Welcome to my website.
I am Carl McColman. I’m a writer and speaker based just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I am fascinated by the question of how language can help us — or hinder us — as we try to express the most inexpressible subject imaginable: God.
I love to talk to children about God, and angels, and spirits. I love it when they’re young enough that they don’t get tongue-tied with self-consciousness like the rest of us do.
I love to read the writings of great saints and mystics and poets who have found ways to express the inexpressible. You can’t capture God in a thought, or a sentence, or a book. But there have been certain folks down the ages, fascinating men and women with colorful names like Meister Eckhart or Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite or Coventry Patmore or Hildegard of Bingen or Hadewijch or Evelyn Underhill, who somehow managed to at least give us a sideways glance into the heart of God. And so their writing is like a luminous mead, honey dripping from their fingertips, sticky with the inability to hold the mystery for more than a few seconds maybe, but — ah — what wonder there is, in that briefest of dances.
I’m interested in those hidden places deep in our hearts where we all feel klutzy and anxious and inadequate, where we secretly remain convinced that when we walk into a room everyone stops what they’re doing and looks at us, but not because we’re so suave or glamorous, but just the opposite: we’re nerds, we’re nervous, we’re just a bit out of step with all the cool kids and so it’s painfully obvious. Over the years I have been surprised to learn, again and again, just how many of us have those scary places inside us. Even the cool kids have them. Even folks who were “cool kids” thirty years ago have them. We’re so much more alike than we are different.
So we’re all vulnerable and we’re all working overtime to appear not-so-vulnerable. And that’s the human condition. And somewhere in the middle of it, God comes sneaking. If we sit still and learn to pay attention to the silence between the words in our thoughts, we just might notice God poking around here and there, always making things better in the end but sometimes stirring it up quite a bit in the process. But God is shy, and if we try to stare straight ahead into those eternal eyes, they suddenly disappear. So God is a mystery, too.
I love silence and I love words. And if you’ve read this far, I suspect you do too.
Thanks for stopping by. Wish I could pour you a cup of tea, and sit down for a leisurely chat. But maybe we can find some other way to get to know each other.
I’ve been working on this blog for quite some time now, and I keep tinkering with it. There’s a lot to explore, and I hope you’ll take a look around. Come back to visit often.
There are some links at the bottom of this page to get you started — or check out the “Let’s Talk About” box on the right side of most pages on this blog. Click on a word that appeals to you, and explore away.
As you look around, you will probably notice a few basic themes — topics I like to bring up again and again. Let’s look at a few of them here (you may see some others).
First, there’s silence, which is essential not only to healthy spirituality, but to healthy living, period. Sadly, in our time, many people have little or no access to silence. So we need to cultivate silence, both externally (finding quiet times and places) and internally (learning to notice, and pay attention to, the silence that exists deeper than our thoughts, feelings and imaginings).
Many people talk about experience as a key to spirituality (“I want to have an experience of God,” and so forth). I understand that impulse, and certainly it can impel us toward a meaningful encounter with the mystery. But even experience can be a distraction — getting caught up in the experience of God is like getting caught up in the feelings of love. Don’t get me wrong: feeling love is awesome! But anyone who’s been happily married more than four or five years will tell you that love is ultimately about something a lot deeper than heady feelings. Likewise, if we mean it when we say we want God, sooner or later we will be taken far beyond the limits of our experience. True spirituality resides deep in silence, which is beyond our thoughts, intuitions, imaginings — yes, even beyond our experience. Get silent enough, and you won’t experience God — God will experience you.
Our society has become very fragmented, hyper-individualistic, and consequently has lost much of its sense of community. But community matters. Spiritual traditions around the world instruct us to love our neighbors. We need community just like we need silence. So even though we have a cultural idea that spirituality is a private and solitary matter (“it’s between me and God”), I believe we need to overcome that bias and look for ways we can restore authentic community. I’m not sure what that looks like, but that’s one of the questions that tends to show up here again and again.
I’m a Lay Cistercian, meaning I follow a spiritual practice which comes out of the tradition of Christian monasticism — the centuries-old heritage of monks and nuns, men and women who have devoted their lives to intentional communities of prayer, contemplation, and meditation. One of the core principles of the monastic tradition is that the “queen of virtues” is humility, which can be defined as earthiness, self-forgetfulness, or a willingness to put honesty and relationships ahead of personal power or pride. Humility is not the same thing as low self-esteem, or self-hatred. Rather, it is the ability to say “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “Oops, I was wrong,” “I need you,” and “I’m vulnerable.” I will try to keep a spirit of humility in mind and heart as I write for this blog, and sometimes I will fail at that. Try to be gentle with me when you point out my mistakes — and please join with me in trying to keep a spirit of humility front and center.
I’ve written several books about mysticism — and you know, it’s a terrible word. It’s related to mystery, and to ecstasy, and to heaven, and to wonder, and to restfulness, and to prayer, and to interior transfiguration and transformation. It comes from the same Greek word as the word mute as in “the mute button” which silences your phone. So mysticism is all about silence. I won’t say any more here: just check out the blog.
Then there is spirituality — which cannot be compartmentalized, so when we reflect on our spiritual lives, it will naturally spill over into our work, our values, how we handle money, and how we relate to the political scene. Having said this, I’m very hesitant to discuss politics here because of the toxic nature of so much political conversation in our day. But I’m very interested in how we embed our spirituality in the most ordinary and down to earth ways, from washing the dishes to cleaning the litter box to buying lunch for the homeless person down the street from your office. It’s been said that a key to the spiritual life is learning to find God in all things. I think that’s really wise.
I love poetry. I love music and language and the body and the senses and a great poem dances with all of these. Many of the mystics were poets, and some of them (like John of the Cross) are considered truly great poets. But even the ones that get poo-poohed as mediocre are still alright in my book. I’m not very good at being a snob. I want everyone to find and be love.
Finally, I really love good stories. I love myths and folklore and various iterations of the hero’s (and heroine’s) journey. I love tales about the great saints and mystics of Christianity (and, while we’re at, those of other faiths too). I’m a total geek for all the beautiful and tragic and thought-provoking stories found in the Bible. Most important of all, I simply adore the story of Jesus Christ. Now, I do not assume that everyone who visits this blog is a follower of Jesus (although I’m sure many readers are). But whether or not you place your faith in Jesus, I hope you will at least be able to see how the story of Christ is a powerful and beautiful entry-point into the spirituality of silence, prayer, humility, kenosis (a Greek word for “emptiness”) and — most important of all — love. You see, a good story can stir love in our hearts and bring peace to the restless places in our souls. It can even help us to feel just a little less vulnerable and afraid, or a little less angry. And these days, that’s something pretty much all of us could use.
So there you go. I hope you find something on this site that is useful, inspiring, enlightening, or encouraging. When I write, I try to do so in a spirit of prayer and reflection — so I invite you to read this blog in a similar spirit. And I hope that you when you leave this site, you will give yourself the gift of time spent in intentional silence, trusting that silence is more than just the absence of noise (or thought or feelings) — silence is also a presence, full of compassion, mystery, divinity, and love.
My promise to you, my reader, is that I will be as honest as I can on this blog, as faithful as possible to the values that inform my own spiritual journey, and as good a listener as possible when you post comments or send me questions and concerns. Please pray for me, as I pray for you and all my readers.
May God, the silent divine mystery, bless you and all those you love. Thanks for being here. I am grateful for all my readers, and that includes you.
Here are a few selected posts on this website — to introduce you to my writing.
- Silence Today
- The Hidden Tradition of Christian Mysticism
- Lectio Divina Every Day
- Interfaith-Friendly Christianity?
- On Being a Lay Cistercian
- Contemplating the Holy Trinity
- My Books
Finally, I invite you to stay in touch. Some ways to do that:
Thank you, and God bless you.