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.


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 […]

Let all my world be silent in your presence, Lord, so that I may hear what the Lord God may say in my heart. Your words are so softly spoken that no one can hear them except in a deep silence. But to hear them lifts him who sits alone and in silence completely above his natural powers, because he who humbles himself will be lifted up. He who sits alone and listens will be raised above himself.

Guigo II
Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1979), pp. 90-91
Anam Cara

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (New York: Cliff Street Books (HarperCollins), 1997)

Nearly twenty years after its publication, John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom remains one of the most beautiful and poetic statements of Celtic Christianity, not as some sort of historical artifact from the days of Saint Patrick, but as a living reality still found in the out-of-the-way places of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. By exploring themes such as friendship, the senses, solitude, work, aging and death, O’Donohue — still a Catholic priest when this book was written — invites the reader into a place of meditative pondering and silent wonder. Read it slowly, and then read it again.

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.

Walter Hilton
The Stairway of Perfection (New York: Image Books, 1979), 115

Personal prayer does not dispense us from corporate prayer. The one sustains the other…. The prayer of the office can teach me that the world of prayer is much larger than just my own sweet personal self. I may well discover that prayer is not actually even for me.

Robert Benson
In Constant Prayer (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), p. 58

The meaning of silence is reflected upon in the context of God’s Word spoken to man in revelation. In order to hear God speak man must listen, and in order to listen he must be silent. Thus silence is necessary for every Christian, not just for the monk. Silence is not only necessary for listening to God’s Word, but it can be the response of man. Indeed, silence is essential for the life of intimacy with God to which man is called. Silence is necessary for prayer.

Ambrose G. Wathen OSB
Silence: The Meaning of Silence in the Rule of St. Benedict (Washington, DC: Cistercian Publications, 1973), p. xi

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.

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


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.