Goals for this blog

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.

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  1. Mark pitton says:

    Sounds good to me! And if anyone can do all this, I believe it will be you. I send energy and prayers.

  2. Frequent or infrequent, Carl, I look forward to your postings…

  3. Brilliant goals. I enjoy following the journey of someone else on a mystic journey. I appreciate the fact that you are staying true to your path.

  4. judith collier says:

    Hey Carl, sounds wonderful! Was wondering where the posts of people commenting dissapeared to (showing up on the side bar) Sometimes I miss a blog and it was good to catch up and read the replies of another.

  5. Okay, I’ll add the comments widget back in. It will be on the right, just above the “Blogroll” widget.

  6. Thanks, Carl!

    I really do want you to keep going, even though I haven’t been around much lately either!


  7. Dear Carl and modern mystics
    Thanks for your insights and the generosity of publishing them.
    I like the goals and I would further add an idea if I may.
    religion, spirituality etc of today seems very ‘me’ oriented. Making myself happy etc. The social benefits of mysticism is an area well worth exploring.
    God love this blog


    Dear Dr. McColman,
    If you are not a Ph.D. you deserve to be one.

    It is clear you’ve had a most deep interest in mysticism. I too have had that same intense interest. You may be interested to know this:

    Alfred North Whitehead and a number of others, have discussed the importance of analyzing familiar and obvious things, and things actually already known. In his book, Science And The Modern World, Whitehead wrote, “Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. At the end of this email, I include the basis that establishes the importance of why we must, must look at familiar, obvious and known things. You will find that a number of prominent names share this concept which ultimately leads to that higher state of mind — ultimate reality. And ultimate reality is the mystical state.

    To reach the mystical state one must gain what we know to be the mystical experience which is the onset of the mystical state. In a brief a manner as possible, I suggest that the mystical state is a state of mind. It is an attainable state of mind. Once attaining that state we discover that many ideas come together including as one and the same. They include higher consciousness, ultimate reality, the mystical state and, indeed, God. And, too, there are a number of other names for that higher state of mind.

    Early in life we learn that we think. This gift (or curse as some may think) is learned and, sadly, quickly taken for granted. We must look at what we first learned, took for granted and have since ignored. The psychologist Gustav Ichheiser said, “Nothing evades our attention as persistently as that which is taken for granted. It is our thoughts we have taken for granted!

    Science and religion have been said to be two incompatible disciplines. Under the microscope we will call the analysis of familiar, obvious and known things, we can discover that they are not at all incompatible and are no different that a question (which is science) and religious faith (which is a baseless trust). It is the same as a question that segues to an answer. If we go one step further, we discover that there is a nexus bringing the two together. What is the nexus? Insight! Insight is the nexus.

    With the above as a basis, we now can have the resolve to search for the gift of mystical insight.

    Emmanuel J. Karavousanos
    247-27A 77th Crescent
    Bellerose, New York 11426


    We need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure.
    Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

    The obvious is harder for us to grasp…and easier to lose sight of.
    Aldo Papone

    There is nothing as deceptive as an obvious fact.
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.
    George Bernard Shaw

    That’s the way things come clear. All of a sudden! You then realize how obvious they’ve been.
    Madeleine L’Engle

    The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it.
    Kahlil Gibran

    The more original a discovery, the more obvious it becomes afterwards.
    Arthur Koestler

    The best place to hide a needle is in a stack of needles.
    Robert Heinlein

    Most human being have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
    Aldous Huxley

    The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one.

    A thing because it’s familiar, it remains unknown.

    Subtle beyond the mind’s grasp, so near us, so utterly distant.
    The Bhagavad Gita

    NOTE: You may be wondering who I am. I am a 76 year old layman who has studied consciousness for over 40 years on an independent basis. I’ve spoken at a number of conferences including 2, “The Healing Initiative,” sponsored by Harvard U. Last year I spoke at a meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness which was held at Yale Divinity School. In February of 2009 I spoke at a meeting of the Solon Society which was held at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Hempstead, NY. I am the author of a book titled, “The Gift of Mystical Insight.” At my age my interest is no longer in money or fame. It is in the survival of the children of this world.

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  10. Looks like this will be an interesting blog to read from time to time. I admire the depth of knowledge covered here.

  11. I hope you don’t mind my bringing to your attention Optimism- The lesson of the ages by Benjamin Paul Blood. Originally published in 1860, it has been reissued by Eirini Press (http://eirinipress.com). It is a distinctly American expression of mysticism.

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