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

As a Christian, wide open to His penetrating Spirit, I can and should find all things in God and God in all things. Things — the gas-stove and the typewriter, the tube and the bus, streets and shops and all they contain. For every created substance is indwelt by the Supernatural Presence and is intended to express His thought and be maintained in His love and woven into the sacramental garment of His Holiness who despises nothing He has made.

Evelyn Underhill
The Mount of Purification (London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1960), pp. 76-77

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

The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowledge and one love.

Meister Eckhart
Selected Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1994), p. 179

Making (and Keeping) a Personal Rule of Life


Every January, lots of folks make New Year’s Resolutions. This year I will lose weight, exercise more, improve my diet, pay off my credit cards. Sadly, though, it seems that by Valentine’s Day (if not before) most New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten. New Year’s Resolutions point to two basic truths about being human. First, to […]

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.

If you truly practice mindfulness, it will never cause harm. If the practice doesn’t bring about more compassion, then it’s not right mindfulness. If you feel that your dreams aren’t coming true, you might think that you need to do more, or to think and strategize more. In fact, what you might need is less — less noise coming to you from both inside and outside — so that you have the space for your heart’s truest intention to germinate and flourish.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), p. 63
The Elusive Presence

The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000)

If you want to learn a grounded, contemplative reading of the Bible, The Elusive Presence is an excellent guide. First published in 1978, it methodically details how the sacred scripture of both Judaism and Christianity document a succession of encounters with God’s elusive presence — the “God who hides” of Isaiah 45:15. From the call of Abraham in Genesis to the Eucharistic encounter with Christ in the New Testament, Terrien unpacks every biblical moment of Divine Encounter. As he notes, “It is the distinctiveness of the Hebraic theology of presence rather than the ideology of the covenant which provides a key to understanding the Bible.” In other words, the Bible is a love letter, not a legal code — and Terrien brings that essential fact gloriously to life.

The third in a series of videos featuring Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation; Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation; and Carole Crumley, Senior Program Director for Shalem, filmed on the occasion of Shalem’s 40th anniversary. In this video the participants reflect on their hopes for Shalem in the future — and, by extension, their hopes for the future of Christian contemplative spirituality in general.

To love in this way is to become like God. As a drop of water seems to disappear completely in a quantity of wine, taking the wine’s flavor and color; as red-hot iron becomes indistinguishable from the glow of fire and its own original form disappears; as air suffused with the light of the sun seems transformed into the brightness of the light, as if it were itself light rather than merely lit up; so, in those who are holy, it is necessary for human affection to dissolve in some ineffable way, and be poured into the will of God.

Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p. 196

Lots of souls enter the spiritual life as a child enters a grocer’s shop, simply to ask for a pennyworth of sweets. All the riches and mysteries, the infinitely various gifts and opportunities of the supernatural world are before us—things bitter and astringent, things that feed us and light us, and things that cleanse us. The materials for a complete living-out of existence, more thorough and more taxing, because more real than the natural life alone could ever be. There it all is; and it will be given to us if we are willing to use it—done up perhaps in unattractive packets but none the less the food of Eternal Life. But what we want is the sweets!

Evelyn Underhill
The Mount of Purification (London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1960), 66

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, […]