Okay, friends, I know we haven’t even made it to All Saint’s yet, but Christmas is less than two months away.
If you’re new to my blog, I write about Christian spirituality and contemplation. And I’m a bit of an evangelist about it — I want more people to learn about Christian spirituality (whether or not they go to church or even identify as “Christian”). I’m not trying to convert people, but I am convinced that contemplative and mystical spirituality offers a healthy and holistic alternative to the kind of Christianity that many people have rejected — the kind of Christianity that tends to be too aligned with a particular political ideology, and often seems to reduce the message of Jesus and his followers to nothing more than moralistic teachings.
Yes, Christianity, like all spiritual and religious traditions, has opinions about good and evil and healthy versus unhealthy behavior. But there’s so much more to spirituality than what the stereotypes suggest.
So… if you want to learn about the hidden mystical dimension of Christianity, or if you want to help someone you love to discover the spiritual riches of contemplative/mystical Christianity, here are a few books to get you started. And yes: they all make great gifts! So help Santa out, and get started on your holiday shopping.
- Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism — Okay, a bit of shameless self-promotion here: but this book was written with the beginner in mind. If you’d like a book to make the argument that mysticism matters in a Christian context, this might be a wonderful book for you.
- Ursula King, Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies Throughout the Ages — Spirituality is a story: the story of the human heart in loving embrace with the Divine Heart. So to learn Christian mysticism, it’s great to get a historical overview of mysticism down the centuries, and Ursula King’s book is an accessible survey that does precisely that.
- John Mabry, Growing Into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism — This book came out about the same time as mine did, and I think they complement each other beautifully. John takes a more historical approach, explaining the dynamics of mystical Christianity in the light of some of the great mystical teachers. It’s both filled with wisdom and accessible for the newcomer.
- Evelyn Underhill, Essential Writings — British author Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was perhaps the most important mystical writer in the English language in the 20th century, at least until Thomas Merton came along. She introduced me to mysticism, and many others as well. Here is an anthology that gathers together some of her most important writings on spirituality and mysticism. Her language and theology are a bit dated, but she remains an essential guide to the topic.
- Thomas Merton, A Course in Christian Mysticism — Thomas Merton taught a course on Christian mysticism for the monks of Gethsemani Abbey, and his notes for the course are detailed enough to fill a huge book. Editor Jon Sweeney waded through all the material and found the best bits, and arranged them in a highly readable survey of mystical spirituality — as taught by one of the great mystics of our time.
- Elaine A. Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism — many people, both inside and outside institutional Christianity, are allergic to the world “evangelism” — it conjures up images of pushy encounters with door-to-door missionaries or street-corner preachers. But Heath offers not only a much more healthy (and friendly) way of understanding “evangelism,” but by doing so she also explains what Christian mysticism is, as well.
- Edward Howells and Mark A. McIntosh, eds., Oxford Handbook of Mystical Theology — a bit more scholarly (and expensive), but this book is a feast for anyone who wants to explore the current state of academic thinking on the subject of mysticism. With essays from leading mystical scholars like Bernard McGinn, Rowan Williams, Andrew Louth, Amy Hollywood, and Louise Nelstrop, it’s a great introduction to the writers who can help you take your understanding of mysticism further and deeper.