First of all, I’m really pleased at all the wonderful ideas and expressions of support for the idea I blogged about yesterday. I don’t think I have it in me to start a network of contemplative groups throughout metro Atlanta, though! Besides, Contemplative Outreach has already done that. I’d rather start small and see where the Spirit takes us from there.
Here’s just another thought or two that came to me yesterday, after I made the initial post.
While I’m really interested in having a group read through the writings of the mystics together, I’m also aware that some attention the Scripture would need to be part of this experience. Here’s what I’m curious about: can we find some sort of middle ground between the purely affective experience of group lectio and the more traditionally academic methodology of “Bible study”? Put another way: is it possible to read the Bible for both discipleship and contemplative formation, simultaneously? Obviously, like any hybrid, this approach would have its own weaknesses, but I think for the purposes of this particular group, trying to bridge both the “theory” and the “practice” of contemplative spirituality, such an approach might prove deeply rewarding.
Two thoughts along this line. First, for the Gospel of John, I know of at least three commentaries that approach the Gospel from an explicitly contemplative/mystical orientation:
- Bill Countryman’s The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel: Crossing Over into God
- Bruno Barnhart’s The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center
- Ravi Ravindra’s The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism
Meanwhile, Phil mentioned the Song of Songs, where the mystical commentaries are even richer:
- Origen, The Song of Songs, Commentary and Homilies
- Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs
- Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Song of Songs, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4
- William of St. Thierry, Exposition of the Song of Songs
- Teresa of Avila, Collected Works, Volume Two (includes “Meditations on the Song of Songs”)
- Denys Turner, Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs
- Michael Casey, Athirst for God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs
Back in 2006 I published an even longer list of commentaries on the Song of Songs.
So would it be too much for a regular gathering of folks who would commit to a “lectio continua” reading of about 1 chapter a week of a Biblical text (like John or the Song of Songs), along with about 10-15 pages a week of a classic writing by a great mystic (Merton, Julian, Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, et al.)? This means the group, over the course of a 90 minute meeting, would A) check in; B) reflect on the scripture reading for the week; C) discuss the writing of the mystic assigned for the week, which would lead to D) time for group spiritual direction, culminating in E) silence and F) compline and/or time for shared vocal prayer.
Is that too much?
And for those of you who live in Atlanta: how does Wednesday evenings sound?