Principles for Contemplative Spirituality (Part Two)

Contemplation is like a path through a beautiful garden.
Contemplation is like a path through a beautiful garden.

Last week I shared six principles that guide me in my understanding of what Christian contemplative spirituality is. This week I’m sharing six more.

As I said last week, it’s a bit of a paradox to offer principles for a spiritual practice that is grounded in silence and invites us into silence. Speaking of silence: perhaps the ultimate irony. Nevertheless, we human beings are inveterate thinkers, talking, reflectors, philosophizers. I think it’s helpful to reflect on “what we talk about when we talk about contemplation” so that, at the very least, we have a common set of understandings and assumptions to bring us together — not only when we talk about contemplation, but even more important, when we relax into the silence, whether alone or together.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. I’m a little embarrassed that all the authors I’ve quoted “look like me” (i.e., are white males). That doesn’t mean that women or people of color have nothing to contribute! It’s mainly an indictment of my own limited resources. But I hope you’ll simply appreciate these principles for what they have to say, not who originally said them. And if you have any suggestions of additional ideas — regardless of their source — please let me know.

Note: This is the second part of a two-part series. To see part one, click here.

  • Truly, you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior (Isaiah 45:15).
    There’s an old cheap criticism of mysticism which suggests “it begins in mist, ends in schism, and is centered on ‘I’.” But in fact, authentic Christian mysticism begins in mystery, ends in community, and is centered in Christ.
  • For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).
    Faith is more than just “thinking the right thoughts,” it’s living a sacred life — of silence, prayer, and compassion. We can think all the right thoughts and still have hearts devoid of love. Better to admit we don’t have it all figured out, but that we seek to love the way God loves, for after all, God is love.
  • The mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic (William McNamara).
    Contemplation is not about conforming to an external norm but about discovering our unique identity in Christ.
  • Mysticism brings about new ways of knowing and loving based on states of awareness in which God is present not as an object to be comprehended, but as the direct and transforming center of our lives. (Harvey D. Egan)
    Contemplation (and mysticism) are not about “experience” but rather point to a transfigured consciousness which enables us to love as God loves and to bring God’s presence to the world.
  • Contemplative leadership is relational, rooted in prayerful attentiveness and open to the overflowing energies of the Loving Presence, moment by moment, enlivening the interdependent creative and healing possibilities of our world. (Tilden Edwards)
    Being a contemplative means more than just personal development. It fosters a revolutionary way of leading and collaborating with others, in which the “Loving Presence” inspires us to creativity, compassion, and engaged activism in the service of justice and love.
  • While keeping their identity intact, Christians must be prepared to learn and to receive from and through others the positive values of their traditions. (Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue)
    In the contemplative life, no one is an island — nor is any one religious tradition. Christian contemplation finds that fidelity to Christ is deepened, not threatened, by respectful engagement with the contemplative traditions of other faiths.

Do these principles resonate with you? Please let me know: leave a comment here, or on social media.


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Carl McColman
Soul Friend and Storyteller. Lay Cistercian, Catechist, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Speaker, Teacher, Retreat Leader.


  1. I am so appreciative that you have appeared on my screen with your comments on contemplation and mysticism. I can remember only one pertinent quote. The future Christian will be a mystic or nothing at all (hope I got it right) –Rahner. Thank you.

  2. Good stuff Carl.
    And here are a few others (among the somewhat famous) who seem to be mystics to me (who are not of the white male persuasion) : Bernadette Roberts, Lucille Clifton, Joan Chittister, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, JR., Peace Pilgrim, Cynthia Bourgeault, Anne Lamont, Teresa of Avila, Amma, Howard Thurman, Billie Holiday, Clare of Assisi, Annie Dillard, Carolyn Forsche, Odetta, Ecknath Easwaran, Hildegard de Bingen, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mary Oliver, Julian of Norwich, Margaret Fuller, etc.
    Not all ‘Christian’ in the mainstream or orthodox sense…but how many Gods are there?
    Keep up the good work and good questions to ponder.

  3. Here I am drawn to the Egan quote. I know that when I have been consistent in practicing daily contemplative prayer I have been a better, kinder person.

    I am once again beginning your 2013 prompts for contemplation in Winterfeast for the Soul. I have already used in all the way through at least twice and bits of it at other times. I enjoyed the 2014 guidance, too, but loved 2013 more because it was all focused on Scripture! For others who might like to use this material as a guide to actually doing contemplative prayer, see

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