Yes I said Yes I will Yes

Okay, the only reason I’m quoting Molly Bloom in this post’s title is because I wanted a snappy way to say yes. But of course, I’m a James Joyce fan, so it only makes sense that Molly would show up in this blog from time to time.

My respondents to yesterday’s post (all seven of you, four more than I had hoped for) all seem to be urging me away from the idea of finding a single focus for this blog, and instead just embracing it all. Which, to be honest, is pretty much what I figured I would be doing anyway. And while Gary (an old friend from my home town church with whom I recently re-connected, thanks to Facebook) might see in Celtic Christianity, Interfaith Dialogue and Emergence Christianity a “trinity of topics,” I think I’ll just go ahead and up the ante — for really, the topical focus of this blog is a trinity of trinities:

  • Contemplative topics: Cistercian spirituality, Christian mysticism, and Celtic wisdom;
  • Active topics: Interfaith dialogue, emergence Christianity, and current events (particularly eco-justice concerns);
  • Miscellaneous topics: Book reviews, family/personal notes, and announcements of upcoming classes, etc.

Perhaps a bit contrived, but I think it begins to shed a bit of light on the kinds of conversations that I find interesting and feel eager to initiate (or participate in).

But wait, there’s more. Something that has really emerged (pardon the pun) in my own spirituality over the last two years has been the question of what the good people of Cambridge University call “radical orthodoxy.” While I am no philosopher and lack their erudition, the Cambridge school’s efforts to embrace postmodernity by reaffirming, rather than deconstructing, traditional categories of church teaching and authority seem, to me, to be where the action really lies. As much as I admire the various emergent voices, I worry that some or all of them could wind up being this generation’s answer to Matthew Fox: who, for those of you too young to remember, was a brilliant visionary in the 1970s but who, alas, ended up wandering so far beyond the consensual/conventional boundaries of orthodoxy that, in the end, he subverted his own message. Hopefully that fate won’t claim too many casualties from the emergent community, but I do think it is a bullet that needs dodging.

So here is the tension: we celebrate tradition, and yet we say or do things that sometimes affirms tradition, sometimes challenges it, and sometimes breaks with it altogether. In our eagerness to embrace contemplative wisdom, just how far into Buddhist territory ought we Christians wander? What is the best way to respond to those who insist that mysticism must be unfettered by all dogma, including the Christian mysteries? Likewise, how do we, who affirm contemplation, respond to those who aggressively denounce it as contrary to the gospel? At what point does Celtic Christianity fall into the trap of being too much Celtic and not enough Christianity? Is Pagan-Christian dialogue even possible? If it is, then where should we be taking the conversation? In a world where children are starving and corporations are copyrighting seeds and the great reefs of the ocean are dying, can we even afford to waste time on something as liminal as most of the topics I have posed for this blog?

These are just a few of the questions I ponder at odd moments of the day, and which are likely to show up on this blog, sooner or later. Just don’t look to me for any answers. I’m much more comfortable posing the question, and then ducking as the missiles start to fly…

But, yes, I said, yes, I will, yes. Yes, I want to write about Celtic Christianity, and Christian mysticism, and the emergence conversation. I want to review books and rant about environmental degradation and subtly make fun of non-vegans (kidding). I want to keep on exploring Benedictine and Cistercian spirituality and I want to get to know the Bible better and I want to understand why I abandoned liberal Protestantism only to become a not-exactly-traditionalist Catholic (or is that a radically orthodox Catholic? I keep confusing those two). And I want to connect the dots that link all of these apparently disparate elements, and be clear about the centrality of Christ to it all. Yes, to all of the above.

Dana Greene speaks on Evelyn Underhill
Unknowing in 2011
Something I wrote for
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.

  • Jean Wise

    Personally I love the contemplative sp. topics as the main focus with the others thrown in occasionally. Enjoyed reading your blog. I too want to connect the dots, as you said.

  • Chris Robinson

    I’m, at best, halfway to the first step in mysticism. I’m not saying that to be humble; I confess I run from meditation and contemplation because the emptiness of it terrifies me. I hang around the outskirts because I haven’t completely given up. I gave up on practicing Centering Prayer several years ago, following the advice to “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Anyway, maybe an outsider’s thoughts can be interesting.

    This question struck me:
    “What is the best way to respond to those who insist that mysticism must be unfettered by all dogma, including the Christian mysteries?”

    To begin with, if someone insists that mysticism must be unfettered by all dogma, that seems like a dogmatic position. :-)

    If someone considers it important to be a mystic without specific beliefs, I wouldn’t know what to say to them, except perhaps to ask whether they believe we humans can be fallible in our mystical perceptions, and whether they’re aware of any risks with that.

    It’s not exactly the same issue, but when I’ve been in groups of new age folks discussing spirit entities, I’ve voiced the possibility that spirits might be like salespeople… While new age friends usually don’t believe in demons, I’ve tried to encourage them to not assume all communication from all unseen beings, should be trusted.

    Back to the issue specific beliefs for mystics. It strikes me that Christian mysticism must include revealed beliefs/content or it isn’t Christian.

    Some people assume that dogma is irrational belief which you brandish in your fist as a tool to fetter/shackle other people. By that definition, Jesus didn’t teach any dogma. However, another definition of dogma is “a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof,” and Jesus taught a lot of that, not based on proof but on his own authority.

    Christians believe in divinely-revealed truth; we believe that God dispensed essential information that we couldn’t have figured out for ourselves, mystically or scientifically or otherwise. He didn’t do it to fetter us, but to protect and free us.

    So bottom line, as far as I can tell:
    Christian mysteries, Christian revelation, must surround the mystical practices of a Christian, but that’s not the same as being fettered by (a negative definition of) dogma.

  • Joanna

    For me, the question I keep asking myself is, “What is this for? Who is at the center of all I am doing?” If the answer isn’t the Most Holy Trinity, then I’ve gone off track.

    Can it be that easy?


  • Cheryl Anne

    A voice that is real, passionate, faithful, and questioning, with Christ at the absolute heart of it all. Write what you will Carl…I will be reading.
    Every Blessing!

  • stephanie jordan

    I very much enjoyed reading this post. Very well put.

  • Gary Snead

    Great, Carl. You are re-awakening in me a Spirit-driven thrill of thoughtful dialog. The Trinity as the One Unifying Theory, so I read the harmony of the blog, and I like it. Especially comforting is that as Christians we have the assurance it is fact, not just theory. I also concede that indeed God has been making, since the first word of creation, all things new, so perhaps what is never new under the sun is human behavior, driven by sin, and yet redeemable. That behavior as you commented on the previous blog response to me and reiterated above, is often at its core authority challenge. The emergent church can be an example of how each generation challenges parental/previous generational authority just for the purpose of rebelling, being different and then works to dress the challenge and their replacement in plausibility. The irony is that very action leaves open the door for the next generation to rebel again, and the previous generation actually then begins to affirm rather than reject much of the past. Christian mysticism, contemplative Christian spirituality, (pardon my naive position but are these different, similar or the same?) can inform this process by seeing beyond the coverings of generational rebellion to clarify the presence of God within and outside of history and turn people to that one constant thereby unifying generations, and I think this would apply to ‘cross-cultural’ ministry as well. Thanks for keeping me thinking, praying and now communicating again. Gary

  • Carl McColman

    Gary, welcome aboard. If you want thoughtful dialog, you’ve come to the right place — not only does this blog get commentary from Christians from across all political, ideological, theological and denominational spectrums, but plenty of Neopagans, Ken Wilberites and the occasional Vedantist show up here as well. It makes for a fascinating and colorful conversation, if nothing else.

    Your thoughts on authority are rich enough that I’m going to explore with them in a new post.

  • Ron Krumpos

    There are “trinities,” of sorts, in various religions. This summarizes five:

    Mahayana and Vajrayana vehicles of Buddhism speak of Trikaya, or three bodies: Nirmanakaya is the Buddha in human form, Sambhogakaya is celestial Buddha and Dharmakaya is the formless essence, or Buddha-nature. The Theravada primarily addresses the historic Buddha. The “Three Jewels” are the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings) and the sangha (the community of monks and nuns).

    Christianity has its Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit referring to God, Jesus Christ and their spiritual bond of unity (some say the Godhead). Interpretation of the essential nature of each, and their relationship, differed among the churches. In Christian mysticism, the three ways of the spiritual life are the purgative in being purified from sin, the illuminative in true understanding of created things, and the unitive in which the soul unites with God by love.

    Hinduism’s trimurti are the threefold activities of Brahman: in Brahma as creator, in Vishnu as sustainer and in Shiva as destroyer. Saccidananda are the triune attributes or essence of Brahman: sat, being, cit, consciousness and ananda, bliss. The three major schools of yoga are bhakti, devotion, and jnana, knowledge and karma, the way of selfless action. Raja yoga can apply to, and integrate, all three in mental and spiritual concentration.

    In Islam, nafs is the ego-soul, qalb is heart and ruh is spirit. Heart is the inner self [soul], hardened when it is turned toward ego and softened when it is polished by dhikr, remembrance of the spirit of Allah. This is a three-part foundation for Sufi psychology. Initiation guides them from shari`a, religious law, along tariqa, the spiritual path, to haqiqa, interior reality. It is a gradual unveiling of the Real.

    In the Kabbalah of Judaism, sefirot – sparks from the divine – have three fulcrums to balance the horizontal levels of the Tree of Life: Da`at (a pseudo-sefirot) is knowledge combining understanding and wisdom; Tiferet is beauty, the midpoint of judgment and loving kindness; Yesod is the foundation for empathy and endurance. They also vertically connect, through the supreme crown, the infinite and transcendent Ein Sofwith its kingdom in the immanent Shekhinah.