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.
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, […]
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.
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.
How, exactly, does Christian mysticism relate to all the other “mysticisms” of the world (Kabbalah, Sufism, Taoism, Vedanta, Zen, etc.)? A reader of this blog writes: I have been reading your Big Book of Christian Mysticism: on page 64 you say that “Ultimately … no absolutely clear distinction can be drawn between Christian and non-Christian […]
The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010)
This is a pricey book (so you might want to check it out of your local library), but it’s certainly worth tracking down, simply because Underhill’s letters are such a delight. As one of the foremost British writers on Christian spirituality and mysticism in the first four decades of the twentieth century, Underhill published a large array of books, some scholarly, some devotional, but nearly all suffused with her elegance and reserve. Thankfully, in her letters — ranging from loving missives to her husband, to fascinating correspondence with people like C. S. Lewis, Rufus Jones, or the Archbishop of Canterbury — we see a less guarded Evelyn Underhill, where she is willing to scold Lewis for his chauvinistic attitude toward animals or “purr” when telling her husband about a good review one of her books received. What is perhaps most important of all is how these letters reveal her genius as a spiritual director, providing common-sense advice and insightful encouragement to those who wrote to her seeking counsel. While this is not the first volume of Underhill’s letters to be published, its careful annotations make it the essential collection.
If anyone is tempted to think either that [the Christian] mystics are overstating what occurs in the transforming union or that this summit is not for everyone, I would simply invite the doubter to stop, to reread Ephesians 3:19–20, and then to think about it seriously for five uninterrupted minutes.
Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and the Gospel On Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), p. 175
Recently a reader left the following comment on this blog: I have been reading and tried to practice the way of a contemplative life although poorly I believe. But my hunger for anything on the topic of contemplation continues. Recently I have also been enticed into “mindfulness” practices. Now what or how do you relation […]
What the Mystics Know (New York: Crossroad, 2015)
First, let me admit something: I’m not crazy about books that anthologize excerpts of writings from other sources. I find such “taken out of context” selections to be jarring to read. But that’s just my bias, so I’m recommending What the Mystics Know even though it’s that kind of book: sort of a “best of Richard Rohr,” at least in terms of his sizable corpus of writings published by Crossroad. Broadly divided into seven categories including enlightenment, imperfection, suffering, paradox, contemplation, truth and transformation, this book gathers together much of Father Richard’s easily accessible wisdom — not only on mysticism, but indeed on life in general. If you’re not familiar with Rohr, this would be a great starting point; if you already know his work, What the Mystics Know could work beautifully as a daily devotional.
There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence.
Here’s a delightful video filmed in 2011, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (the book which directly inspired two of my books, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call). My friend Dana Greene, who is an Underhill scholar, is here interviewed by Liz Ward of the Shalem Institute to shed some light on who Evelyn Underhill was, and why her wonderful book on mysticism still matters, after over a century in print.
The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart (New York: Crossroad, 2009)
Translated by Maurice O’C Walshe with revisions and a foreword by Bernard McGinn, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart offers nearly 600 pages of English translations of the great medieval mystic’s German writings. With 97 sermons and five treatises, there’s enough material here for months, if not years, of study. Eckhart generally was more daring in his German works than in his Latin compositions, so it’s here that you’ll get the full sweep of his speculative mystical thought.
The mystical life is beyond our power, nothing we can do can bring it to us, but God is longing to give it to us, to all of us, not to a select few.
In his sermon On Conversion, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux quotes Acts 26:24, only he paraphrases it like this: “Too much thinking has made you mad!” Whenever I see a verse like this rendered in an unusual or thought-provoking way, I like to check out the original Greek or Hebrew, even though I’m strictly an amateur when […]
Here is a set of slides I created for an introduction to the Christian practice of contemplation, especially in terms of silence and silent prayer. Contemplative, silent prayer is for everyone, and this slide show explains what it is, why it matters, who should do it, how to do it, and resources for further reading and exploration.