I’ll be leading a retreat in May at the Dubose Conference Center in Monteagle, TN. Sponsored by the Beecken Center of the School of Theology at the University of the South, this retreat draws on the insight of Saint Benedict and St. Ignatius of Loyola, to reflect on how their wisdom can inform not only our spiritual growth as individuals, but also contemplative forms of leadership for churches and other organizations.

Date: May 15, 2015—May 17, 2015
Event: Mindful Discernment, Contemplative Community
Topic: Contemplative Leadership
Sponsor: The Beecken Center
Venue: DuBose Conference Center
Location: Monteagle, TN
Public: Public
Registration: Click here to register.
More Info: Click here for more information.

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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.

Monastery of the Christ in the Desert

christ_painting_homeHere’s a link to a legendary website. When I first gained access to the internet in the mid-1990s, the coolest monastic website belonged to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico. This Benedictine community had created a home page that was beautifully designed and evoked the contemplative spirit of its community. It’s my understanding that the monastery’s website was one of the most highly visited sites of the time. It’s nice to see they’re still online, with a site that now feels a bit retro — but still lovely and easy to navigate.

Videographers Sean Kimbell and Chris Carter of DC Hobbies in Covington GA filmed this aerial glimpse of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit on an overcast morning in September 2014 using a DJI Phantom Vision 2 remote-controlled aerial vehicle. I’m not wild about the soundtrack, so I suggest you turn it down low. But the cinematography is lovely. The video begins with footage of the monastery’s visitor center (including the Abbey Store, where I used to work). But then it turns to the monastery itself, with its majestic Abbey Church and traditional cloister. It’s a nice, bird’s-eye peek into parts of the monastery that are not generally open to the public.


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.

Here’s the conclusion of this video interview with Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO: “Silence and Prayer, Part 2.”

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

Here is a gem. This short video of Thomas Merton was filmed on December 10, 1968 in Bangkok, part of a lecture he gave on monasticism, communism, and interfaith dialogue. He talks about the Dalai Lama, argues that Marxism is a pale counterfeit of consecrated religious life, and makes a plea for Catholics to be open to learning from Buddhism and other faiths. Even this short snippet is rich with insight. What is profoundly moving about this video is that it was filmed the day Merton died — literally within an hour or so of this lecture, he was electrocuted in a freak accident. At the end he tells the audience that he won’t entertain questions until the evening, a promise he would not be able to keep.

The beginning of the path to finding God is awareness. Not simply awareness of the ways that you can find God, but an awareness that God desires to find you.

James Martin
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p. 51

Here’s a lovely interview with Father James Conner, OCSO, a monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Fr. James has been a Trappist monk since 1949 and worked closely with Thomas Merton for many years, studying with Merton and serving with him as Merton’s assistant novice master. He talks about dealing with loss, the spirituality of surrender, how everyone is on a sacred journey, and his understanding of what constitutes “real prayer.”

Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings

Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003)

One of the most celebrated of twentieth century writers, Flannery O’Connor’s Irish Catholic roots (and devout faith) shaped her southern gothic fiction, essays and letters. This concise anthology collects a representative sampling of O’Connor’s work to showcase her nuanced spirituality — and like all of her writing, what emerges is a keen insight laced with occasional biting wit.

Contemplation has a context: it does not occur in a vacuum. Today’s context is that of the multinational corporations, the arms race, the strong state, the economic crisis, urban decay, the growing racism, and human loneliness. It is within this highly deranged culture that contemplatives explore the waste of their own being. It is in the midst of chaos and crisis that they pursue the vision of God and experience the conflict which is at the core of the contemplative search. They become part of that conflict and begin to see into the heart of things. The contemplative shares in the passion of Christ which is both an identification with the pain of the world and also the despoiling of the principalities and powers of the fallen world-order.

Kenneth Leech
Prayer and Prophecy (New York: Seabury Books, 2009), p. 230