Everything you always wanted to know about Christian mysticism (but were afraid to ask)

Hey you! Yes, that’s right… you, the person reading these words right now. I need your help. Don’t go away — please read this post and take a moment to respond…

Six months ago I heard a snippet of a talk Anne Lamott gave in which she encouraged writers to write the book they wish they could read. So I wrestled with this topic for a couple of days in my blog, culminating by saying this:

The book I wish I could read: a simple, practical, and sequential step-by-step manual on how to embark on the path of Christian mysticism in our day. With as much depth, erudition, and command of the tradition as Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism.

I went on to say that such a book would be both “user-friendly and substantive” and would include “plenty of background material on the history and core teachings” of Christian mysticism.

Well, friends, I have made a commitment to write this book. And I am currently negotiating with a publisher to bring it out, probably in late 2009. Which means I have a little over a year to write the book on mysticism that I wish I could have read. Eek! (keep breathing, Carl; you can do this).

The first step on such a major project: I need your help. Since you’re reading this blog I am going to assume that you have at least a passing interest in Christian mysticism; this means you are the kind of person that this book will be written for. Now, all that matters is that you have this interest. It doesn’t matter whether you have been studying mysticism for the past 30 years, or if you just discovered the concept yesterday (in fact, I need to hear from both kinds of people!)

Basically, here’s what I want/need for you to do: please take a moment and answer one or more of the following four questions, either as a comment to this blog or via email to mccolman @ anamchara.com (you’ll have to remove the spaces to make the email work).

  • What do you think Christian mysticism is? Why do you care about Christian mysticism?
  • What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?
  • How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?
  • Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?

Thank you.

  • Judy G

    I can answer your last question: I read The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd…who I used to read in Guideposts many years ago…and was deeply affected and influenced (for the good) by the evolution of her faith and spiritual beliefs.

  • +Seraphim Joseph Sigrist

    Mysticism relates to the personal relation to God of
    a person and to the experience and awareness of that
    realtion. I have read of course very extensively in this
    area but while there have been books which were
    interesting and somehow important to me I do not
    believe any were ‘life changing’ I think for one thing
    Graham Greene got it about right that as to life forming
    books those we read in childhood are perhaps the most
    important. My mother read to me among other things
    pilgrim’s progress and alice in wonderland these perhaps
    verified intuiitions I already had of the world. When I found
    poems I had written at age four and five and six I was a
    little surprised in these (parentally typed) pretty much
    the thoughts I have had since
    “I will sing you a song of the wonder of the world”
    and at age four
    ” I woke up very early
    And I saw the dark
    Running along behind the trees.
    Then I saw a little door
    Open in a cloud
    And the sun walked in. ”
    I am perplexed as to how, having really attained no further deep
    intuitions, a book could be said to have changed my life?

  • John Robison

    1) The practice of disciplined prayer to gain union with God. It intentional living in the Faith and not at all that obscure. It’s important because it is a deepening of the faith.

    2) Prayer styles, the Dark Nights and the importance of community for the practitioner. A short passage on the difference between Mystacism and magic might also help.

    3) To handel the above with clear and concise language. Something that makes the idea less “wierd” and more compelling.

    4) Practising the Presence of God, Way of Perfection and St John of the Cross. I’ve also loved reading Julian of Norwich and

  • John Robison

    Crud, I cutr it off…

    ..Cloud of unknowing. Anthony DeMello and Jack Welch are two of my favorite modern authors.

    5) The list is long and wierd.

  • http://seraphimsigrist.livejournal.com/ +Seraphim Sigrist

    FURTHER
    I will add here more or less what I added a livejournal

    I guess to fill out the response on one point ,edmund fuller
    wrote a book of lit crit called “books with men behind them”
    so it is with a spiritual book…I would like to have more
    books like those of frere roger of taize not so much for
    their content, in his case as in many he has certain intuitions
    which reappear every thime, but for his deep and so fully
    realized personhood standing behind it and creating and
    making legitimate so much in the world…
    or Jean Vanier still with us…or Alexander Men or John Paul II
    or Thomas Merton or C S Lewis or Chareles Williams
    or so many others of course. But it is the persons ,those who
    in their person open ways, whom one wishes more of…

    But again I would rather seriously, and maybe it is a verbal
    question but maybe not simply, question or be interested in
    hearing your thought on, the idea of a lifechanging book…

    now there are books I picked up and felt a flash of
    recognition and the thought that this parallels or deepens
    or gives verbal form to the sense of something unverbalized…
    reading in Freud and Jung and I think of Steppenwolf and
    perhaps Brothers Karamazov.

  • Catherine Galle

    As a lifelong student of all things spiritual, perhaps I see Chrsitian mysticism as the times we allow the Creator Source of all life to integrate with our lives on earth…and all mystics from whom we learn have found the pathways: prayer, ritual, meditation and life patterns. The detachment that has taken place in all religions and their “earth forms” are too much head and not enough heart and spirit and I think all of us are looking for some meaning beyond our lives here on this planet. For “western” countries where the spiritual is less accepted, we need methods for re connection. We need to relearn the pathways of those people who went before us who were more deeply connected. Writers who have been helpful on my own journey have been Matthew Fox, John Donohue and Ekhart Tolle…to name a few. Carl I hope you write a guidebook for our generation and those to come. Help the world in its disconnection.

  • Jil Launius

    Christian mysticism to me is my personal relationship with God and how I stay connected through prayer, meditation, and ritual. It is those practices that allow me to live my life in a spiritual manner fully integrating in all of my life. It allows me to seek God’s will and release mine to live more fully in the moment. It allows me acceptance and a grateful heart. Books that I have read include Anam Cara by John O’Donohoe, When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, Finding Sanctuary by Abbott Christopher Jamison, The Cloud of Unknowing, Always We Begin Again by McQuistion. Other influence authors are: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Joan Chittister.

  • giollab

    I have long searched for a religion that includes me. I want a God who is involved with me and cares about me. I want an intimate relationship with my Creator. I was raised Southern Baptist, and my apologies to others who follow this faith, but I find many Christian religions today to be one of hate. Hate from the God who is determined to smite and destroy and punish. Hate from His followers who also want to punish those who don’t think like them.

    This view is totally incongruous to a God of Love, a God who sought out ‘sinners’ and outcasts. This is how I see Christ.

    I’ve searched many religions and found much good about all of them. I admire how many other religions incorporate religion into their everyday life, either through dress, rituals, food, etc. To them there is no difference between their lives and their spirituality. They make time for their God, and God makes time for them. Religion is not just a weekly or special holiday time.

    To me, prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening to God.

    I also want a God that embraces me as a female and treats me as an equal.

    I’ve studied and explored Islam, Judaism, Paganism. When I worshiped following their precepts and in their ways, I felt I could directly experience God.

    But their was always something lacking that prevented me from remaining in these faiths or embracing them totally. Mostly is was my continuing unwavering belief in Christ. So, I always returned to Christ and Christianity, but not the Christian religions.

    I keep returning to Celtic Christianity from before Romanism took over it. I keep looking at the earlier Christianities. I don’t believe in a lot of Gnosticism and already know its not for me, but others do seem to reach my heart and feel True.

    I’ve been slogging through your list of books by and about Christian Mystics, but I find it hard going. Id like your book to provide a synopsis of these books. (Of course I know it won’t take the place of actually reading them all myself, but I would like a general knowlege of them in an easier to digest form.)

    Anne Lamont is brilliant and she has influenced me greatly. I enjoy reading about her spiritual journey and her continuing search for grace. That is a book that I’d also like to see from you, in addition to this book.

    I would also like to see a study guide of the Bible from a Mystics point of view. I am continually amazed at how few Christians have actually read the Bible or undertaken to study it. They just take in what they are spoonfed and told what the Bible says. Maybe they’ll read a few key chapters, but the whole thing? Fergitaboutit! So much of what I was told is not actually in the Bible. I never read the Bible really until I became a Pagan. Its considered manadatory in many Pagan Circles. The way many Pagans read the Bible is what led me back to Christianity. Ironic, no?

    Dance of the Dissadent Daughter also influenced me, as did A God with a Face Like Mine. I read much from Sojourners and from Christians for Biblical Equality. The fictional Sister Fidelma book series has also had a great influence in my journey.

    So many of the other commenters are more learned than I, dare I hope for a Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism? Followed by a more advanced guide? I also am envius of the people of Atlanta who can go to your lecture series. Would your book include some of those topics?

    One of the passages of the Bible that has most influenced me is “Be Still and Know that I Am.”

    Does that help?

    Liadan

  • http://seraphimsigrist.livejournal.com/ +Seraphim Sigrist

    The sort of book I would like to see written with a question at end.

    I suppose as to books that one would like to see written
    I should say that well …
    of the sort of
    The Unknowable(Unfathomable) of Nicholas da Kusa
    Reality and Man Simeon Frank

    if seems to me that the thought of these books,
    deep and mystical, is fully appropriate to the
    time that is coming in a particular way of opening
    out theology. the changable changed one could say
    the same of the writings of Frere Roger of Taize.
    I would also say that the essay
    Fireflies at Dusk:The Wisdom of Solomon and Theosis
    by John Chico Martin
    fits this description and is a tour de force.
    I would be interested in your response to it?
    I have sent it to Princeton Theological Review
    and of course it is in our developing book at
    http://www.lulu.com/content/1310761
    and though imperfect as to line breaks at my journal
    http://seraphimsigrist.livejournal.com/576844.html

    again I would be most interested in your thought on it??

  • http://seraphimsigrist.livejournal.com/ +Seraphim Sigrist

    C of course in Da Cusa

  • Peter

    1a) Definition of Christian mysticism:
    I have already stated this to you, Carl, in a recent discussion that I trust was mutually edifying, and which you could easily find again. Briefly I said that Christian mysticism is personal communion with God, the direct experience by the soul of the divine, period. [I am coming to have more respect for your extended definition which includes the attempt to express and communicate that experience to others.]

    1b) WHY I CARE.
    I care about this topic because the communion of my soul with God is the defining reality of my existence, the most important thing there is to me or about me, the source of my life: Jesus is my life.

    2) Topics or issues I would like to see in the book.
    I think you have plenty of these already. To your growing list I would add the accessibility or availability of the mystical experience to everybody, its supreme desirability, and the “matching” of God’s provision with our need (as in Augustine’s “God-shaped void”).

    3) How this book could be really, really helpful.
    I have a lot of (deep, Bible-believing Protestant) friends that are really mystical, alive in the spirit, actively using spiritual gifts every day etc., but they don’t know it, and they are afraid of the very term ‘mysticism’ because of the bad rap this has gotten in the traditional (and in too many cases even in the non-traditional exploratory) churches: they worry that pursuing mysticism is somehow not safe, that it will threaten their spiritual peace and communion with God (ironic, isn’t it?), that it will somehow violate their faithfulness to the Bible and their biblical way of living. For me the tragedy here is that the wealth of literature available on the subject is thereby closed to them. I think that’s a trick of the devil! If you can somehow keep these dear saints in mind as you think and pray about what to write—to make the mystical adventure seem as natural and wholesome and healthy to them as (you and I know that) it actually is—to show folks that Hey, you are actually doing this anyway, you are already on this path, and there are many who have gone before you who might have some travel tips to help you on your journey…

    4) Life-changing books
    Here again (as with #2) you probably know about most of the ones I could list here. I will mention one that you might not know about: Can You Hear Me? by Brad Jersak (of Canada): an excellent practical guide to hearing from God, for people of our day, with zillions of great references and practical exercises. This is life-changing because it makes the distant mystical experience immediately relevant.
    Another great one is Labyrinth of the Soul by Jan Amos Comenius—a great spiritual classic. I have also been transformed through Transformation of the Inner Man by John and Paula Sandford, and delivered through Beyond Tolerable Recovery, an introduction to the Theophostic method of counseling, by Ed Smith of Alathia, Kentucky. My #1 all-time life-changing mystical work is, of course, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. I read it nearly every day.

    I will end this with a personal testimony: when I was four years old, my mother taught me how to read at home, and I picked up a copy of the Catholic Sunday Missal and read (from a feast day for a bishop), “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” God spoke that personally to my heart, and I knew that it was speaking to me, that it was who I am, and I have spent the last 55 years looking into what that could possibly mean!

    God bless you, Carl!
    Peter

  • Jamie

    Mysticism is the experience of the journey of the soul into God – the process of “decreasing so God may increase” to paraphrase John the Baptist.
    Mysticism: a study and anthology by FC Happold made a profound influence on my life as it introduced me to the major mystical texts of all faiths and prompted a lot of further reading.
    I hope the book goes well,
    Jamie

  • http://gramina.livejournal.com gramina

    “What do you think Christian mysticism is?”

    Mysticism practiced by Christians :) I would say that mysticism is a way to talk about the experience of the numinous, however perceived.

    “Why do you care about Christian mysticism?”

    Because I identify as a Christian, and I don’t think I could if there were no mystical thread in Christianity. I do find that mystics in any tradition will often find that they have more in common with one another than with non-mystically-inclined members of their own faiths.

    “What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?”

    A variety of daily practices; integrating mysticism with other spiritual practices, and integrating mysticism with practical spirituality as well.

    “How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)? ”

    Provide a framework for spiritual discipline that does not depend on one particular interpretation of scripture or tradition.

    “Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you? ”

    I don’t know that this quite fits your criteria, but Br. Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God has been very helpful to me — again, it provides structure and practice without a lot of dogma; it lets me as the reader find my own way through this sometimes tangled thicket.

  • discombobula

    Seraphim, are you saying that you wrote that poem yourself when you were four, about waking up early and seeing the sun come up? That was absolutely beautiful :)

    Carl, I would like to see partly addressed the whole ridiculous overidentification with the mind that is Western Christianity and the patent fear of anything experiential because of the concern of going off the path and into hell in a heartbeat. I’d like to see that.

  • http://www.liturgy.co.nz Bosco Peters

    I guess I would start by working through the concept of “experience”.
    Mysticism is about an experience of God
    but two words in that sentence need a lot of work:
    “experience” – it’s experience Jim but not as we know it…
    and “God” – so often a word misunderstood and abused.
    Also in there would be the concept of long term – in a culture which wants its spirituality instant with clearly defined steps & few of them.
    Also the idea of it being within the whole of life – not a nice separate compartment
    & hence also that it is not about escaping from…

    Go well with this venture
    Bosco
    http://www.liturgy.co.nz/

  • http://blakemb.wordpress.com/ Isaac

    * What do you think Christian mysticism is? Why do you care about Christian mysticism?

    Christian mysticism, as I know it, is the fact that the essence of Christianity isn’t reached simply within the mind. Christian mysticism is what’s strived for outside and beyond the intellect and theology. Beyond arm-chair theologians, sipping brandy in a cloudy room with like-minded individuals who under the pretense of intelligence blurt “This is what *I* think this means…”, mysticism is what’s found in the heart and in the soul, direct inspiration and wisdom from God, not attained simply through reading texts or pondering God. Christian mysticism teaches that through the practices of liturgy, contemplation, Christian virtues such as humility, fasting, patience, obedience, etc., one can receive direct inspiration from God, experience Him in a manner of which the heart and soul can understand through divine vision, yet the mind can’t rightly fathom. I care about Christian Mysticism because without it, we’ve nothing but modern punch-line sermons and powerpoint presentations, health and wealth prosperity gospels and self-help seminars with a nice veneer of intellectual Christianity. Without mysticism, there is no heart or soul.

    * What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?

    I would like to see a book address the importance of mysticism today, and perhaps how one of the reasons why modern Western Christianity is shallow is because mysticism has been taken away. I’d love to see a book explain how mysticism has always had it’s place in Christianity, and there is no danger in seeking out a life in Christ by means of the mysticism our fathers have passed down. As someone else had mentioned, so many Protestants have a fear of Christian mysticism, and this painful barrier puts a cap on spiritual growth. I know that many of them are better off than I in their spirituality, but it’s a shame that Christian mysticism is falling into obscurity without the Apostolic Churches keeping it alive through both the practice of it and the traditions of the early mystics.

    * How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?

    I covered most of that in my above answer. The way it would be very helpful, and one huge reason I would pass on a book on mysticism, would be because it offers a gentle approach to dispelling the belief that mysticism is somehow a detriment to someone’s salvation, and it doesn’t glorify Christ. I would want to pass on the book if it included examples of mystics who’s spirituality was greatly enhanced, and well-pleasing to God, *because* of their mysticism.

    * Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?

    It was mostly in reading the lives of the Saints that I came to have such a love for them and the desire to even partially emulate their lives. The writings of the Philokalia, various excerpts of the Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, jewels of wisdom from Apostolic Fathers such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, even to our more contemporary holy men, St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Fransisco, Blessed Father Seraphim Rose of Platina, Saint Nikolai Verimirovic of Ochrid… I could go on and on. It wasn’t in any particular book on the topic of Christian Mysticism, it was in the example of the lives of the mystics which brought books such as those to life.

    * Thank you.

    I do hope I was helpful, and I hope all goes well with this you’re undertaking.

    In XC,

    Isaac

  • David

    I’ve been scribbling on a manuscript like yours for about ten years . . .researching unconsciously all my long life. I believe I have the credentials to make the following statement: Religion as we have known it is dead. The human brain no longer understands it except in a regressive way

    I believe we are embraced by an evolutionary shift that is worldwide. The Christian mystical tradition is valuable to me because it gives me context in which to expand out of what I know into what I will never understand. The theology I spent my life learning turned into some kind Kabuki drama that no longer made sense in light of what was happening to me.The liturgies I celebrated became remnants of a Renaissance dinner party that left me starved. This is an invitation to explore the nature of consciousness itself. The postmodern observers remind us that we don’t even have the language to pull this off yet.

    I’m living “experience” right now and that’s all I have. I’m paying attention, breathing, meditating. .Sometimes it feels like I’m tasked with taking out the garbage of history. I’m riding the edge of an opening that is a revelation of what it means to leave not only my religion behind but my whole understanding of what it means to be human. (Isn’t that a clear piece of the Jesus wisdom?) Aurobindo’s work helps me here. Something elemental is being introduced into my experience on a cellular level that I don’t have the capacity to grasp. . . like the early disciples who, in large part, didn’t get what Jesus was about. If I cling to the old way of knowing, I miss the opportunity to allow something amazing to happen. . .perhaps a new cloud of unknowing. . .or, as I prefer to call it, a cloud of wonder.

  • http://groups/yahoo.com/group/monasterion hermit

    Been a solitary for about 35 years. Found the so-called secret tradiiton or mystical theology of Christianity the living and essential aspect of this religion. But being a (Quaker) Universalist I also found it expressed in other religions (or none). call it the unitive way of xtians, being one/d with the beloved of Sufism,realization of the Self of Vedanta (a short article by Maharishi on self-enquiry says it all); the satori of buddhism or in secular terms Moller de la Rouviere’s ‘Spirituality without God’. (I told him it should read a Do It Yourself without gods, religions and the philosophies of others). To me it has become always more fully, ‘just BE-ing, or is, here and now in the present moment when we breath’, without the need for trying to believe doctrines contrived many centuries ago or trying to live in accordance with the world view or mindset (philosophies) of others.

  • http://groups/yahoo.com/group/monasterion hermit

    Yes the Happold Anthology is excellent, especially for its days; I’ve read and re-read it many, many times since I first came across it.

  • John Gormley

    Carl: I am definitely interested in Christian mysticism as a way to work through and transcend the morass of Christian dogmatism and exclusivity that is re-emerging in these last several years (EWTN and its cultic followers is one prime example of that for me in spite of its “good intentions).

    It seems to me that “God” and “The Christ” have both fulfilled their mission and have stepped aside deliberately in order to have us move in the direction of finding “The Sacred” in all that exists and nourish our lives in the space of wisdom, peace, compassion and service which that exemplifies. That is my understanding of the “mystical” way and approach. Thanks your for your witness to this and to your efforts on its behalf.

    John, aged 74, from Burdett, NY, partnered with a beautiful mystical woman, Rosanne, who has helped me immeasurably to transform my life.

  • http://www.HearourSilence.com john skinner

    Dear Carl
    A great project : I know you will succeed. But your crie de coeur is really that shiver that goes through any artist confronted by a blank sheet. (Roald Dahl used to sharpen all his pencils before he began a new story!)
    You will find your voice, devize a framework and it will flow.
    Why is it important?
    Yes religion is dead if only because traditional ways are reaching fewer and fewer people. And Christian mysticism – our own one to one relationship with our Maker, Keeper, Lover (to quote Julian) is filling this vacuum. But it is a process that has always marked the growth of the individual alongside the group – often with conflict (John of the Cross, Eckhart)
    This immediate and urgent response to your request – containing so many different threads, yet all saying the same thing: demonstrates that you have an enormous and eager audience.
    I am continually impressed and heartened by meeting so many people who pray the Prayer of Silence.
    As a Jesuit novice I found Julian. She has been my guide ever since. I am presently writing a commentary which I hope will bring more people to her amazing insights.
    This will complement my A Revelation of Love (my modern translation from Doubleday)
    Next to Julian, the book that changed my life wasn’t exactly a book but my encounter with the Carthusians – living and praying with them.
    We are changed and fed by the Word but also by that same Word living in people who have listened with their heart. Who have found their true Be-ing.
    ‘I it am’ and Julian listened.
    John

  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    Friend -

    What lovely responses (so far) to your usual insightful questioning. Bodes well for the writing. You’re the guy for the job.

    The Bible, the Cloud and the Tao are the books that have informed my journey.

    More when I see you.

    Peace,

    P

  • Peter

    John,
    When I was a Jesuit novice I never found Julian–if I had, I might have stayed around there past the novitiate!
    Please let me know where/how I can get your modern translation and commentary.
    I am certain that any attempt to spread the loveliness of her message and her picture of Jesus will be doing this world a great service!
    Thank you,
    Peter

  • http://www.HearourSilence.com john skinner

    Peter,
    My translation of Julian is published by Doubleday, Image books, Us
    In the UK by Gracewing.
    A revelation of Love
    You say you might have stayed around past your noviceship, but we continue to journey and learn. That is your story and cannot be undone. No regrets. Be where you are. And, yes, find Julian and listen to her story – which is ours.

    ‘We ought to take great joy
    that God dwells in oru soul
    and even more joy
    that our soul dwells in God

    Our soul is made
    to be God’s dwelling place
    and the dwelling place of the soul
    is God
    that is unmade

    For the almighty truth of the Trinity
    is our Father
    for he made us and keeps us in him
    and the deep withdom of the Trinity
    is our Lord
    and in him are we enclosed
    and he in us

    We are enclosed in the Father
    and we are enclosed in the Son
    and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit
    And the Father is enclosed in us
    and the Son is enclosed in us
    and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us

    all Mighty
    all Wisdom
    all Goodness

    One God
    One Lord

    c.54

  • http://www.HearourSilence.com john skinner

    PS for Peter

    I forgot to say: I am no longer a Jesuit!
    Left umpteen years ago
    five years a journalist, then a children’s bookseller
    but more important – husband to Judith (who never licked me into shape)
    and father of our four children.

    the journey is the way
    Julian stayed put but travelled a million miles

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com/ Darrell Grizzle

    Mysticism – whether Christian or non-Christian – is that which enables us time-bound creatures to experience, for however fleeting a moment, the eternal.

    Mysticism is the experience of “eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

    Mysticism is the Reality behind the dogma, the deeper Truth beyond our creeds.

    Mysticism is that which enabled the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton to meet in the 1960’s and to recognize each other as brothers.

  • http://frimmin.com Jon

    Wow! I don’t think there’s any way I can improve on Darrell’s description of mysticism. My own working definition has been “the spirituality of the DIRECT knowledge of God,” largely inspired by Andrew Harvey’s “The Direct Path.”

    It sounds like you’re thinking about a rather complete book on m., but appropriate for beginners as well. That’s a tall order. To a degree, I don’t think any book can fulfill that need… if someone isn’t being drawn to the direct path by the Spirit, no book can persuade him to.

    And yet, something that’s screamingly lacking from most mystical books (save some recent Protestant books, such as writings by Brian McLaren), is any semblance of a gentle, short apologetic. I get email all the time from people who are torn: drawn to the path on the one hand, scared of it on the other. Hence on my “spirituality” pages, I give a teensy apologetic for mysticism, critique the doctrine of eternal punishment, an so on. Too many books simply assume the reader has been, and is going to be comfortable with the ideas presented. That’s a mistake in a culture where Left Behind rivaled Harry Potter in sales.

    The connection of the mystic to the world is also seldom addressed. Eckhart Tolle’s books do a great job in showing how the work of taking the ego out of control is necessary for the world to survive. Matthew Fox’s books are also very strong in this department. However, most books it seems to me treat mysticism as an essentially private thing, and if there’s any mention of ommunity at all, it’s about the Church. This is a terrible mistake. First of all, if mysticism doesn’t ultimately help the world, I submit we should scrap it. Secondly, many mystics have severe problems with Church (and vice versa). M. must be brought into the large context.

    Also, the book must be practical. I must teach some simple means of developing the stillness. (Matt Fox’s books omit this point… He talks about contemplatives forever, but never about contemplation!)

    For the third point… I don’t know. But if something covered all those bases, gentle introduction, instruction to the person, and inspiration regarding the need and urgency, I think I would be directing a lot of people to it.

    Books that have changed my life:

    Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle (let me see that there was something other than Fundamentalism out there)
    The Mustard Seed Conspiracy by Tom Sine (validated the social Gospel and the need for actually doing good. (A wonderful book!))
    The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (Taught me that Catholicism actually was a source of magnificent spirituality, and introduced me to the idea of spiritual practices.)
    Personality Types by Don Richard Risoand Russ Hudson (greatly helped me learn to understand my reactions and priority and blindspots, and those of others as well.)
    The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, by Matthew Fox
    (Tied it all together for me –except for practice! One of the most life-changing books of them all!)
    Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Game, Seventh Son, Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card (These fantasy and sci-fi books sustained my faith in a time of great depression. Their spirituality is impressive.
    The Savior of the World by J. Preston Eby. (Series of booklets that freed me from the fear of hell.)
    Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis (Threw me headfirst into Franciscan spirituality!)
    Kything: The Art of Spiritual Presence by Louis Savary and Patricia Berne
    (A brilliant guide on making spiritual connection.)
    The Cloud of Unknowing
    and The Book of Privy Counseling (author anonymous, English, 14th century) (The latter book has been the more important to me… very concise, honest and helpful)
    Looking for his Appearing by J. Preston Eby.
    (Series of booklets online that helped free me from the Rapture delusion)
    A History of God by Karen Armstrong
    (a wonderful survey of religious history, including that of mysticism)
    Return from Heaven by Carol Bowman (evidence for reincarnation that shattered my resistance to the idea.)
    The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (probably the best all-in-one book on M. out there, although it’s not Christian mysticism per se. Very helpful to me as my focus was starting moving from “approved” varieties of Christian mysticism to universal mysticism).

  • Peter

    Jon is certainly right that “if someone isn’t being drawn to the direct path by the Spirit, no book can persuade him to.” For this reason I say a hearty “Amen!” to Jon’s suggestions about a gentle introduction, gentle instruction, gentle assurance that the mystic path is a wonderful and worthwhile adventure (using the term “adventure” as in The Hobbit).
    I was going to say “assurance that this is a safe path,” but it is not a safe path in the sense that “Aslan is not a safe lion. He is good, but he is not safe.” It’s more reassuring, and closer to the truth, to say that this can be a risky or dangerous path, but here we have all this first-hand evidence that it is well worth the risk!
    Peter

  • http://www.sybilarchibald.com/blog/ Painterofblue

    It’s a great idea for a book, but I wonder how you would create a book that is not Mysticism Light? You know the Wonder bread version. I have been studying Medieval Christian mystics in depth for years and it is only recently that I feel I’m really getting it. I mean, I thought I understood it before, actually I did understand it. But this stuff is not about understanding. Understand retards our ability to connect with God because our “understanding” already has so many limits built into it. This is a key point in Eckhart’s writings. I would think in a book like you are proposing there needs to be someway of engaging the physical body and the emotions. Without those there can be no mysticism, only ideas about mysticism…

  • http://godnix.wordpress.com/ therevr

    A very brief and partial response….
    I’m glad to see someone undertaking this project. To try to come up to the standard set by Evelyn Underhill is a daunting task indeed; but after more than a hundred years, no doubt also a necessary one. I have so many thoughts on this matter that I hardly dare begin to comment; so would refer you to some things I have written over time (here’s an example: http://godnix.wordpress.com/2007/07/16/philosophickal-ruminations-mystical-musings/) for a glimpse or two into what some of these might be.

    What do you think Christian mysticism is? Why do you care about Christian mysticism?
    What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?
    How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?
    Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?

    As to the first question: Mysticism is mystery, the secret message of God; It is secret not because it is hidden but because it is inexpressible in its essence, capable of being apprehended not by the mind but by the whole of the being; hence it is an open secret, not consisting of specific information, but of a way of understanding all information with the whole of the being. Christian mysticism, then, is the immediate apprehension of the fullness of the secret of Christ: who he is, why he came, how he is connected to the One he calls Father, and also how he is deeply and intimately connected to ourselves and to all the world. Christian doctrine or dogma, at its best, is a poor attempt at an intellectual understanding of the essence of this great secret, which in its unfolding also reveals the secrets of the universe and of our own hearts.
    I care about Christian mysticism because I believe Christ to be “the true Light which enlightens everyone coming into the world” and it seems reasonable to me to seek the Light wherever it shines. I want to experience Christ in the newness of the Spirit, not in the deadness of the letter, because “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” In the Protestant tradition, particularly among evangelicals and fundamentalists, there seems to be a deep mistrust of mysticism, something that I’ve always found strange among people for whom “coming to know Jesus” is held as a requirement.

    I’d like to see the history of Christianity reviewed from the standpoint of mystical experience, as Charles Williams tried to do in Descent of the Dove. I’d like to see if it can be shown that this stream exists at the heart, not merely on the periphery, of historic and authentic Christianity. I think that also answers the third question.

    Books that have changed my life: I don’t suppose it would be cheating to start with the Bible, in which I found many words of life and learned to love before I found myself confronted with a cold dead demand that I “believe” it. My grandmother’s favorite song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” though it is dear to me for sentimental reasons, seems a bit backwards to me: It is not because the Bible tells me so that I know about Jesus, but it is because Jesus has become real to me that I find the Bible meaningful. Beyond that, let me give you a list of a few things that have helped me in my journey. Kierkegaard, Works of Love; Jacob Boehme, The Way To Christ; Johann Arndt, True Christianity; Simone Weil, Waiting for God; Julian of Norwich, Showings; Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity; and the sermons of Meister Eckhart. There are many others, but I’ll stop there. Of those on this list, I find Boehme, Weil and Julian to be the most challenging and inspiring. Oh, I should also add Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches To Its Cultured Despisers, who seems to mean by what he calls “Religion” the same thing that is here indicated by “Mysticism:” The contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things, in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal. Religion is to seek this and find it in all that lives and moves, in all growth and change, in all doing and suffering (p. 36).
    I won’t mention the complete works of the likes of Carlos Castaneda on the one hand, and G. I. Gurdjieff on the other, as one of these falls unquestionably outside the realm of “Christian” mysticism, and the other questionably so.

  • http://godnix.wordpress.com/ therevr

    A postscript: For clarity, it should be said that while many books have provided help along the way, there is no book, strictly speaking, that has changed my life; some, however, have provided a greater or lesser resonance that has helped me know that the awesome Presence in which I live has touched other lives as well.

  • Dennis B

    I can answer the first question most easily–Christian mysticism is the act of making yourself available to God. In specific terms, it’s the process by which a person puts away his or her own notions, agendas, and priorities, and leaves themselves receptive to God’s Spirit to fill those newly emptied spaces. This can be accomplished through a variety of means–meditation, solitude, lectio divina, journaling, fasting. It generally requires a conscious, inttentional act of will on the part of the person.

    Given the performance-driven world we inhabit today, it sometimes seems almost impossible to do this. It’s because of that difficulty that the effort is all the more important. Life without God is a pretty barren place, when one really examines it.

    I’ve been a practicing Christian now for over 11 years. I’m 59 years old, and the remaining years aren’t an abstract notion anymore. I want to live the rest of my life with a growing sense of God’s presence, and want to be that person that I sense He wants me to be. God gave me grace just as I was, but He wasn’t content to leave me there. This old stump is not that easy for the Carpenter to work, but bit by bit, the shape of His creation is beginning to appear. I want to be present in that time, just as He is.

  • simon

    Just something that immediately springs to mind. Do we really need another book on Christian mysicism? I mean, when is it going to end? There are whole libraries full of them. How about everybody, start at the Gospel, take what Jesus said seriously and take it from there? So much of this search for mysticism is just plain navel gazing and distraction.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Simon, you raise a very interesting point in your comment, although probably not the point you seem to be intending to make. At any rate, you can read my response to your comment here.

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  • govs

    Faith,Hope,Love; connected, aware, in action, oneness, willful yet let-go, spiritual disciplines, realized and joyfully lived, grace in the sacred still moment, sublime beyond words…

    good luck, do with compassion

  • judith collier

    I was born this way,the child has natural wonder and I was allowed freedom. Mystics are not afraid of freedom. We relish it .We surrender to it.Christian mysticism is the beauty of the child before it was domineered.”Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. I care about mysticism because it is my life in God who is love and beauty and all things beyond comparison. Books in my childhood–I embraced Alice in her wonderland, I enjoyed all books on the saints,I loved the biography of Therese of Liseaux(sp),these books inspired me. I would like to see simple steps and the need of an informed conscience and mostly the erasing of the stigma of being “crazy” or weird or “in her/his own world” I guess I am saying encouragement, knowledge of what can be experienced, the need of fortidude, the grace of perserverance. Carl, you write beautifully, you know our secret, you love our God, express Him to us , give us what only you can say, no one will ever say it exactly like you, not before or after, let God and his love flow through you. Immerse yourself in His love , the words will come. Write from the heart with your intelligence. judy

  • M. J. Smith

    What do you think Christian mysticism is? Why do you care about Christian mysticism?

    This is simple – mysticism is the search for and achievement of the direct experience of the divine. Why care? Perhaps because it is ultimately what gives our life meaning?

    What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?
    1) the universality of the human drive for the mystical experience
    2) that it can be achieved by “simple folk like me”
    3) that it is esoteric only in the sense that it is “understandable” only to those who wish to understand
    4) that it is achievable both through a contemplative and an active life

    How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?
    Here, I’m unsure. Religious books I recall recommending include primarily books on prayer and the spiritual life – Richard Foster, Leech …

    Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?
    I would have to give first place to the pamphlet “Who Am I?” by Sri Ramana Maharishi because it caused me to consider seriously what makes me “me” – what is transcient and what is permanent, if any.
    The Way of the Pilgrim certainly is high on the list, perhaps most for the sense of purpose/dedication.
    Still above the traditional mystical writings I would place the Philokalia (yes, I still don’t have a complete translation) for its thought-provoking practical advice.
    Much though I enjoy Meister Ekhart, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Kabbala et. al. I find them more affirming than transforming. And I find them to often be why people believe mysticism to be beyond their grasp.

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  • http://www.cmchr.net Serge Lanoë

    Hi,

    here is my responses to your questions.

    * What do you think Christian mysticism is? Why do you care about Christian mysticism?

    Christian Mysticism is about “union with God by Love” (we enter then the Trinity).

    I had a spiritual experience where I was configured to Christ.

    * What topics or issues would you like to see a book on Christian mysticism address?

    A christian is an “another” Christ..
    The eternal life has already begun.
    We already have a taste of the trinitarian life.

    * How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?

    Speaking the language for today, be modern and the book is a work of faith.

    * Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?

    “Pour que l’homme devienne Dieu” Père François Brune, Editions Dangles : God become Man so that Man become God (all is said)

    Best regards.

    Serge Lanoë

  • http://brekketechie.livejournal.com/profile Brekke

    Since you’ve probabaly (hopefully!) gotten started, I’ll add my piece about questions 3 and 4.

    3) How could a book on Christian mysticism be really, really, helpful to you (so helpful that you’d want to give copies to all your friends and relatives)?
    The step-by-step guid that you already mentinoed would be great! While history and background are needed and useful, dive into the ways you can be a practicing mystic. Include the more important writers (Julien of Norwich is a personal favorite). Practial application would make it a super-useful and intruiging book.

    4) Have you ever read a spiritual book that you believe totally changed your life (in a good way)? If so, what book (or books) was it, and can you speak briefly about why you think this book was so life-changing for you?
    Yes – Shane Claiborne’s “The Irrisistble Revolution.” It woke me up to a movement within Christianity that I didn’t know existed. It let me know that there were people who believed like I do and that my faith was not something crazy! It also spoke to my very practical sensibilities.

    Good luck with your book! I’m in the Atlanta area, and will watch for it when it come out.
    Brekke

  • World War Me

    So many brilliant answers. In my attempt to find simplicity in answering this question, I can summarize with the following, not with my mind…but with the perception of my heart..

    Mysticism is the conscious study of truth..achieved through absence of mind.. but with total presence of being. This type of consiousness is only possible when you cease to exist personally and begin to identify with the intangible, all-consuming, common cosmic consciousness.

    The Word was with God and the Word was God..

  • Bob Corbin

    Christian mysticism is one of many contemplative paths toward union with whatever if of ultimate significance and value.

    I was raised a Christian, but no longer consider myself one, in part because non-mystic Christians seem so narrow minded.

    I consider one of the fruits of mysticism to be an extraordinary degree of compassion, commitment, and open-mindedness. The person who has truly found his path realizes both that it is the right path for her or him, and that it is not necessarily the right path for anyone else.

    I expect any book on mysticism that I will read in the future to be free of dogma, almost devoid of theology, and willing to explore the treasures of the other mystical traditions.

    Mystics are part of what Rumi called the “cult of lovers.” Those whose only purpose in life is to be reunited with the beloved. They have no other religion than the religion of love.

    However there is another place in the Masnavi where Rumi says that every human being is born with the potential to be a Muslim, but they are made into Jews or Christians or Stargazers, by their parents. This shows the kind of ethnocentrism that I find offensive and tends to kill in me the desire to follow the path that person is following.

  • Bob Corbin

    Oh yes, books that have changed my life: 1) The Tao te Ching,
    2) The Gospel according to St. Luke, 3) Rabbi David A. Cooper’s “The Heart of Stillness.” 4) The Cloud of Unknowing.


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