It’s probably going to be another four or five months before The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is finished. In the meantime, as has been true for the past few months, this blog will continue to suffer from a benign neglect. However, I’ve been thinking about where I want to take the blog once I have the time to focus on it more fully and regularly.
No major changes of course — as this blog’s welcome widget states, it will continue to be “all about Christian mysticism, Celtic wisdom, interfaith spirituality, the emergent conversation, and assorted other topics.” But I was thinking it might be helpful for me to unpack that a little bit more.
So here’s what I’ve come up with, as goals for the future direction of this blog:
- First and foremost, www.anamchara.com is a blog and website about Christian mysticism and contemplative spirituality. I’m saying both “blog” and “website” to indicate that, in addition to the blog (which can cover a variety of terrain, including whatever I happen to feel like writing about at any given moment), I will continue to develop more “static” content including mini-biographies of the mystics and invitations to explore the various practices associated with the contemplative way.
- My purpose in writing about the history of Christian mysticism is to explore how it remains relevant to today, particularly for those of us who do not live within a cloister. Because I work in a monastery and am in formation as a monastic lay associate, hopefully I am in a unique position to reflect on how the spirituality that is traditionally “located” in monastic settings can be continually relevant for those of us called to lives beyond the monastery enclosure. Traditionally, the phrase “the contemplative life” was practically synonymous with living the monastic life. Here in the 21st century, I don’t think that confluence remains essential. In other words, I believe a person engaged in marriage and/or raising a family, in a creative and demanding career, a full and active social life, not only can live “the contemplative life” but indeed in many cases ought to. It is to this newly expanded understanding of the possibilities for contemplative living within an “active life” context that I hope to speak. Jesus promised to the members of his Body a life that is abundant — I don’t think that means making lots of money or having lots of things, but rather abundant in love and wisdom and an ongoing immersion in the presence of God.
- As part of this project of unpacking mysticism’s ongoing relevance, I believe we need to explore mysticism in a variety of contexts, or, as it were, in “dialogue” with other religious and/or spiritual wisdom streams. Here, I am guided primarily by my personal interests (this is, after all, my blog), but I think each of the following areas of interest naturally and synergistically mesh with Christian mysticism to provide insight and guidance for contemporary seekers.
- These secondary areas of interest include:
- Celtic Christianity — the unique expression of the faith that blossomed outside of the reach of the old Roman empire, in places like Ireland, Wales, and the Scottish highlands. Arguably, the Celtic Christians were themselves mystics; at any rate, their spirituality, shaped by a profound love for nature, is at once truly contemplative and deeply relevant to those of us who seek a “greener” faith here in the third millennium.
- the Emergent Conversation — what Phyllis Tickle calls “the great emergence,” arguing that the contemporary encounter between Christianity and postmodernity could be as transformational for the faith as were the original rise of monasticism, or the great schism, or the Protestant reformation. Emergent Christians often come from Protestant or evangelical backgrounds but show a deep interest in and appreciation for contemplative practice, alongside a truly inspirational commitment to social, political and environmental justice. The great emergence could well represent the consummation of the marriage between the active and contemplative lives.
- Interreligious dialogue — I am known for my exploration of Neopagan-Christian dialogue, but I am also very much interested in the conversation between Christianity and the great wisdom traditions of the east — from Sufism to Vedanta to Zen. Standing on the shoulders of great contemplatives like Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, Raimon Panikkar, and Swami Abhishiktananda, I think the argument can be made that truly postmodern mystics are, at least to some extent, truly interreligious mystics. This is not to suggest that the mysticism of the future will cease to be faithful to Christ; on the contrary, I believe true interreligious mysticism is only possible when it flows from a place of being fully grounded in one’s “home” tradition (which, for me is Christianity). But out of that place of grounded openness, great blessings can flow when practitioners of different paths encounter one another with mutual respect and authentic sharing.
- Integral theory — really, just an extension of interreligious dialogue, the work of Ken Wilber and other theorists seeks to mine the wisdom of not only comparative contemplative traditions, but also the most visionary dimensions of science, philosophy, systems theory, pyschology and so forth. Christian spirituality works best when it is holistic: when it addresses the needs of the full person, not only for a sense of connection with God, but also in service of physical and mental health and the formation of creative and beneficial communities. Integral theory can help us see how Christian mysticism is embedded in all aspects of life, and can provide clues as to where the Holy Spirit may be taking the mystical tradition in the future.
- In addition to Celtic, emergent, interreligious and integral wisdom, I’ll also be looking at mysticism particularly in relation to Benedictine, Cistercian and Trappist spirituality. This is driven simply by the fact that I work at a Trappist monastery and am a Lay-Cistercian in formation. But this is not meant to slight or ignore other great streams of Christian wisdom. Franciscan, Carmelite, Jesuit and other traditions all are rich with insight, and as inspiration guides me, I hope to explore each of these schools of spirituality.
- Because I am a hopeless (or should that be hopeful?) bibliophile, I look forward to writing more book reviews in this blog. Most of the books I comment on (although by no means all) will be relevant to this blog’s overall focus. Also, I’ll ocassionally review CDs and DVDs, when I am so moved.
- Finally, I feel like part of what makes a blog a truly joyful thing (both to write and to read) is its personal aspect. Like many introverts, I find it difficult to write about much that is personal; from the intimacy of my marriage, to my inner struggles, to challenges at work. I am keenly aware that we are all relational beings, and so when I talk about my “stuff” I almost always am simultaneously commenting on someone else in relation to me, and I don’t like to compromise others’ privacy, even on those unusual days when I am prepared to be transparent myself. But occasionally these things show up in my blog entries. I also like to post pictures from time to time, as well as links to funny videos. Mysticism can be heady and cerebral stuff — so the occasional Youtube video of cats wreaking havoc can be a healthy counterbalance.
So there you have it: my goals for this blog, at least as of January 2009. Let’s see how it evolves from here.