Three Mystics You May Have Missed

Lesser Known — But Wonderful — Voices in the Contemplative Tradition

Jan Van Ruysbroeck (Ruusbroeck), a mystic worth reading (image: public domain)

Walk into a Catholic bookstore — or a general bookstore large enough to have a “Christian mysticism” section — and you will see books by or about Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila, along with anonymous works like The Cloud of Unknowing or The Way of a Pilgrim.  These are the “A-List” mystics: […]

One of my writing students recently introduced me to the work of Eric Whitacre, who has become a bit of a celebrity for his “virtual choir” videos, featuring the recordings of hundreds or even thousands of vocalists from around the world, mixed together to create stunning performances of the composer’s works. As my wife and I were watching one of the virtual choir videos last night, Fran remarked that it would be lovely to see this done with music as prayer. Well, they could start with this deeply contemplative piece, nine minutes of “Alleluia.” While it hasn’t been performed by a virtual choir (yet), this video features a choral recording of “Alleluia” paired with some lovely nature scenery. Watch it, or simply let it be the soundtrack to your day. Either way you’ll be blessed.

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The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011)

Here is a six-hundred-page treasure: a collection of 77 sermons by a seventh century music, Isaac the Syrian (also known as Isaac of Ninevah). Syriac Christianity has a long mystical streak, and St. Isaac one of its most eloquent and renowned voices. Be sure to check out homily 28 — if you’re anything like me, you’ll find St. Isaac’s theology of eternity and the love of God to be beautiful (but not sentimental) and profoundly intuitive.

I’ll be teaching “Introduction to World Mysticism” through Evening at Emory on a series of five Wednesday evenings beginning October 21, 2015. For more information or to register, click here.

Date: October 21, 2015—November 18, 2015
Time: 07:00-09:00 p.m.
Event: Introduction to World Mysticism
Topic: Introduction to World Mysticism
Sponsor: Emory Continuing Education
Venue: Emory Continuing Education
Location: 12 Executive Park Drive
Atlanta, GA
Registration: Click here to register.

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

Truly, there is so great a din in your heart, and so much loud shouting from your empty thoughts and fleshly desires that you can neither see nor hear Him. Therefore, silence this restless din, and break your love of sin and vanity. Bring into your heart a love of virtues and complete charity, and then you shall hear your Lord speak to you.


Walter Hilton
The Stairway of Perfection (New York: Image Books, 1979), p. 131

Seven Ways the Mystics Inspire Us Today

How the Spirituality of the Past will Craft the Christianity of the Future

Scott Boulevard Baptist Church, Decatur, GA; March 2015. Today this building no longer exists; it was demolished and the land will be developed for retail and/or residential use.

One of my favorite quotations comes from Karl Rahner: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist.” It’s a prophetic statement, from a man who died in 1984. When paired with the demographic realities of the last 30 years (Americans who identify as Christian comprised 85% of the population in 1985, […]

Laudato Si'

Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)

The latest encyclical from Pope Francis has garnered a lot of attention, for never has a Pope spoken so forcefully about the duty of Christians — really, of all people — to care for the environment, and to work to stop such problems as global warming. The Pope’s critics whine that he takes a scolding tone in this document, and certainly this is not meant to be a “feel good” read. Even if you are predisposed to agree with Pope Francis, you may find this to be a challenging and sobering read. However, anyone with a clear grasp of Christian spirituality cannot dispute its central thesis: that stewardship for the environment is integrally linked with care for the poorest and most vulnerable members of the human family, and that both social and environmental justice are impossible without a firm spiritual foundation.

I’ll be teaching a class this fall on a series of Monday evenings, September 14 through October 26, on “Taking Your Contemplative Practice Deeper.” This class will be meeting in a private home in the Morningside Neighborhood of Atlanta. There are a limited number of openings for this class, which will cost $100. The class meets from 7 to 8:30 PM for seven Monday evenings. If you are interested, please contact me using my Contact Page. Thank you.

Date: September 14, 2015—October 26, 2015
Time: 07:00-08:30 p.m.
Event: Taking Your Contemplative Practice Deeper
Topic: Taking Your Contemplative Practice Deeper
Venue: Private Residence, Morningside Neighborhood of Atlanta
Public: Private

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

To be honest, I have to say that I see little difference between writing and praying. They both happen in the same place — that core of my person where all the wisdom lives. They both require attentiveness and honesty and an open heart. And the two disciplines — the art and the spirituality — are so intertwined that it’s really inaccurate to refer to them separately. When I tend to the one, the other is helped. When I dismiss either one, both suffer.

How Saint Benedict Can Help Us Grow Spiritually

The Benedictine Vows and a Life of Integrity, Commitment, and Mindfulness

Monk in Stained Glass (Panaspics/Shutterstock)

How can the wisdom of the monastery help folks like you and me — who are not monks or nuns — to grow spiritually? To answer that question, we can begin by looking at The Rule of Saint Benedict. The Rule of Saint Benedict remains one of the great classics of western spirituality, even though it was written […]

Here is a delight: Philip Marshall (I don’t know who he is, but he has a beautiful voice) reads “Immanence,” a poem by Evelyn Underhill. Enjoy!

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Journey to the Heart: Christian Contemplation Through the Centuries (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)

Beautifully illustrated and featuring a number of noted contributors (Laurence Freeman, Esther de Waal, Kallistos Ware, Shirley du Boulay and Andrew Louth, among others), this narrative history of Christian contemplation looks at the key figures in two millennia of Church history. Starting with Freeman’s thoughtful essay of Jesus as a contemplative teacher, the anthology explores how both the theology and practice of silence and prayer are found in every chapter of Christian tradition. I only have one quibble with the book: the final chapter profiles John Main, begging the question why other prominent late twentieth century contemplatives (like Thomas Keating) were left out.

“Thank you for another day,” I whisper each morning. The sheets on my bed feel good. The light coming through the window is a gift. How do I want to live out this day? I look at the African violet on my windowsill. If I don’t water it, it will die. I see that my spirit is no different. I am beginning to listen a lot. The silence is my water.

Paula D'Arcy
The Gift of the Red Bird (New York: Crossroad, 1996), pp. 58-9

This is a treat I just discovered the other day: an interview with Howard Thurman, an American mystic who not only represents a beautiful embodiment of contemplative faith as expressed in an African-American, Baptist context, but also who was a prophetic voice for justice (and a mentor to one Martin Luther King, Jr.). This is a long video (over two hours) so bookmark this page and come back to it when you have the time to savor Dr. Thurman’s quiet presence, his beautiful voice, and most of all, his palpably deep wisdom.