How Mysticism is Unique — and Universal

One Light... Many Candles...

How, exactly, does Christian mysticism relate to all the other “mysticisms” of the world (Kabbalah, Sufism, Taoism, Vedanta, Zen, etc.)? A reader of this blog writes: I have been reading your Big Book of Christian Mysticism: on page 64 you say that “Ultimately … no absolutely clear distinction can be drawn between Christian and non-Christian […]

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The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010)

This is a pricey book (so you might want to check it out of your local library), but it’s certainly worth tracking down, simply because Underhill’s letters are such a delight. As one of the foremost British writers on Christian spirituality and mysticism in the first four decades of the twentieth century, Underhill published a large array of books, some scholarly, some devotional, but nearly all suffused with her elegance and reserve. Thankfully, in her letters — ranging from loving missives to her husband, to fascinating correspondence with people like C. S. Lewis, Rufus Jones, or the Archbishop of Canterbury — we see a less guarded Evelyn Underhill, where she is willing to scold Lewis for his chauvinistic attitude toward animals or “purr” when telling her husband about a good review one of her books received. What is perhaps most important of all is how these letters reveal her genius as a spiritual director, providing common-sense advice and insightful encouragement to those who wrote to her seeking counsel. While this is not the first volume of Underhill’s letters to be published, its careful annotations make it the essential collection.

If anyone is tempted to think either that [the Christian] mystics are overstating what occurs in the transforming union or that this summit is not for everyone, I would simply invite the doubter to stop, to reread Ephesians 3:19–20, and then to think about it seriously for five uninterrupted minutes.

Mindfulness and Contemplation: What’s the Difference?

Like a gentle stream, mindfulness and contemplative prayer both seek clarity. Yet only prayer seeks the face of God.

Recently a reader left the following comment on this blog: I have been reading and tried to practice the way of a contemplative life although poorly I believe. But my hunger for anything on the topic of contemplation continues. Recently I have also been enticed into “mindfulness” practices. Now what or how do you relation […]

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What the Mystics Know (New York: Crossroad, 2015)

First, let me admit something: I’m not crazy about books that anthologize excerpts of writings from other sources. I find such “taken out of context” selections to be jarring to read. But that’s just my bias, so I’m recommending What the Mystics Know even though it’s that kind of book: sort of a “best of Richard Rohr,” at least in terms of his sizable corpus of writings published by Crossroad. Broadly divided into seven categories including enlightenment, imperfection, suffering, paradox, contemplation, truth and transformation, this book gathers together much of Father Richard’s easily accessible wisdom — not only on mysticism, but indeed on life in general. If you’re not familiar with Rohr, this would be a great starting point; if you already know his work, What the Mystics Know could work beautifully as a daily devotional.

Here’s a delightful video filmed in 2011, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (the book which directly inspired two of my books, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call). My friend Dana Greene, who is an Underhill scholar, is here interviewed by Liz Ward of the Shalem Institute to shed some light on who Evelyn Underhill was, and why her wonderful book on mysticism still matters, after over a century in print.

 

 

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The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart (New York: Crossroad, 2009)

Translated by Maurice O’C Walshe with revisions and a foreword by Bernard McGinn, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart offers nearly 600 pages of English translations of the great medieval mystic’s German writings. With 97 sermons and five treatises, there’s enough material here for months, if not years, of study. Eckhart generally was more daring in his German works than in his Latin compositions, so it’s here that you’ll get the full sweep of his speculative mystical thought.

Letter and Spirit: Thoughts and Silence?

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In his sermon On Conversion, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux quotes Acts 26:24, only he paraphrases it like this: “Too much thinking has made you mad!” Whenever I see a verse like this rendered in an unusual or thought-provoking way, I like to check out the original Greek or Hebrew, even though I’m strictly an amateur when […]

Here is a set of slides I created for an introduction to the Christian practice of contemplation, especially in terms of silence and silent prayer. Contemplative, silent prayer is for everyone, and this slide show explains what it is, why it matters, who should do it, how to do it, and resources for further reading and exploration.

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The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (New York: HarperOne, 2012)

This delightful book, by one of my favorite contemporary authors, demystifies the world of Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality by showing how it can be applied to real-world living. James Martin is a master at taking historical spiritual theology and illustrating its timeless value by using down-to-earth stories from his own life as well as the lives of many of his Jesuit brothers. He is an honest writer who skillfully presents some difficult ideas in a way that is accessible and meaningful. This book covers Ignatian approaches to faith in God, prayer, discernment, relationships and vocation. When I read it, I concurrently read Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and I think Martin does a superb job at showing how this sixteenth century spirituality remains vital and relevant today — not just for Jesuits, but for everybody.

Seeking Silence (with the Inner Room’s Kevin Johnson)

"Lost in the Cosmos" Blog, Patheos
May 12, 2015

Here’s a wonderful, in-depth interview with an honest-to-God contemplative theologian, Kevin Johnson, who is the founding director of The Inner Room, a Catholic lay association devoted to Christian contemplation and continuing theological education with an emphasis on works of compassionate service in the world. Kevin is the real deal, and shares with me a deep commitment to Jesus Christ along with a genuine interest in learning of the contemplative wisdom from other traditions, particularly Buddhism, but in a way that respects the distinctions and uniqueness of both paths. After you read this wonderful interview, be sure to follow him on Twitter at @johnsoxo.

Contemplation and the Ocean of Presence

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Here’s a little video I filmed last month at the Gulf Coast. It’s only about 45 seconds long and consists of the sunset and the surf. I offer it to you as a little moment of serenity. Please enjoy. I know some people might find a little video like this boring. Compared to Hollywood culture or Madison […]

Contemplative Leadership with Saints Benedict and Ignatius of Loyola

Saints Benedict and Ignatius of Loyola, Contemplative Leaders

In recent months I have become very interested in the topic of leadership. Which might seem silly, since I do not manage people, or lead a congregation, or hold a military command position. But I’ve come to recognize that “leadership” is a topic that has broad implications, broader than just our job descriptions. And for […]