Praying the Mystics

Maybe the point I’m about to make is an obvious one. Since I am a “bear of little brain,” sometimes obvious ideas aren’t so evident to me. So if this seems like a no-brainer, consider the source…

The idea in question came to me last night. Wouldn’t it make sense when reading the mystics — Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Walter Hilton, Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Evelyn Underhill, Gregory Palamas, The Cloud of Unknowing, and so forth — to read them as an act of prayer? Really this is just lectio divina, but perhaps a more compressed approach to lectio: rather than worry about the method of lectio (reading with an openness to receiving the word, and then engaging in meditative reflection, verbal orison, and finally wordless contemplation) just do it — just open the book, and read. Slowly. Begin with “Dear God,” and end with “Amen.” As for the other steps in the lectio process, we simply can be open to the spirit’s leading: sometimes praying the writings of the great mystics will lead naturally to meditation, verbal prayer and contemplation, while other times the reading/praying experience will be full and complete in itself. It’s all about just being open to the Spirit’s leading.

In other words, the idea of “studying the mystics” basically is a non-starter. We do not study the mystics. We pray through them. Well, I guess if you’re taking a college course you’re studying the mystics. But even that can be handled in a prayerful way.

What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?
Life is a Pilgrimage — So Embrace the Journey
Why Is "Mysticism" A Dirty Word?


  1. Actually, I try to read *everything* that way, but really only succeed with poetry. It can be a very interesting exercise – mind-altering at least in the way that hearing an oral performance can be. Seeing may be believing – of a sort – but hearing is understanding.

  2. Darrell,

    I find applying Lectio Divina to the reading of the mystics (or the poets, or the great writers of literature) to be a great idea, well worth the attempt.
    I have just one caveat or word of caution:
    Without entering a fruitless argument about relative degrees of inspiration, I think we would all agree that “not all mystical writing is created equal.” For example, you have expressed a preference for the kind of gnosticism that affirms the physical creation over the kind that denies or minimizes it. I agree with that preference! So I would not be able to apply Lectio Divina (which implies receptivity to the content of the reading) equally to all the mystics, perhaps not even to all on you brief list (all of which is certainly worth reading!).
    With this caveat in mind, I think that we can read the mystics receptively and openly as a form of prayer according to your suggestion. One I would follow without any question is Julian. There are others too. The point of Lectio Divina is to be impressed and changed by what we are reading. We have the right and responsiblity to discern and choose who and what we will allow ourselves to be changed by.


  3. I agree with all three of you totally. I have tried hard to pray but nothing really happens. But reading J.of Norwich etc. and Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharish have hepled me to calm down to the point of being able to take deep breaths. Prayer still a far cry…
    At this point I might add that I am a married, 30 yr old Brahmin Hindu residing in interior small-town India. I immensely love three Catholic mystics — St Catherine of Siena, Juliana of Norwich and Ignatius of Loyola ( though most would never think of the last as a mystic).
    I must also declare that I will never convert but feel drawn to the spirituality of St. Benedict and silence. this is a nice blog u have here. Om Shantih.

  4. a simple booklette on THE JESUS PRAYER!

    The Orthodox world – and beyond – is acquainted
    with the justly famous and righteous Elder Joseph the Hesychast,
    who reposed on the Holy Mountain in 1959. Less known outside Russia is
    Archbishop Golinsky-Michaelovsky, who was another
    committed practioner and teacher of The Jesus Prayer.
    The English Language Editor was Fr. Ambrose (Young) and the
    Publisher was The Skete of the Entrance of the
    Theotokos into the Temple
    in Haysville, Ohio.

    journey HERE for a preview!

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