Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Mysticism — Last Call!

If you haven’t done so already, please answer one or more of the following questions — and post your thoughts as a comment to this blog post.

1. What do you think Christian mysticism is?

1b. Why do you care about Christian mysticism?

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

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)?

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?

Last November, when I entered into negotiations with a publisher to bring out the book I’m now writing, I posed these questions on this blog, to gather feedback from readers about what would make a book on Christian mysticism truly helpful for them. In the last five months, the readership of this blog has grown exponentially (for which I am humbly grateful) and it occurs to me that many newer readers may not have had a chance to ponder these questions. I am now actively writing the book, so if you want your ideas to be thrown into the stew, now is your chance: please answer one or more of the above questions, either as a comment to this blog or directly to me via email (my email address can be found on the homepage of my blog — scroll down and look for the “I’d love to hear from you” widget on the right).

Thanks for your help!

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

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

    I think it would be helpful to have a section of the book devoted to “practical” applications like Centering Prayer, Hesychastic (Breath) Prayer, Rosary Prayer, Lectio Divina, Christian meditation using a mantra (like Maranatha), etc. – showing the similarity and differences between each type of prayer and other forms of meditation (i.e., in Christian meditation the ideal is not really to stop thinking but to “be still and know”). Recently I’ve had quite a few clients ask me about different types of prayer and meditation, and it would be helpful to have it all laid out in one place for them.

  • Peter

    Hey, and if you’re into the whole educational methods thing, this could be put into a handy comparative chart showing what these methods do and do not have in common. This may seem like a “light” suggestion, but I mean it seriously, knowing that with Carl’s writing strengths in the areas of description, comparison, and evaluation (as we read consistently in this blog), such a chart would not be given excessive weight but might add a graphic touch to benefit visual learners.


  • http://blog.matthewsmith.id.au/ Matthew Smith

    1. My understanding of mysticism is that it’s a form of spirituality where meditation and prayer are used to gain insight, healing and growth. 1b. I am interested in mysticism because I have rejected forms of Christianity that come with pre-packaged answers and formulas for everything – especially God. Looking back I can see that my personal experience of God has been in nature and my experiences of life which seems to invite a mystical approach.

    2. If it’s Christian mysticism, then I want to know how it works with or challenges the power structures of the church. I want to know how it progresses. My attempts so far have always quickly stagnated. I want to know how and if it can fit with a lifestyle of fulltime work and parenting.

    3. An inspiring book for me is one that is a call to action. One that guides the reader practically to discover new things and shows what the rewards are.

    4. An influential book for me was David Tacey’s Spirituality Revolution. It made me realise that I didn’t have to limit myself to dogmatic faith but has kept me looking for a faith tradition and culture that I can belong to as the author suggested that “going it alone” was not ideal. The book suggested that “the youth” are turning to spirituality in droves yet I can’t seem to find and connect with these people (perhaps because I am in my thirties and working full time). I have also been inspired by the writings of James Martin.

  • http://numinousjoy.blogspot.com/ Susan

    I love your web site! I just discovered it a few weeks ago, through Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

    1. I think Christian mysticism is like any other mysticism – direct experience of God. But in Christianity we might call it “Christ Consciousness”. I think mysticism is the inner truth that underlies all the great spiritual traditions.

    1b. I care about it because I feel it is the right spiritual path for me. It is deeply profound and beautiful. It is part of a deeply lived life. Christian mysticism is the heart or inner truth of Christianity.

    2. I would like to see a book that addresses how we can move the Church towards mysticism, or at least a greater tolerance for contemplative practices. People have been leaving Christianity in droves, going to Eastern paths or New Age in search of meditation and contemplative practices, not realizing that they have these things within their own tradition. But not only has the Church not fostered the inner Way but many times it has been openly hostile to it and persecuted its own people (perhaps because of the influence of fundamentalism, literal textual interpretation, the Reformation, etc.). Christianity has everything anyone would need to reach enlightenment. But people are too hung up on the literal, external dogmas.

    3. Such a book could really open peoples’ eyes, hearts, and minds. The is an entire hidden world within Christianity that I think 90% of average people have no clue exists. Maybe this has always been true, but I like to hope (a la Ken Wilber) that there must be higher and higher stages of spiritual development and that it can’t only be limited to some tiny inner circle. Humanity, as a whole, needs to ascend to a higher level. The future of the planet is at stake.

    4. As someone who was raised a very anti-Christian atheist but who is now converting to Catholicism, the following books really changed my life:

    ‘The New Man’ by Maurice Nicoll
    - Esoteric interpretation and symbolism in the Gospels. Nicoll was associated with Gurdjief, so maybe this is a little flakey, but I really think it’s an amazing book. It blew me away that there could be deeper levels of understanding in the Bible (or any sacred text for that matter).

    ‘Inner Christianity’ by Richard Smoley
    - Nice overall summary of inner, esoteric Christianity.

    ‘Search for the Meaning of Life’ by Willigis Jäger
    - Jäger is both a Catholic priest and Zen master. This guy is amazing! He ought to be as famous as Thomas Keating! I can’t even put into words how excellent and transformative his book is. You just have to read it. Jäger lives in a monastery in Germany and offers all sorts of classes and practices, which I hear are extremely popular. Ratzinger, before he was pope, forced him into silence for a while. Not sure if that’s still in effect. But usually I take it as a positive sign. If the Church would also try to silence Teilhard de Chardin, there must be something of value in what they’re saying. :-)

    Thanks for your site and the work you’re doing!

  • Jon

    1. I believe that Christian mysticism is the process of, and I hope one day achieving, experiencing direct contact with God (or Ultimate Reality).

    1b. I care about it because I am a Christian, and, although I attend church services regularly and believe them to be important and helpful to me, there is a lack of depth often times that leaves me unfulfilled. I attribute this lack of fulfillment to myself, NOT the church I go to. Fact is, I am shallow, and I feel a strong need to be made deeper so that I will get more out of all that God wants for me.

    2. One thing that comes to mind that I would like is a lengthy, nicely annotated bibliography.

    3. Practicality is important. When your book comes out I will enjoy reading the theoretical stuff in my leisure time, but first I will want to flip right to the part where the rubber meets the road, where I can get right to it, taking immediate steps toward getting closer to God. Also, I agree with Matthew Smith, above, about the “call to action,” and the inspiration. It embarrasses me to admit it, but a little inspiration in the form of spiritual success stories would help me.

    4. Well, this didn’t change my life in a lightning bolt kind of way, but C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity was very important to me. I discovered the book in a rather unusual way. I was an agnostic college student who was nevertheless praying very hard, very diligently for some time (a few months, I guess it was) to find out whether God was for real or not. I had read somewhere in the Bible that if you ask you will be answered. One Sunday morning, as I was walking to the Co-op to get the makings for breakfast, I spotted a paperback in the middle of the street, lying face-down. I picked it up and read the following blurb on the back cover: “C.S. Lewis is the ideal persuader for the half-convinced– for the good man who would like to believe, but finds his intellect getting in the way.” Well, that described me fairly neatly, I thought. I was unfamiliar with C.S. Lewis. Even his Narnia stories were unknown to me, although I had vaguely heard of the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (this was many years before the movie came out). At any rate, I felt I’d better read the book. Since that time I have read many, many books about spirituality and various belief systems, and it was some time before I became a Christian, but that little book was important because its elegant, simply put, logical, clear thinking set me on the path toward deeper exploration of the message of God, and ultimately toward becoming a (tragically flawed) follower of Jesus Christ.

  • bar

    I think it is crucial to show how Christian mysticism ties in with the Church – structures and dogmas and all.
    Not just ties in with these but flows from them. Then there wouldn’t be this confusion between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, the former ‘bad’ and the latter ‘good’ – supposedly.

  • Ben Ostrowsky

    What interests me about Christian mysticism is that, like my of my atheist and agnostic friends, I find a lot about religion to be absurd. What I like about Christian mysticism, and I hope I’m not misunderstanding it here, is that it affirms the absurdity and takes it in stride.