More Thoughts for a Small Contemplative Community

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:

Meanwhile, Phil mentioned the Song of Songs, where the mystical commentaries are even richer:

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?

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  • judith quinton

    Dear Carl,
    I am so “heavy” in intercessory prayer assignments right now, that I do not think I could commit.
    However, I will be happy to pray for those who do join and take part.
    Please pray for me, too.
    These assignments sometimes “consume” with a burning fire.
    Being human, I weary.
    But miracles are taking place and so I press on.
    Blessings this day,

  • Paula

    I was just re-reading parts of John yesterday and noticing the “unity” references. I would be very interested in reading John or Song of Songs. Wednesday actually works great for me right now as it is the night my husband does not have class and I usually do not have school events. It will depend of course on the final location but I work near Roswell so going after work may not be that far distance wise. I like the format idea too- combing lectio with classic writing sounds wonderful.

  • Al Jordan


    I think your suggested format is fine. I agree that a 90 minute time frame would be essential to allowing adequate time for all the components of such a group. I think it’s always wise to keep purpose first and foremost and have the format and form serve the purpose. You have suggested a four legged table to support that purpose: Check in; reflection; discussion; silent prayer/meditation; ending with compline and/or vocal prayer. I guess that’s a five legged table, isn’t it. Trust the group dynamic to put things in their place and the Spirit to lead.

  • Green Sufi

    God bless you on your journey, brother. I hope you find a group to practice this with!

  • Bill Horlick

    As a novice to Contemplative Prayer I guess I should take the introduction pace . Any suggestions ?

    Also, Carl, do you consider Henri Nouwen a mystic ?

  • Carl McColman

    Bill, these are great questions that I felt deserved in-depth answers, so I responded to them in today’s blog post. You can read it here:

  • Harmony Isle

    Depending on start time and location (6:30 in Emory area would be ideal), 90 minutes weekly would be hard for me to commit to, but every other week on Weds. evening should work for me if week-to-week continuity isn’t part of the format–partly because I have 4 out-of town work trips coming up in the next couple months.

  • Gary Snead

    Carl, just a thought if I may. First, seems like a healthy yet challenging format you have presented. Perhaps for the second phase after going through John or Song of Songs, pick a book like Romans or Mark or another NOT known for its obvious contemplative or mystic tone or a history as one that has had commentaries by a great mystic.

    • Carl McColman

      I think you’re right, Gary. If mysticism is all about “nondual consciousness,” then a true contemplative would seek to embrace all of scripture — not just the “mystical bits”!

  • Burl Hall

    Carl: I think with all scripture there are layers and layers of meaning. Moses De Leon states the same in his study of Kabbalist mysticism (author of the Zohar). I sometimes have fun with this when I study Baum’s Wizard of Oz. that story also has layers of meaning…political, historical, and mystical. Perhaps how we interpret is more a reflection of where we are in our understanding? In the Bible, there are layers and layers of meaning regarding the Adam and Eve story. When I see a young boy cover himself when his mom walks in the door while he is undressed, I smile at his red face for I see the story re-occurring here and now. Perhaps all Scripture (and the Wizard of Oz) is beyond time and is happening now?