On my writer’s page at Facebook, my bio used to read like this:
Carl McColman is the author of 10 books on the spiritual life. Most of his works published before 2005 concern Pagan and Celtic spirituality. In 2005 he became a Catholic, and is now writing a book on Christian mysticism to be published in late 2010.
As of this morning, I have re-written it thusly:
Carl McColman blogs about Celtic, emergent, mystical, & contemplative spirituality at the Website of Unknowing (www.anamchara.com). He is the author of 10 books. The 11th, “The Big Book of Christian Mysticism,” will be published in August 2010.
I’ve done this for several reasons. First, I felt that, at least at this point in my journey, I am known more for this humble blog than for my even humbler books. Although my book sales are respectable enough, in any given month far more people read this blog than buy my books. So I wanted my Facebook blurb to represent me as a blogger first, booksmith second.
Then there is the minor matter of changing the anticipated pub date of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism from “late 2010″ to the more precise and accurate “August 2010.”
But the most important reason for my self-revisionism involves my growing unease with oppositional thinking, as well as an equally growing recognition that both my own spirituality and my vocation as a writer are shaped by four equal and very important dimensions of Christian experience.
First, the oppositional bit. My old bio made a big deal out of “he used to be a Pagan” and “now he’s a Catholic.” That’s because for the longest time, I’ve been making a big deal out of it myself. If you’re not familiar with After the Magic, read it and you’ll see how I’ve been wrestling with this shift in personal spiritual identity since about the spring of 2004. But in the last year, as I’ve begun working with the ideas of Richard Rohr (and continue to ponder Ken Wilber’s integral theory), I’ve become increasingly uneasy with what Rohr calls “oppositional thinking” — our all-too-human, but decidedly pre-mystical, tendency to see the world in dualistic, adversarial, right/wrong, good/bad, in/out ways. Yes, the oppositional mind has its uses — you need it in order to operate heavy machinery, for example — but much of the misery in our world comes from how we use dualistic thinking to exclude, marginalize, silence or oppress one another.
Last night I had an interesting dream, in which I was scheduled to give a public talk on my experience of converting from Paganism to Catholicism. I was prepared to have hecklers in the crowd who would harangue me for abandoning Paganism. But all the Pagans who showed up were very polite and respectful. However, there were a couple of hecklers — only they denounced me because I rejected the idea that the earth was flat! Quickly my talk veered away from Catholicism vs. Paganism and moved instead into the larger question of the relationship between faith and science (which means it probably ended up being a better talk; although since it was in a dream and I woke up before it was done, I couldn’t say). I think the point behind that dream is clear: if I persist in defining myself in oppositional ways, I’ll just keep drawing to myself people invested in dualistic consciousness, no matter how absurd their platform.
It has become increasingly evident to me that every time I rehearse my “I once was Pagan, but now am Papist” story line, I’m neither critiquing Paganism nor lauding Christianity — I’m just reinforcing oppositional thinking, both in myself and also quite possibly in my readers as well. This doesn’t mean that this story has changed (it hasn’t), nor does it mean that I’ll never talk about it again (I’m sure I will). I just don’t want it to be the way I publicly define myself anymore.
The other important change to my Facebook bio involves introducing these four descriptors: “Celtic, contemplative, emergent, and mystical.” I want to blog about this further, but I’ll need to do so on another day, perhaps after my editing is done by the middle of February. Basically, for now I’ll just say that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how my spiritual identity is shaped by the contemplative tradition (as exemplified by the Lay-Cistercian community where I am in formation), my Celtic heritage (of which I have written several books and which continues to inform much of my self-understanding as a Christian), my love for mysticism (primarily Christian mysticism, but extending into all the wisdom streams of the world) and the emergent conversation (which is primarily a Christian phenomenon, but which I believe also has significant interfaith implications and in any event signifies the unfolding of a truly loving, hospitable, justice-oriented, postmodern way of doing faith). I won’t go into how I see these four dimensions of spirituality working together just yet; I’ll save that for a future post. But let’s just say for now that I have become increasingly conscious recently of how each of these four dimensions contributes to shaping my spiritual identity, as well as my identity as a blogger and author. So it seemed to make sense to let these four descriptors define who I am, instead of my old (and dualistic) Pagan-to-Christian story.
I’m also introducing this same change to the “Welcome” widget here on the blog. As of yesterday, that widget read like this:
THE WEBSITE OF UNKNOWING (www.anamchara.com) is all about Christian mysticism, Celtic wisdom, interfaith spirituality, the emergent conversation, and assorted other topics.
But now here’s what it says:
THE WEBSITE OF UNKNOWING (www.anamchara.com) is all about Celtic, contemplative, emergent, and mystical spirituality, and assorted other topics.
Once again, I’m trying to remove the subtle oppositional energy — in this case, the “Christian/interfaith” duality — from my self-description. It’s not that I’m going to stop writing about these things; of course I’ll keep doing so. But the beautiful thing about Celtic, contemplative, emergent or mystical spiritualities is that each of these can be approached from either a Christian or an interfaith perspective. So, basically, I don’t need to beat the drum of “I’m a Christian who likes interfaith spirituality,” rather I can just let my writing speak for itself. Relaxing into that — and hoping/trusting that I can learn to write about both my faith and the wisdom of others in as non-dualistic a way as possible — simply feels good.
I’m sorry if this post seems self-indulgent; I’m hoping you’ll find it worth your while to read this because I think all of us can benefit from considering how dualistic or oppositional consciousness might be shaping even the very ways we think about ourselves or present ourselves to the world. As Peter Gabriel once sang, “How can we be ‘in,’ if there is no ‘outside’?” It’s a pervasive way of thinking. Catholic, Protestant; Christian, Pagan; mystical, non-mystical; orthodox, heretic; liberal, conservative; even dualistic, nondualistic: our egoic minds are always dividing the world into “in” and “out.” Mysticism represents a new way of seeing that blows those categories out of the water. I believe it’s the way of seeing that Christ preached, and what the Apostle Paul refers to as “the mind of Christ” when he says “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). In other words, let go of dualistic and oppositional consciousness and adopt the radically inclusive, lavishly loving, boundary-erasing mind that Jesus embodied, and that the great mystics embody as well. This is my faith, and my hope. But none of us are perfect, and so I have to be cognizant of the ways in which my thinking — and my writing — subtly undermine my own fidelity to the mind of Christ. I hope you’ll join me in our own self-examination, not as some sort of witch hunt (ooh, bad pun) but as a loving process of self-awareness that can lead to growth and healing.