Tonight I met with Father Tom Francis, OCSO, for spiritual direction. Here’s a partial (!) list of the topics we covered:
- How the French school of devotional spirituality that began in the 16th century represents a betrayal of the mysticism of the Spanish Carmelites;
- How Meister Eckhart’s theology of the Godhead relates to Gregory Palamas’ teaching regarding the energies and essence of God;
- How the Rule of St. Benedict could be seen as actually undermining the wisdom of the desert fathers;
- How postmodern theologies of the Holy Trinity might be the best hope for a widespread revival of mysticism in our day (this is a favorite topic of Fr. Tom’s, so no big suprise here);
- How the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi influenced the Benedictine contemplative Henry Le Saux (aka Swami Abhishiktananda), and why these ideas are important for students of Christian mysticism today;
- And how Neoplatonic thought weakens The Cloud of Unknowing and why The Book of Privy Counsel (by the same unknown author) may in fact represent a more pure transmission of Christian mysticism.
All this in one hour! And of course, I’ve been given two reading assignments to finish before we meet again: Christophany: The Fullness of Man by Raimon Panikkar, and Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion by Aristotle Papanikolaou.
And before you decide that I am hopelessly stuck in my head when it comes to my personal spiritual discipline, our time together included discussion both about problems in my own contemplative practice, as well as multiple reminders about the necessity to move beyond “knowing” in order to encounter the eternal love-dynamics of the Triune God. One of Fr. Tom’s favorite themes, which he hammered again and again, is how the western church has become so enamored of the intellect that our biggest obstacle to progress in the spiritual life is the seductions of the mind. All this while he is thrilling my mind with his lucid yet complex explanations of mystical theology. There you go: build up the mind and tear it down simultaneously. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.