Friends, it’s a movement…

So what do Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Raimon Panikkar, Ken Wilber, Bede Griffiths, Ravi Ravindra and Henry Le Saux (aka Swami Abhishiktananda) have in common?

They’ve all done work involving the question of Christian spirituality in conversation with one or more forms of eastern mysticism. Some of them are Christians, some not, and at least one of them seems to have radically blurred the line between the two. For some of these folks, the east-west conversation seems to be the central or major thrust of their work. For others, it’s really just a sidebar to other concerns. But my point is, they’re all doing it. As Arlo Guthrie said when talking about what happens when fifty people are singing Alice’s Restaurant: “Friends, it’s a movement!”

I’m not saying every Christian needs to learn the lotus position or that every Vedantist needs to study the Bible. But I do think as our world gets smaller and smaller, we all need to be learning as much as we can about each other. And let us not forget that this party doesn’t just involve Christians, Buddhists and Hindus: Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Pagans and countless others are invited to the dance as well.

I’m just sorry that I don’t know of any women to add to my list. Can anyone enlighten me about women — either Christian or non-Christian — who are directly engaged in the east-west conversation?

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  1. I had a marvelous book a few months ago by Dorothy Soelle:The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. My nephew passed through Knoxville not long after and I was quite happy to let him have it even though I had not finished it. Dorothy, German lady, died not too long ago. Her book articulated aspects of mysticism that were beneficial to me. I’m your typical engineer type and my particular Protestant heritage is long on Enlightenment positivism and short on feelings so I need help in understanding this. I don’t know if she ever engaged with Easter Mysticism or not but thought I’d bring her up for consideration. What do you think about her?

  2. I’ve only read one book by Soelle, “Creative Disobedience” I think the title was — and that I read many years ago. In all honesty, I’ve never thought of her as a mystic; the title you mention sounds interesting though. I’ll have to check it out. I do admire her as a “theologian of resistance,” however, and Heaven knows we need more of those!

  3. Pema Chodrom?

  4. I know she’s a towering authority as a western Buddhist, but is she engaged in Buddhist-Christian dialogue?

  5. Jason Aubrey says:

    Carl – I recently came across your blog, and I love it! It’s the blog I wish I was doing. Anyway, Sr. Mary Margaret Funk is very much in buddhist-christian diaglogue. The website for her most recent book, with links to her other work, is

  6. Jason, thanks – I knew of Sr. Mary Margaret’s book on Christian-Muslim dialogue, Islam Is, but I wasn’t aware that she was involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue as well. Also, Joan Chittister was involved in a wonderful project about peacemaking between Christians, Jews and Muslims called The Tent of Abraham; not exactly “spiritual” in its focus, but learning to get along is often an important first step to learning from each other’s wisdom traditions.

  7. Jason Aubrey says:

    Hi Carl – just to follow up, here is a link to resources from a conference Sr. Mary Margaret co-led called ‘Benedict’s Dharma:’

  8. Karen Armstrong?

  9. Cynthia Bourgeault…

  10. Cynthia Clapp?

  11. You could always check Mike Morrell’s mega-list….
    Sorry for taking up more than one comment space here–I should have put all these in one.


  12. So how do you Cynthia Clapp? She’s a friend of mine. :-)

    Bourgeault and Armstrong are good suggestions, too. One thing I’m beginning to realize is that women probably “do” interfaith spirituality in a different manner than do men. For us folks trammeled with testosterone and its attendant need to categorize, the interfaith leap is a bigger deal. Estrogen, and its impulse to connect, is a huge advantage here. Perhaps there aren’t as many interfaith women mystics because women don’t see why interfaith spirituality is such a big deal: they are more likely just to do it naturally.

  13. Ha ha No, I don’t know Cynthia Clapp, but I have run across her name (and descriptions of what she does) in various postings on Atlanta spirituality, mostly connected with your blog, so I thought you might recognize her contributions to the interfaith dialogue!

    I agree with your insight about women’s spirituality. Even the 20% or so of us men who have a measure of right-brain or whole-brain connectedness still working for us (the guys who tend to be in the healing professions, priests, writers, artists, musicians, mystics?) still have this driving need for categorization of things, ideas, etc. When I studied the history of church-group divisions (from the perpective of inside of one of them!) I noticed right away that the main issue was rarely or never the issue: the MEN in charge of the opposing sides have most commonly been engaged in a power struggle using the issue as an excuse to fight. [I find this to apply to Arius vs Athanasius, the Greek Orthodox vs the Roman Catholics, Luther vs the Anabaptists, neo-charismatics vs fundamentalists, and a hundred other splits in church history--some, I'm sure, happening even today.] And even when we don’t engage in literal physical struggles, we tend to think it is more important that we be RIGHT than that we stay connected in the “bundle of life.”

    Having said that, I think it is important that you not give up on your search for women active in this work. We need them, as bridges between “us” and “them”, as natural liaisons between the various MAN-made factions…and if you’re right that they do this more naturally than we do, then I think we need their help even more!


  14. P.S. I’ll take one more space here:
    I realize that you are not just talking about splits between Christian groups, but dialogue across the lines between Christians and other spiritual traditions as well. I think your observations and mine still hold across those lines, though they may be even more challenging since it’s harder to agree on a common starting point.

    This reminds me of your “rules for interfaith dialogue” of several months or a year back–I remember finding those to be excellent, practical, useful, etc. And I remember that a big part of those was to be faithful to a particular tradition yourself, and not to be totally free-floating or eclectic, since the amorphous blob is not likely to be too effective in bridging the gap between firmly held beliefs of different systems. (Pardon my unauthorized paraphrasing here!)

  15. Bruce Alderman says:

    Beatrice Bruteau is involved in this sort of inter-religious cross-fertilization. She is a student of Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, and a friend of Bede Griffiths. Here nondual communitarianism is, I think, I significant and meaningful contribution to this dialouge….

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