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, […]

I’ll be joining “The Ride Home with John & Kathy” on Pittsburgh’s WORD-FM this afternoon at about 5:40 PM to discuss “How to Keep a Holy Lent.” If you’re in Pittsburgh I hope you’ll tune in.

Date: February 18, 2015
Time: 5:40-5:55 p.m.
Appearance: Guest on “The Ride Home with John & Kathy”
Outlet: WORD-FM (101.5 FM)
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Format: Radio

Carl McColman is the author of several books on the Christian contemplative life.

For spiritually, heaven is as close down as up, and up as down, behind as in front, in front as behind, on one side as on the other; so much so that whoever has a true desire to be in heaven, then in that moment he is in heaven spiritually. For the high road and the shortest road thither is measured by desire and not by yards.

The Cloud of Unknowing (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1981), pp. 238-239

“What drew you to the contemplative path?” This is the question posed to Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in this video, one of several filmed as part of the fortieth anniversary celebration of the Shalem Institute in 2013.

Good Goats

Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994)

Don’t let the whimsical illustrations by artist Francisco Miranda throw you off. This book provides a grounded discussion of how our image of God — the way we think about, or perceive, God — impacts our faith and especially our spiritual lives. When I teach introductory classes on Christian mysticism or contemplative prayer, I often refer to this book to help my students reflect on their own ways of imaging God. Many Christians (and even secular people) learn early in life that God is furious, God is wrathful, God is dangerous; and this image, often held subconsciously, can sabotage our attempts as adults to grow spiritually. Without taking time to heal our image of God, our efforts to pray or meditate may never get off the ground. This book is an essential guide to that necessary healing process.

This video was filmed in 2013 as part of the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. It’s one of several videos available online featuring Shalem’s Senior Program Director, Carole Crumley, interviewing Shalem founder Tilden Edwards and noted Franciscan author Richard Rohr. In this video they ponder the question, “What has changed in the understanding of contemplation” over the forty years from the 1970s to the present day.

There is no use trying to conceal how difficult it is to find time for private prayer in the congested schedules under which most modern people live. But at bottom it is not a question of finding time, it is a question of the depth of the sense of need and of the desire. Busy lovers find time to write letters to one another, often find time for long letters, although what really matters is not the length of the letter any more than it is the length of the prayer. In this life we find the time that is necessary for what we believe to be important.

Douglas V. Steere
Prayer and Worship (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1978), pp. 21-22
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.

The Lord God is the ground of our praying. Arising from this, we are shown true prayer and steady trust and God wants us to be generous in both alike. In this way our prayer is pleasing to him and in his goodness he fulfils it.

Julian of Norwich
Revelations of Divine Love (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009), 4

Scapegoats and Peacemaking

Sand and Sky: Desert Voices
February 3, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about René Girard and the role that scapegoating plays in religion. This blog post from Catholic priest David Denny nicely sums up why this is such an important issue in our day, and what a contemplative response to the problem of scapegoating might look like.

Seven Hopes for the Christian (and Church) of the Future

Church buildings will eventually crumble, but Divine Light lasts forever.

In his 1981 book Concern for the Church, Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner made his famous prediction, “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” A third of a century later, has Rahner’s prediction come to pass? The “not exist at all” part seems ominously real, as more […]

Video of a panel discussion at a conference I participated in at the Mangalam Research Center in Berkeley, CA, April 6-7, 2013. The theme of the conference was “The Language of Meditation Across Religious Traditions.” On Saturday the conference speakers presented papers amongst ourselves; on Sunday we participated in the panel discussion featured in this video, and then three of us led meditations for the conference attendees. It was a delightful weekend and a wonderful opportunity not only for me to share the language of Christian contemplation with scholar-practitioners of other faiths, but also to learn of their work as well.


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.

Martin Laird
Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 15-16