2015 is not only the centennial of Thomas Merton, but of one of his brother monks, Matthew Kelty, who died in 2011 at the age of 95. Kelty was not as well known as Merton of course, but he wrote several books, including Flute Solo about his years living the life of a hermit. He was Merton’s confessor for a number of years. In this video, the first of two filmed in 2003, we hear Fr. Matthew reminisce about his brother monk.

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The Philokalia and the Inner Life (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012)

The Philokalia and the Inner Life: On Passions and Prayer is a splendid guide to one of the most important yet challenging anthologies of spiritual writing in western spirituality. The Philokalia, a multi-volume anthology of early Christian and Eastern Orthodox writings on prayer and holiness, is a treasure of the Christian contemplative tradition — and can also be daunting to the first-time reader. Christopher C. H. Cook provides a substantive introduction to The Philokalia considering it not only from a theological but also a psychological perspective. Like all great works of mystical or contemplative theology, the writings of The Philokalia address questions of mental as well as spiritual health, regarding the passions (what we might think of as unskillful thoughts and feelings, such as anger, greed or arrogance) as key challenges not which not only thwart our ability to respond to God’s grace, but also to live a good and happy life. Reminiscent of contemporary psychological interventions like cognitive therapy (which holds that changing thoughts is a key to emotional well-being), the spirituality of The Philokalia recognizes that unhealthy thoughts are the chief impediment to the quest for holiness. In other words, The Philokalia functions as a type of manual for inner well-being, although it prescribes a “praying cure” rather than a “talking cure”!

What I particularly enjoyed about The Philokalia and the Inner Life is its multiple charts and diagrams, detailing not only how different authors in the tradition understood the passions, but also in-depth ways of understanding how the passions arise within us, the role of the Beatitudes in the spiritual life, and even a thorough analysis of the language of interiority found throughout the anthology. Maybe it’s a little geeky, but if you want to truly appreciate how the riches of The Philokalia can make a practical difference in your life today, then this book is an excellent guide.

Carl, Fran, and Rhiannon, March 28, 2011.

Four years ago today Fran and Rhiannon and I had family photos taken. It was the last time we sat for formal portraits. Rhiannon passed away on August 30, 2014 after a lifetime of living with kidney and then liver disease. She was 29.

Several wonderful photos came out of that March 2011 shoot. Here’s one of them.

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Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (New York: Jericho Books, 2012)

Coming out of the evangelical tradition, Brian D. McLaren understands that some Christians may be nervous about a positive engagement with persons of other faiths because they wish to preserve a strong sense of Christian identity. This book explores this very issue, and recognizes that interfaith dialogue is a conversation, and need not be a threat to anyone’s faith. By looking at doctrine, liturgy, and mission, he takes on some of the obstacles that Christians may feel are holding them back from building interfaith relationships, and shows how, especially in today’s world, engagement with other religions is not a betrayal of Christian discipleship, but can and perhaps should be a necessary part of it.

You can do it, my friend: you can thrive with a daily practice of silent prayer

Photo by Fran McColman

In my travels I hear a lot from people who get discouraged regarding silent prayer. Some folks tell me their minds race too much when they try to pray in silence. Others tell me they’re so busy, they just can’t seem to find the time to pray. Still others talk about how they get bored during […]

We can be happy right now. We can have peace and joy in this very moment. Even if we have been restless our whole life and we have only two minutes left before we die, in that time we can stop our thoughts, take mindful breaths, and find stillness and peace. But why wait until we’re on our deathbed to become present and treasure the miracle of being alive?

Thich Nhat Hanh
Silence (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), p. 186

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 […]

Interview with Trappist monk Fr. William Meninger, OCSO. Fr. William was one of the three monks most involved in the launching of the centering prayer method of silent meditation.

Will and Spirit

Will and Spirit (New York: HarperCollins, 1982)

I’ve often said Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism is “the book that changed my life” but truth be told, Gerald May’s Will and Spirit had nearly as significant an impact. As Underhill introduced me to the mystical tradition within Christianity, May opened the door to how that tradition lives on today. Drawing on both science and theology, May attempts to chart what he calls a “contemplative psychology” and I think he largely succeeds.

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Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise (New York: HarperCollins, 2015)

Vietnamese Buddhisk monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers another gentle book filled with insight and commonsense spirituality. He celebrates his subject, silence, particularly in terms of the radiant silence found within each of us — as long as, and as soon as, we stop to listen. Anecdotes from the author’s own life, particularly in Viet Nam during the war, add color and depth to his narrative. This book is a lovely, inspirational call to find, and cherish, more silence in our frenzied lives.

Ordinarily God does not commence His self-communication as though by sudden and splendid bolts out of the blue. Rather, He operates gently and gradually, just as He does in nature. Niagara Falls begins with the imperceptible evaporation of oceans and rivers and lakes, and oak trees get their start from acorns, which develop imperceptibly over the years.

Thomas Dubay
Fire Within (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), pp. 41-42

“Just a touch of wildness” — Did Evelyn Underhill inspire C. S. Lewis?

"Just a touch of wildness"?

One of my favorite contemplative authors from the early twentieth century — Evelyn Underhill — corresponded with another favorite author, C. S. Lewis. Underhill (1875-1941) was the leading English author on Christian mysticism in her day. Lewis (1898-1963) became renowned especially for his imaginative spiritual fiction. Several of her letters to him are preservered in The Letters […]