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

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?

Richard Rohr
The Naked Now (New York: Crossroad, 2009), 26

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.

The Dazzling Darkness

Photo by Fran McColman

“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, […]

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: Modern Library, 2006)

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.


Growing into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2012)

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.

I’ll be teaching Introduction to Christian Mysticism through Emory University Continuing Education this summer. For more information, click here.

Date: July 28, 2015—August 25, 2015
Time: 07:00-09:00 p.m.
Event: Introduction to Christian Mysticism
Topic: Christian Mysticism
Sponsor: Emory Continuing Education
Venue: Emory Continuing Education
Location: 12 Executive Park Drive NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.

To invite me to speak to your community, click here.

You know how sometimes one stands on a sea shore and looks at a distant coast line, dimly seen through haze without detail, giving only a mysterious assurance of a great country really there—a Presence. And yet that quiet, dream-like outline is the outline of a real world, richly living, full of colour, beauty, detail, beyond our focus—not alien, since the Ocean of Spirit washes its shores and ours too. So the Mystery of God is seen by our dim sight, like a dream on the mind’s horizon, but really no abstraction, no colourless negation, but a world of unimaginable richness, wide spaces, great rivers, mighty ranges of mountains, lying beyond our range, stretching away and away into the far horizon of His Eternal Life.

Evelyn Underhill
The Mount of Purification (London: Longmans, Green and Co., Ltd., 1960), 68-9

North Decatur Presbyterian Church invited me to lead a three week series on the life, writings, and spiritual meaning of Thomas Merton. The class is on Sunday mornings between services, and is open to the public.

Date: April 12, 2015—April 26, 2015
Time: 09:30-10:30 a.m.
Event: Exploring Thomas Merton
Topic: Thomas Merton
Sponsor: North Decatur Presbyterian Church
(404) 636-1429
Venue: North Decatur Presbyterian Church
(404) 636-1429
Location: 611 Medlock Road
Decatur, GA 30033

To invite me to speak to your community, click here.


The Mystic Way of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008)

Here’s a book that I use repeatedly when I speak about the necessity of recovering an authentic mystical spirituality for the church today. Heath is a professor of Christian Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, and has made an excellent case for why the mystics throughout church history can be our best guides as we seek to be faithful to the Gospel today, not only as individuals but as a community of faith.

It is often said that contemplation is a very refined and special activity of the mind, something that only monks and holy people do. Because there are places set apart for the refined search for God, it is assumed that those who reside there have some kind of edge on the God-market. But there is something of the monk in everyone. We all know and cherish places where we can gather ourselves, our thoughts, our loves. And we monks know that what we strive for is to be found everywhere.

James Stephen Behrens
Portraits of Grace (Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications, 2007), p. 119