A “Review in Process”

Arulba (who has at times commented here at this blog) is currently reading The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, and has blogged about it here. She’s not finished with the book yet, so her post is a kind of “review in process.” She has some interesting things to say, including critiquing some of the “goal-oriented” language I use when describing mysticism, as well as challenging the idea that Christian mysticism regards the unitive experience as communion rather than identification with God. She also calls into the question the idea of the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, as well as the distinction between panentheism and pantheism.

Alas, I am heading to the monastery for a retreat day today, so I don’t have time this morning to respond in any greater depth than this. I hope to write more later, either here or at her blog. Once again, here’s the link to read what she has to say: Mystical Musings

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  • Leland

    Hi Carl,
    I read Arulba’s comments regarding the “Big Book”. While she got the impression you were trying to “sell” Christian mysticism, after having read the entire book, I would not use that choice of words. It did seem at times that you were perhaps trying to get skeptical Christians to consider the idea that Christian Mysticism is a legitimate pathway to a deeper experience with God, but I don’t see that in a negative light. For myself, I would embrace the idea that Christian Mysticism is one of probably infinite ways of experiencing a deeper relationship with God, and depending on the individual, it may or may not be the ideal path for them. For instance, I would wholeheartedly concur with your statement in the “Big Book” that “Showing hospitality to those who are truly in need–no matter how pure or ‘impure’ they might be–may, ultimately, be a far shorter route to mystical union with God than a lifetime of contemplation.” I don’t know about hospitality to the needy effecting mystical union, but according to Matthew 25 it graces us with a Holy encounter …”just as you did it to one of the least of these….you did it to ME”. I believe that God’s love for all of us is far beyond our ability to comprehend, and in spite of the ways in which we disagree about the best way to connect with God, love will find a way.

  • http://mindfuldistraction.com arulba

    Hi Carl!

    Obviously, I am enjoying your book. It has me thinking deep thoughts! :) Just a quick note on your post here. I don’t have any qualms with Christian mysticism being about communion with God. What I disagree with is the idea that this is unique. Every world religion I can think of is ultimately about communion with “the One”, not identification with “the One”. It is only the ego that requires “identification” and ultimately, we are NOT our egos.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Thanks, Leland and Arulba. I hope I’ll have time to blog about some of these issues in greater depth, but my schedule is so white hot between now and when I leave for Ireland in two weeks that I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll get in. One of the challenges, for me, was writing the book in such a way that it would appeal both to people who are committed to orthodox Christianity (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) and who may be suspicious of mysticism, while at the same time writing for people who already have a lively interest in mysticism, but who may be suspicious of orthodox Christianity! Quite a balancing act, and I’m sure I failed miserably in many ways. It’s going to be interesting (if difficult for my ego!) to receive reader feedback and reviews that will help me to understand the ways in which the book does and doesn’t work — for both of these demographics. Of course, the nutty part is that sometimes what will work for the mystic-lovers is precisely what won’t work for the orthodox Christians — and vice versa.

  • http://www.suprarational.org Ron Krumpos

    Carl,
    In case you miss it, here is my comment to arulba’s post:
    Ron Krumpos says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    August 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm
    I find it difficult to comment on your post, probably because I admire Carl McColman. Consider that he is addressing Christian mysticism. Someone writing about the mystical tradition of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Judaism would take a much different approach.

    In my my e-book, I attempt to summarize many of the similarities, and some difference, among those five faiths. While you can compare concepts, e.g., Gnosis” (Greek) is somewhat equivalent to “da`at” (Hebrew), “jnana” (Sanskrit), “ma`rifa” (Arabic), or “panna” (Pali), each as a means of spiritual knowing, they are not exactly the same.

    Perhaps a single sentence reflects my own conclusion: Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

  • http://arulba.com arulba

    Personally, I am not suspicious of traditional Eastern Orthodoxy. My suspicion lies with Western Orthodoxy which has attempted to merge the abstract values of Greek rationalism with the Hebrew God. I’m with the Existentialists as far as this goes – the absolute values associated with Greek rationalism are completely incompatible with the individuality inherent in the ancient Hebrew notion of “God”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Please say more about this. Do you think the eastern church does not attempt to integrate Greek philosophy with the Christian revelation? Do you think Christians should have nothing to do with the thought of Plotinus and the other Neoplatonists? I’m not trying to bait you, I’m genuinely curious as to where you’re coming from. Brian McLaren, in his most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, makes a similar argument that we need to deconstruct the unwieldy integration of Greco-Roman philosophy and New Testament spirituality that accrued over the early years of Christianity. Are you familiar with his argument, and is that pretty much where you’re coming from?

  • http://arulba.com arulba

    Karen Armstrong said that when the Eastern Orthodox Church split off from the Roman Catholic Church early on, it opted not to attempt to merge Greek rationalism with Christian theology. Armstrong said that the Eastern Church (which was a large part Greek) had “been there, done that” for centuries already and was fully aware of the flaws. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand was just coming into contact with Greek rationalist thought and couldn’t get enough of it. Almost all of the theology of the Middle Ages was an attempt to merge Greek philosophy into Christian thought. Of course, there were elements of this already with Paul since he was a Helenized Jew. But essentially, the Eastern Orthodox church developed very differently than the Roman Catholic Church over the years because it didn’t have the same enthusiasm for Greek rationalism that the Roman Catholic Church had.

    Dostoevsky, (whom I consider to be a Christian mystic), was one of the first to recognize the unresolvable nature of the merger. By his lifetime, it wasn’t just affecting the Western world, it was affecting the entire world and making its way into Russian Orthodoxy, too. Dostoevsky was very concerned about this. He felt the way out of the problem was through the traditional Russian/Eastern Orthodox Church. (This conflict and the potential way out of it is the theme of The Brothers Karamazov. Existentialism is largely about the unresolvable nature of this conflict, too.)

    I’m not a philosopher, so I’m not sure if Neoplatinism is the primary target of concern or not, although if I remember correctly, it is. :) The specific problem, as I understand it, is this: the Hebrew faith was focused on maintaining Hebrew individuality in the face of diversity. Therefore, the God of the Hebrews stressed a value system based on individuality. The Greek rationalists created an abstract value system that was supposedly attainable by all human beings. The two exist independently just fine. But when you assign this abstract value system to the individual value system of the Hebrew God, you’ve got an incompatibility. The Western world has been trying to solve this incompatibility for centuries, but there essentially is no way out of it. It doesn’t just affect Christianity, it affects all of Western society and pretty much the entire world because western thought has had such a heavy influence globally.

    What you end up with is lots of religious hubris (and anti-religious hubris), holier than thou problems, my way is right for me and is right for you, a lack of concern for the environment, and existential malaise (Doomsday Christians looking forward to the rapture and doomsday environmentalists, for instance.) We have trouble fully living the world because we’ve been trying to reconcile a “schizophrenic split” that cannot be reconciled.

    I’m not familiar with Brian McLaren, so am not familiar with his argument. It is my feeling that this is something we can transcend, but it is not something we can go back and undo.

  • http://arulba.com arulba

    Did a search in my archives for the info. from Karen Armstrong. It was from her book Visions of God about Christian mystics. Possibly a chapter called “The Metaphysical God vs. the Unknowable God”, although I’m not certain whether this came from her book or was simply a title I came up with. But there is more info. about the “split” here.

  • InfiniteWarrior

    we need to deconstruct the unwieldy integration of Greco-Roman philosophy and New Testament spirituality that accrued over the early years of Christianity.

    Imperial Roman philosophy, i.e. binary rationalism along with the “domination” (as opposed to stewardship) and “dictatorship” mentality? Yes, please.

    Call it “creative destruction”. Even Michelangelo was creatively destructive: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” (Looks like there’s an angel in the marble over at “Apprising Ministries” as it happens.) Reminds one of Rumi’s Love is a Stranger.

    You are a ruby embedded in granite.
    How long will you pretend it’s not true?
    We can see it in your eyes.
    Come to the root of the root of your Self.

    And quick!

    Nietzsche did it. William Blake did it. And, unless I’m mistaken, even Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy did it. Perhaps it’s past time the “Universal” Church did it.

    I also have to agree with arulba on most of the points made regarding “rationalizing” mysticism, Christian or otherwise, i.e. dividing mysticism into “ordinary” and “extraordinary” varieties. Arugh? Mysticism is mysticism — the life’s blood that freely flows between the wisdom traditions, criss-crossing all ideological and philosophical boundaries in the process.

    Greek, on the other hand? Not so much, imho. Heraclitus, for one, fits right in. :)


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