Letter and Spirit: Thoughts and Silence?

SilentVoice

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 […]

I love this video from 1996 in which a young woman attempts to interview Raimon Panikkar, who was truly a living mystic. Notice how he rapidly takes control of the conversation and essentially begins to offer the young woman spiritual direction — gently, kindly, and with good humor. Watch his body language — his radiant smile, his sparkling eyes, even how he “hops” when he makes a point. Simply brilliant.

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The Writings of Julian of Norwich (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2006)

Julian of Norwich was not only a great mystic, but also a great writer, dancing along the frontier between poetry and prose as she eloquently gave voice to her sixteen showings (visions) and her years of theological reflection in response to them. She wrote a brief treatise shortly after receiving her showings, and a longer, more mature text some twenty years after the fact, describing the same events in her life but with a more nuanced description of their meaning. Because she was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer (writing in Middle English), Julian’s work is often translated for contemporary readers, but it is only in meeting her words in the language she herself would have used that we can appreciate the full beauty of her voice. Several editions of Julian’s work in the original Middle English are available, but this one from Penn State is far and away my favorite. Not only is it a beautifully designed book, with comprehensive notes to help unlock the mysteries of fourteenth-century vocabulary, but it also contains an in-depth foreword describing the various manuscripts that exist of Julian’s writings, and the challenges that face both scholars and students as we seek to encounter Julian’s words as she wrote them. Best of all, this edition includes both the short and long versions of her text, allowing readers insight into how Julian’s own thought evolved in her lifetime.

What is even more compelling is that the contemporary Church, in her liturgy, in Vatican II and in the new canon law repeatedly takes it for granted that “contemplation”, “mystical treasures”, an “abundance of contemplation”, “the experience of divine things” and “an assiduous union with God in prayer” are meant for each and every person in the Church.

Thomas Dubay
Fire Within (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 3

Psalm 131: Humility, Silence and Hope

A Silent, Restful Place: Monastery of the Holy Spirit, photo by Haven Sweet.

Sometimes I get asked “Where is contemplation in the Bible?” One obvious answer to this question is Psalm 131. It’s a short Psalm, only three verses. Here it is in its entirety from the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (but every translation works): O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised […]

The hound that runs after the hare only because he sees the other hounds running will rest when he is tired, or go home again. But if he runs because he’s seen the hare, he won’t stop, however tired he gets, until he has caught it.

Walter Hilton
The Stairway of Perfection (New York: Image Books, 1979), 115
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Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

One of the best books on contemplative prayer that I have ever read, Into the Silent Land is rich with quotations from the Christian saints and mystics, especially those of the east, and reveals how important silence, posture, and attentiveness are to the practice of attentive prayer. Laird’s writing is clear and luminous, and his understanding of the essential nonduality between God and God’s beloved creation makes this book a worthy addition to the mystical canon as well. Chapter Four, “The Three Doorways of the Present Moment,” is a particularly helpful discussion of the dynamics of the distracted human mind as it gently settles deeper and deeper into God’s gracious silent presence. For aspiring or seasoned contemplatives alike, this is a book  you will read and treasure again and again.

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Fully Human Fully Divine (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 2004)

“According to the teaching of many Church Fathers, particularly those of the East, Christian life consists not so much in being good as in becoming God.” So begins Michael Casey in this bold and important book which explores the lost doctrine of deification or divinization while reflecting on the Gospel of Mark. If his works strike you as scandalous, hold them alongside this gem of a quotation from the twelfth century Cistercian mystic and theologian, William of St Thierry: “When the soul reaches out in love to anything, a certain change takes place in it by which it is transmuted into the object loved.” (Meditations 3.8). Deification is not about assuming the nature of God, but through love we are invited into a type of mystical conformity with Christ. And by exploring this theme in a book about the Gospel of Mark, Casey illustrates how it has been a part of Christian identity from the very beginning.

Why We Need Contemplation

Ss. Teresa of Avila and Brigid of Kildare, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Macon, GA. Saint Teresa and Saint Brigid were two great contemplatives who were also engaged in making the world a better place.

I am troubled by the idea that it’s harder to be a child today than it was when I was young. Is that just my personal angst, the anxiety of someone moving rapidly through midlife? Or is there some truth to my worrisome intuition? Well, consider the following sobering statements, all culled from recent articles on respectable news […]

I put aside the day’s lecture. We had something urgent to talk about. We talked about the culture we live in, the way our world ignores—even silences—the mystical, the way it has deprived us of words, stopped us from speaking about the mystery that runs under and through our lives. We talked about the way the mystics give us a language, a vocabulary, to begin to articulate what we all taste and feel. We talked a little about Karl Rahner, about the way he suggests that being a mystic is a constituent element of the human person, that most of us are, in fact, repressed mystics.

William Harmless
Mystics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), Kindle Locations 31-34