, and hopefully transformational dimension of their faith.

Buy The Big Book of Christian Mysticism:
Paperback: Amazon • Barnes & Noble
 Independent Bookstore (Online or Near You)
Ebook: Kindle Version • Nook Version
iBooks • Sony eReader • Kobo
Audiobook: Audible

Praise for The Big Book of Christian Mysticism:

Mysticism is not mystifying at all, but simple, always available, and utterly clarifying.  Carl McColman’s much needed book will allow you to experience this for yourself!  Christians and all Seekers will find both meat and dessert in such a full meal.

Richard Rohr, OFM, author of The Naked Now:
Learning to See as the Mystics See

and Everything Belongs

Charmingly and conversationally written, but also rich in nuance and thorough in its coverage and its attention to detail, The Big Book is, as its name suggests, a big … even an enormous … contribution to our current literature on the subject.  Highly recommended.

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence:
How Christianity is Changing and Why
and God-Talk in America

Before I heard about The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, I had been thinking about how such a book has been needed for a long time. Now, having read it, I’m glad we waited for Carl McColman to come along to write it. It’s accessible, human, well-informed, balanced, broad … just what we needed.

Brian D. McLaren, author of A New
Kind of Christianity
A Generous Orthodoxy

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is a masterpiece of scholarship and wisdom. Carl McColman obviously earned his understanding of mysticism through years of research as well as his own personal spiritual journey and there is no more powerful combination for inspired writing.

Carolyn Myss, author of Defy Gravity
and Anatomy of the Spirit

Carl McColman has both studied and practised the Christian mystical tradition, stressing its earthiness and ‘ordinariness’. Like Thomas Merton, Michael Ramsey and others, he holds that mysticism is not an esoteric realm, reserved for the very holy, but is what all Christian life is about. I strongly commend this book.

Kenneth Leech, author of Soul Friend:
Spiritual Direction in the Modern World

A wise and supportive guidebook for those going deeper on the Christian mystical path, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is grounded in sound scholarship and thoughtful reflection (often surprisingly fresh and insightful!), but what makes it sing is the authenticity of the author’s own contemplative  journey.

The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, PhD, author of
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
and The Wisdom Jesus

With his Big Book, Carl McColman has pulled off a tour de force: a work on Christian mysticism that is broadly accessible, but deep; scholarly but not pedantic; reverent, but judicious; thorough, but a good read; an excellent introduction to the subject for the general reader, but with plenty of meat for the specialist.  Highly recommended for the neophyte, the informed, and the expert alike.

Robert Davis Hughes III, PhD, author of
Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit
in the Christian Life

In The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Carl McColman offers us a thorough and engaging exploration of Christian mysticism which he defines as a form of alchemy – that is, transformation through the Source of all Love.  His wise and clear writing takes us on a wide journey through both classical and contemporary mystic guides. Ultimately he invites us to catch a glimpse of the heart of Mystery through concrete suggestions for mystical practice and be transformed ourselves.

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, author of
Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire:The Christian
Practice of Praying with the Elements

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is truly a work of art as well as a spiritual guide for those who want to know more about Christian mysticism. Writing for a broad audience of readers, Carl wants everyone to become aware of that rich history and its potential meaning for today. He writes in a lively, engaging style, but his work comes out of deep wells of spiritual wisdom. Appealing to both head and heart, his book not only makes the history of Christian mysticism accessible, but also provides for readers guidance in prayer, contemplation, and transformation itself. For Carl, the great mystics are not just people specially gifted, but soul friends and spiritual mentors for anyone who seeks to live today with some degree of interiority, integrity, and joy. I highly recommend this book not only for general readers interested in mysticism and spirituality, but also for undergraduate or graduate students who need an introduction to what Carl himself calls “this ancient wisdom tradition.”

Edward C. Sellner, PhD, author of Wisdom of the
Celtic Saints
and Finding the Monk Within:
Great Monastic Values for Today

In this delightfully accessible book, Carl McColman dispels the notion that Christian mysticism exists somewhere in the ether, and reveals its solid, earthy roots. If you want a rich, nourishing life of faith, and virtues that flourish like wildflowers, read The Big Book of  Christian Mysticism, and let the good news in it transform you.

Claudia Mair Burney, author of God Alone is Enough:
A Spirited Pilgrimage with St. Teresa of Avila

If you are looking for both a primer on Christian mysticism as well as an in-depth treatment of this oft-misunderstood aspect of the spiritual life, here is your book.  Readable, useful, well-researched, Carl McColman’s book helps both the novice and those already well along on the journey toward a deeper relationship with God to see that mysticism is ultimately not at all a mysterious quest, but a human — and possible — one.

Paul Wilkes, author of Beyond the Walls:
Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life

and In Due Season: A Catholic Life

A brilliant contribution from a clear, concise and articulate author! Carl McColman’s Big Book deepens the conversation as he explores the paradoxes of the mystical/traditional approaches, outlines the bias against cultivating an interior life and illuminates the reader on practices to embrace in order to relate to a dynamic Living God.

Lauren Artress, author of
Walking a Sacred Path

Mysticism is at the heart of faith, whatever religious or denominational flag we raise. Thoughtful, well-written doorways into these mysteries, such as this one, matter a great deal to all of us who seek communion with the Mystery Itself.

Robert Benson, author of
The Echo Within
In Constant Prayer

Carl McColman’s Big Book of Christian Mysticism is an excellent introduction to the topic for beginners and is informative to those who have read widely on the topic. Its prose is inviting, its subject matter accessible, and its wisdom is that of the Christian tradition. It informs and inspires.

Dana Greene, author of Evelyn Underhill:
Artist of the Infinite Life

A remarkable overview of the riches, wisdom, paradoxes, practices, and major figures in Christian mysticism.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat,
authors of Spiritual Literacy:
Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is wise and wonderful, deceptively simple! Are you interested in having a relationship with something that’s ultimately unknowable? Me too. It’s not easy, but dig in, here!”

Jon M. Sweeney, author of Almost Catholic
and The St. Francis Prayer Book

In The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Carl McColman covers with uncanny clarity the 2000 years of paradox, complexity and variety that is Christian mysticism. His writing is imbued with his obvious love for and experience in this rich and under appreciated Western tradition. Part history, part expose, part practice primer, with a dash of heartfelt confession, this book will be your “go to” reference for the Christian contemplative journey.

Phil Foster MDiv, LPC, psychotherapist and
associate minister for spiritual development,
First Christian Church Atlanta

Praise for Carl McColman:

These days, my favorite Christian blogger is probably Carl McColman. I suggest checking him out. Very, very interesting guy…

James Ishmael Ford, author of Zen Master Who?
and In This Very Moment:
A Simple Guide to Zen Buddhism

Carl McColman is part Ken Wilber, part Richard Rohr, and part Indiana Jones’ dad.

Brittian Bullock, blogger, Sensual Jesus

Praise for Carl’s Blog:

A beautiful site… introducing all aspects of Christian mysticism.

Abbot Christopher Jamison, host of

“The Monastery” on the BBC