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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
I remind people that there is no Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing. The playing field is utterly leveled. The air of the earth is one and the same air, and this divine wind “blows where it will” (John 3:8) — which appears to be everywhere. No one and no religion can control this spirit.
When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly — breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer always said, “Stay with the breath, attend to your breath”: the same breath that was breathed into Adam’s nostrils by this Yahweh (Genesis 2:7); the very breath that Jesus handed over with trust on the cross (John 19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn’t it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit and air are precisely nothing — and yet everything?
One of my favorite writers, Father Martin Laird, videotaped speaking at the “Festival of Faiths” conference in Louisville, KY in 2013. Martin Laird is the author of Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence, two wonderful books on the practice of Christian contemplation.
“There is in God (some say) A deep, but dazzling darkness” — Henry Vaughan “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” — Isaiah 45:15 “Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, […]
A number of good anthologies of the Christian mystics have been published over the years; this one is certainly one of my favorites. Arranged topically rather than chronologically, it provides an overview not only of the literature of mysticism but of the breadth of ideas and wisdom that mystical theology and spiritual teaching entails. Topics include Biblical interpretation, asceticism and purgation, prayer and the sacraments, mystical practices, vision, contemplation, rapture, deification, and union with God. Final sections examine the relationships between mysticism and heresy, and between contemplation and action. All the major mystical writers of the Christian tradition are included, making this a comprehensive overview of the tradition; and McGinn’s perceptive commentary make the texts come alive.
This book explores the mystical life through Evelyn Underhill’s classic model of spiritual development: awakening, purgation, illumination, dark night and union. The author has a generous sense of the boundaries of mysticism making this is a very broad and inclusive treatment of the topic. The back matter of the book is very strong: including a generous selection of quotations from the mystics and suggested spiritual practices for each of the “stages” of the spiritual life.
Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition… when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and always have been one with God and we are all one in God.