Is Christian Mysticism “Special”?

The Stairway of Perfection by Walter Hilton. Was he or wasn't he a "real" mystic?

Yesterday morning I received quite an interesting comment, posted on my webpage about Walter Hilton, from a man who I believe has never commented on this blog or website before. It’s the kind of comment that reveals just how much diversity there can be among people who share a common interest in mysticism — for this person’s idea of what constitutes “real” mysticism differs significantly from my own views. His comments are rather provocative, and hopefully I’m not being too snarky in my response! But he does raise some interesting issues about mystical identity, and the nature of authentic mysticism, including the perennial question of whether mystical experience is, in essence, an elitist or “special” phenomenon. Read on to see both the comment and my response, but read at your own risk, for the snark-factor contained herein is a bit higher than normal for this blog.

His comment begins like this (remember, he is responding to my page in which I describe Walter Hilton as a 14th-century English mystic):

Although commonly thought of as belonging to the genre ‘Mysticism’,  Walter Hilton’s ‘The Ladder of Perfection’ is strictly speaking not a work of mysticism at all.  It more accurately belongs to the Contemplative-Homiletic genre,  and its ‘systematic theology’ of the contemplative life is unfortunately so emeshed in the power systems of austere Augustinian religiosity and theology (hence Hilton’s obsession with ‘pride’) that it could even be described as belonging to an anti-mystical tradition.  Ultimately,  Hilton wants to control his ‘hot’ feelings towards God and Jesus;  indeed,  as a theological control freak,  he wants to control everything (this was a pre-psychological age).  True mystics don’t.

Ay yi yi.

This triggered me pretty thoroughly, not so much in terms of what was said, but rather how it was said. I think the debate of who “is” and “isn’t” a mystic can be quite a fun little head trip, a cerebral way to avoid praying and avoid the challenge of contemplative practice by distracting ourselves over useless debates over the meaning of words and limits of identity. It’s a very boyish thing to do, a kind of spiritual chest-thumping in which I get to show off how my knowledge of who is and isn’t in the mystical club is so much superior to your knowledge. Now, that being said, I’m genuinely interested in the question of mystical identity, and so find it interesting when someone makes a provocative statement (like “Walter Hilton does not deserve to be called a mystic.”) However (and this is where my getting triggered comes in), I think there’s wisdom in bringing a certain humility to such conversations. In other words, if you want to argue against Walter Hilton being considered a “true” mystic, say “I think we should reconsider Hilton’s identity as a mystic and here are my reasons why…” rather than just tossing off a more sweeping (and, dare I say, arrogant) statement like “Hilton’s writing is strictly speaking not mystical at all.” So, while my commenter is entitled to his opinion, I find myself pushing back against him not because he holds this opinion, but because of his manner of stating it. Too bad, because I think a thoughtful, carefully reasoned, but humble statement about why Hilton doesn’t make the mystical grade would be rather interesting to read.

But wait, it gets better. The commenter goes on to make some pretty sweeping statements about mysticism in general.

Moreover,  mystic souls are not interested in ‘systematic theology’,  and they are similarly not interested in scribbling cosy letters of instruction to others of the faith;  what they are interested in is a one-on-one relationship with God, an intense -  and sometimes sexually experienced  (not mandatory) -  relationship in which the mystic identifies with God-in-Jesus,  and is emeshed only in a God-becoming process of total love which transcends the constraints of  institutional religiosity and theology.  They are God-destroyers as much as God-creators.  They boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before,  and are by no means timid when it comes to exploring the idea that the God ‘out there’ is one and the same with God ‘in here’.  For them,  this is the most blatantly obvious,  and at the same time sublime,  idea in the whole universe of human spirituality,  which perhaps explains why most of us simply don’t make the grade…

I have a really hard time imagining Richard of St. Victor or Bernard of Clairvaux being uninterested in systematic theology, let alone most of the Orthodox mystics, John of the Cross, Thomas Aquinas, or even Thomas Merton. The fact that mystics may well see the limitations of systematic thought does not mean that they reject it as useless. And saying that mystics have no interest in providing guidance to others is even more absurd. From Clement of Alexandria to Richard Rohr, contemplatives and mystics in the Christian tradition have always engaged in writing texts designed to teach and to instruct.

But then the author of this comment reveals his true colors: he understands mysticism in a neoplatonic, flight-of-the-alone-to-the-alone sense: “a one-on-one relationship with God… which transcends the constraints of  institutional religiosity and theology.” In other words, true mystics can’t be bothered with other people (or with messy human institutions), because they’re so busy grooving on their own special, quasi-erotic blissfest with God.


The whole point behind Christian mysticism is that it isn’t individualist, narcissistic, elitist, or otherwise “special.” Any kind of “mysticism” that leads toward such ends does not make the grade as a form of Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is about humility and self-forgetfulness, community, relationship, and hospitality. As Julian of Norwich so elegantly pointed out, mystical experience is always given in service of others, not for self-aggrandizement or ego-definition. It’s one of the paradoxes of mysticism, but the experience of egolessness can actually be profoundly ego-enhancing if it is not embedded in community, love, and relatedness to others.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no evidence of spiritual narcissism, or mystical elitism, within Christianity, because of course there is. Richard Rolle, who lived a generation before Walter Hilton, leaps to mind. But I believe that, taken as a whole, the Christian tradition generally eschews this kind of “mystics-are-special” rhetoric in favor of a more down-to-earth, grounded, humble, gentle, kind, hospitable spirituality of mysticism-embedded-in-relationship. This is why the archetype for western mysticism is not the solitary renunciate, but rather the monk, nun or friar whose spirituality is always embedded in some form of community.

The commenter’s adherence to neoplatonic solitary mysticism explains why he is so hostile to Hilton’s opposition to pride. If mysticism is only about my personal enlightenment, who cares if I’m proud or not?

There’s this widespread idea in popular spirituality that mysticism is the same, regardless of what religious or cultural milieu it occurs. I disagree with such a notion. I believe God is the same, but mysticism happens at the human level and thus is unavoidably colored by our thoughts, values, perspectives, beliefs, and subconscious assumptions. And this is why Christian mysticism is fundamentally different from other kinds of mysticism. I’m not trying to put down non-Christian forms of mysticism, and anyone who knows me knows how much I respect and admire all the world’s great wisdom traditions. But I believe that to truly respect and admire something, we should be honest about it. Mysticism is like language. It happens everywhere, but everywhere it is different.

Here’s how this comment ends:

Sorry for the note of bathos, but Hilton’s ‘mysticism’ isn’t.  Try reading some of the works in the Italian mystical tradition.  Some of the writings of the Italian mystics are the ‘real thing’.

I hope the author of the comment is reading this blog post, and even though he very well may pen a lengthy rejoinder to this blog post detailing all of my failings both as a writer and as a student of mysticism, I nevertheless want to hear from him which of the Italian mystics he thinks really are “the ‘real thing.’” Francis of Assisi? Catherine of Siena? Catherine of Genoa? Lorenzo Scupoli? or perhaps someone I’m missing? Must be, because I simply don’t see how any of these folks are any more “authentic” than boring old Walter Hilton. But then again, what do I know? :-)

Seven Essential Thomas Merton Books
Why Is "Mysticism" A Dirty Word?
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?


  1. I’m reading some of Thomas Merton’s works right now and I would say that he definitely took the Bible and theological principles seriously. I’m pretty new at exploring and practicing contemplative prayer but I’ve been reading the Bible for awhile and if anyone considers themselves a Christian, whether a Christian mystic or not, I would think getting famliar with the divinely inspired word of God, not just spiritual experiences, are essential in living out one’s faith. I’ve had some deep and real experiences with God while meditating but I view contemplation, though a very real, deep and inpsiring part of my faith practice, as still a part of it, and not “it” in its entirety.

    This reminds me of Guigo II and his “ladder of the monks”, that had four rungs, the last being the contemplative experience. Every rung on the ladder was foundational and built upon the other. Reading scripture mindfully, prayer and lectio devina all came before contemplative prayer. We need scripture to help guide us, it comes from God, and in my opinion, is tragic to ignore for the Christian because with it comes life and light and direction, noursishment and inspiration for the mystic soul.
    ~blessings, Jessica

  2. I really don’t think we have to defend who is truly a mystic and who isn’t or argue whether mysticism within one tradition is special relative to all others. While this may be useful for understanding, it really misses the point it seems to me. What is given constant emphasis in this blog (and for which I am deeply appreciative), although sometimes the intellectual gymnastics elude me, is the over arching truth that mysticism is sought and engaged in order to open us to a transforming dynamic and reality that makes us more loving, more compassionate, more giving, more accepting, more peaceful, more real, more serving and less the captive of our own self serving ego. I know I am way too simplistic in this assessment, but after a (rather long) lifetime of intellectualism, I find cold comfort there anymore and seek now the abiding reality of presence and benediction so I can love more wastefully and live more courageously. Learning to die daily is paradoxically the beginning of life.

  3. Oh, for goodness’ sake, and I thought comments like this were exclusive to the yoga online community, which has been driving me batty with talks of “real” yoga and the degrading of others’ experiences that don’t match the high priestess’ definitions. But I see this silliness expands beyond yoga and the more new age edges of thought.

    It drives me bonkers when people try to define things like this or when they assume they know what someone experienced — an assumption that your commenter is making. And yes, as you were responding early on to his bizarre comment about “true” mystics not being interested in writing, etc., I kept thinking of Julian of Norwich and who could possibly deny her validity.

    Furthermore, what limits this comment puts on GOD! As if God could not choose to work through people in a variety of ways, giving mystical experience to even the lowliest among us — writers and teachers! ha! (and I am being facetious, obviously.)

  4. “I think the debate of who “is” and “isn’t” a mystic can be quite a fun little head trip, a cerebral way to avoid praying and avoid the challenge of contemplative practice by distracting ourselves over useless debates over the meaning of words and limits of identity. It’s a very boyish thing to do, a kind of spiritual chest-thumping in which I get to show off how my knowledge of who is and isn’t in the mystical club is so much superior to your knowledge.” So why engage in it? You begin well but then fall into the same trap as your responder. Keep to the above sentiment.

    It always amazes me how, while on the path to God, we can so easily get caught up in arguments, dialectic, chest thumping and other forms of spiritual materialism. Then it is not about God but about ego. I suspect that if one reads carefully “the mystics” everyone wants to be like that they ” the so called mystics” really seldom write about “mysticism,” in fact never use that word, but instead focus on the relationship with God and His expression of love to them and through them and the world to all around them. Merton in fact never spoke of himself as a mystic, in fact said he was not and yet . . .

    I agree with Jessica. “Reading scripture mindfully, prayer and lectio devina all came before contemplative prayer.” Only I would say are all part of contemplative prayer because even once one reaches contemplative prayer and moves beyond words, lectio remaids as a foundation, no matter what faith scripture one reads. What comes out of prayer – well sometimes we feel God’s presence and some times we don’t but He is always present. Our lack of awarness (emotinal response) may well be more about us than God. I have found that as my life simply becomes prayer – through lectio, through work, through compassion for those I find lacking compassion, that God is always present – sometimes He makes me laugh, sometimes he leds me to cry. Mostly he is simply present as a good friend is present and we co labor in the world. Does that make me a mystic? Who cares?

    To argue over who is and isn’t a mystic is as dissimulative as Cain’s response to God when asked “where is your brother” – to actually discuss mysticism begs the real question as much as Cain’s response – sort of like talking about breathing – the talk is not the being/breathing.

    As for me – I care not if a person is a mystic or not – I do care that God’s love is expressed though us and am grateful when He uses me to express that love. If that is happening then we all exercise God’s love and God’s will. That is all mysticism is anyway – experiencing the love and light of God and living it, not just bragging about it saying I/he is or is not a mystic.

    The discussion of mysticism and writign about mysticism as an “object” is specious and misses the point.

  5. Simon Whitney says:

    Dear Carl

    I think Philip’s comments would best have been ignored, to be honest. There is just so much in there that is open to debate that it is hard to know where to start, And I think that some commentators love to put in provocative comments just to get a rise. I know because there are times when I do it myself!!

    The hinge proposition (to use a philosophical concept) is “..most of us simply don’t make the grade”. A comment like that shows that Philip has very little personal contemplative or mystical understanding or experience, in my opinion. In fact, rather than a hinge proposition it shows that there is nothing holding this together at all.

    I think Jessica is spot on with her comments – just a shame that she is reading Merton!

  6. Carl,

    I wonder if we’re kind of in the same head-space right now regarding this topic of mystic elitism? Because I really appreciated how you just took the commenter to task directly. I’m pretty tired of the same old conversation that goes like this:

    O: “Mystics are an elite group who encounter God in a spechul way.” or, putting it another way: “Mystics are spechul snowflakes.”
    M: “Well, that’s where I have to disagree. I don’t believe that there is room for elitism in any path that leads to God and that includes mysticism.”

    And then the conversation devolves from there.

    I understand why your response might rub some regular readers the wrong way – it’s out of character for us to read your voice in this way. But I have to say, the egotistic, elitist mentality has to be called out and always held in check. This is what I expect my friends and spiritual community to do with me when they hear me making sweeping generalizations or trying to put something I’m interested in or participating in on a pedestal.

    Puh-leeze indeed.

  7. I agree with Simon. You were baited by your ego, hooked and dropped on shore. “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” As one of the modern mystical traditions you eschew says, “In my defenselessness my safety lies.”

  8. When someone quotes A Course in Miracles to me, while saying they agree with Simon ‘Guardian-of-Catholic-Orthodoxy’ Whitney, I think I can fairly say that I’m taking it from all sides!

    One of the reasons why I blog (and love to receive comments) is because I learn so much. Even if I’m learning the hard way.

    Thank you to everyone who’s keeping me honest.

  9. I’m in agreement with all who spoke thus far… and have some thoughts in response to Carl regarding mysticism being the same or different between traditions, and the notion that Christian mysticism is different because it is done “in community” rather than by solitary practitioners:

    1-Is a solitary mystic from other traditions actually practicing outside of community? In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a long tradition of solitary practice to facilitate concentration, but though they are physically alone in their practice, they are always embedded in community, and do their solitary practice for the benefit of the whole community. Others know they are practicing, and the devotion they exhibit inspires others to practice. And inside the “cave,” there is always with them the whole tradition. In fact, one practice we use is to constantly visualize our teacher or Buddha (and sometimes all the beings in a lineage of practice) over our heads to emphasize that we are never alone–we are always supported by the ones who went before. And we visualize the whole community there benefiting with us from the practice–including our “enemies”– and give away the results of our practice not just to other Buddhists, but to every living being–human, animal or other.

    2-Is it ever possible for a mystic not to be practicing alone? To me, the whole definition of a mystic is one who surrenders into union with God (or Brahman, or Buddha nature–whatever your tradition calls it). To do this, we have to let go of not just our ego, but also of our concepts. This is why there is a darkness to the practice: we give up all that knowing–all of the theology and conceptual scaffolding that our tradition provided to aim us toward this experience (though “experience” is a faulty word). The point of the practice is to leave the boat and enter the ocean.

    So then what makes a Christian mystic different from what I might call a Buddhist mystic? When we return from practice, we use a different language to talk about it. So to me there is no fundamental difference in the mystic “experience,” but there is a difference in the language and context back here on the earth. The danger when the ego re-constellates is always that it will co-opt the mystic “experience”–and that can happen whether someone is in a tradition or not. One hopes that a tradition will offer some protection against that, but it isn’t a guarantee by any means.

    • Jane, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Certainly it was not my intent to suggest that only Christianity has a necessary communal dimension to its mysticism, nor to imply that there is no solitary dimension to the Christian path, and I apologize if that’s what I seemed to be saying. In the Benedictine tradition there is a recognition that a mature monk may eventually embrace the eremitical (solitary) life. Such solitude is seen as emerging from community, not unlike your description of Tibetan practice. Likewise, Christianity has embedded in it the notion of solitude (“When you pray, go to your room and pray in secret”), but it is a solitude-expressed-within-community. My point in trying to draw a distinction between Christian and neoplatonic (“flight of the alone to the alone”) understandings of mysticism is to point out that the Christian tradition understands community as central to the (to use a Buddhist term) dharma. We do not become mystics for our sake alone, even if we were to live alone in the most remote of locations. Christian mysticism is always meant to be poured out to others (“The second commandment is like the first: love your neighbor as yourself”), but of course just how that manifests may take a variety of forms.

  10. How words just multiply like rabbits. There comes a point where explaining is too much like a hamster on his wheel. There is real power in silence – that is the ultimate solitude in the dark light of God.

  11. Carl,
    Excellent response…what more can be said.

  12. Thanks for the clarification. The more I read of your blog, the more I see parallels between the Christian mystic tradition and Mahayana Buddhism. And now understanding the context you were speaking from, I find the distinction you make quite helpful. Though I am ignorant about neoplatonic mysticism, when you refer to “flight of the alone to the alone,” I recognize in that statement the danger of mistaking a dualistic visionary experience that leaves the ego well intact with a mystic–or egoless–”experience.” Perhaps the trouble is semantic: people use the word mystic to describe both. My guess is the that of the two, the biggest danger of ego inflation comes from the visionary experience. Entering into egolessness means we let go of our separateness, and nothing but compassion can come from that since (and I paraphrase awkwardly here) if the left hand is injured, the right hand doesn’t hesitate to help it.

  13. Again, I want to express thanks to Jane for her very insightful and kind remarks. There is much wisdom is what you say, Jane. When I said earlier, that learning to die daily is the beginning of life, I was speaking of the ultimate need in mystical experience to let go the ego’s need to justify, defend, be right, be appreciated, and find reinforcement in concepts and discursive thought. All these things simply and ultimately feed the ego. The ego is the thing that gets inflated, justified, hurt, mad, offended, angry and defensive. To transcend that is to surrender. We need silence, we need stillness and we need surrender. It seems we are always learning to recognize the finger that points at the moon. I appreciate Carl’s comment that:

    “we do not becomes mystics for our sake, alone.”

    I completely agree and that’s why the notion of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism informs my own mystical journey as well as understanding the early definition of Christians as “Christianos” or “little Christs.”

  14. phillip mutchell says:

    One is reminded of the Spirit’s advice to Paul that those who remain in the boat will be saved, in the ocean we drown. Surely the purpose of Christian mysticism is grow in the knowledge of Christ, towards a specific revelation of the Father as revealed by Christ. If the resurrected life is our ultimate hope, then does this not involve having an ego, whatever is encapsulated will surely be distinct, even two dogs display different characters. From my inadequate understanding of other traditions it seems that one becomes discipled to a guru or enlightened person and effectively by dwelling in their presence experiences the divine, which is to say one surrenders to their experience as true which strikes me as the opposite of being ego-less. Isn’t the quality of Christian faith that as the Beach Boys phrased it on an alternative take that, we ‘hang onto your ego’ it is not that we become divine but that through that ‘daily renewing of the mind’ we have become as if divine, such being the gift of the Holy Spirit, but always gift and never possession. Is not this and the insistence on bodily resurrection the Christian trench before the No-Man’s Land of other mystical paths?

  15. I’m often confused as to why others act as if Eastern Mysticism has anything of value that’s greater than what’s found within the historical church when it comes to Christian Mysticism focused on the heart/person of Christ

    • Thanks for your comment, Gabriel. I’ve found that it’s best to read the words of the Christians who have done this kind of exploration: Bede Griffiths, Sara Grant, Henri LeSaux, Thomas Merton, Raimon Panikkar, William Johnston. While their ideas and perspectives are by no means perfect, they reveal how their faith in Christ was enhanced by their encounter with the teaching and wisdom of other faiths. That seems to be the key: for some Christians, at least, learning the wisdom of other faiths actually deepens their ability to love and praise Christ and to live according to his teaching and mandates. It seems to me that some Christians are called to engage in this kind of cross-cultural exploration, while others are called to remain completely focused on the expression of their faith within a Christian context. I believe we are wise to be slow to judge our brothers and sisters whose call is different than our own; instead of judging, perhaps we can learn from one another. God bless you!

  16. Gabriel – coming only from my perspective (which is admittedly limited), mysticism wasn’t taught or encouraged as a part of one’s spiritual life in the faith I grew up. In fact, I would go as far to say that it was deemed as evil. The only way to introduce myself to meditation and mysticism (so I thought) was through Eastern practice. It wasn’t until later that I realized there was an element of mysticism within Christianity itself and even later still that I learned that there were other Christians who didn’t think it was evil! :)

  17. “The Desert Fathers did not imagine themselves in the first place, to be mysitics, though in fact they often were. They were careful not to go looking for extrodinary experinces, and contented themselves with the stuggle for “purity of heart” and for control of their thoughts, to keep their minds and hearts empty of care and concern, so they might altogether forget themselves and apply themselves entirely to the love and service of God.” Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer p xxvii

    We spend all too much time talking about “mysticism” and “being mystics” in this generation as if it is a prize to capture. I doubt if John of the Cross, any of the Teresas, or Catharines, Eckhardt, Tauler or other Sts. of the church who experienced God thought too much about “mystic” as a category of discussion for themselves or anyone else. Maybe one should simply live the life in God one is led to without so much self reflection, or ego, as some call it here. I think the discussion of “Mysticism” probably should have stopped as a category with Evelyn Underhill since it seems that talking about it has taken on a larger importance than simply living. Talking about forgeting our “self”, is not the same as just surrendering to God’s will. Getting caught up in the importance of being published as an expert about “it,” instead of simply applying ourselves to the love and service of God is as far from “mysticism” as one can get. I suspect all this talk about mysticism and categories of mysticism (whether Christian, Buddhist, ermetical, conventual, visionary or not) is an insidious form of spiritual materialism that leds us away from the purity of heart God desires for us to discover in Him. In fact, the more one talks about mysticism, the more likely one is to never be a mystic, whatever that is.

  18. Brother Carl,

    More than feel you on where it is that you’re coming from.

    I actually made a blog post on the issue myself–called “East Vs West: Is Western Christianity or Eastern Christianity best suited for evanglising those in Eastern Religion?” ( )—with one aspect of note being that it was in studying other faiths that many may’ve come to realize that what they were looking at was already present in the Faith. Many times, it can be the case that what occurs in other religions is the reality of truth already present but in the sense of foreshadowing…..with Christ being the true fulfillment of that and all other aspects of truth in religions being pointers to that rather than the goal itself.

    When it comes to examining the reality of how the mysticism of Eastern Religions is so attractive to others, many may not realize that its due to how it has many facets that are involved in it such as contemplation and journey….counter to the forumula-like/ “1+1=2″ minset that rationalizes everything…and what’s sad is that Eastern Christianity/The Church in early history had a much different dynamic where others had no need to go looking into Eastern Religions because much of the church was so contemplative. On the same token, expressing the faith to groups in other camps is very much something that will require trying to understand others on their own terms….and due to that, it will indeed be the case that some Christians are called to engage in cross-cultural exploration. I also talked about this to some degree in the article I referenced earlier….and if willing/able, would love to hear your thoughts on it.


  19. Tana,

    I have had the same experience—as it wasn’t until I came in contact with other believers within Eastern Christianity that I was aware of how beautiful (and biblical) was the subject of mysticism from a Christ-Centered perspective. Of course, learning of mysticism from an Eastern perspective also included learning of those aspects of mysticism that are often accepted but are against the scriptures. Additionally, for me, it was different as I thought that many things similar to mysticism from the Christian East were very much in common with things alongside what can be found in Native American Spirituality when it comes to issues such as abhoring materialism and not having a mindset of dualism.

    Good points…and I agree, as too often is it the case that conformity to the culture preaching is what’s considered to be “evangelization” rather than allowing the Gospel to take root where you’re at. Its similar to the analogy of taking a plant in a pot/transplanting it as opposed to taking the plant/placing it in whatever soil you’re at so it can adapt to its environment.

    On a side note, some of what you noted can be seen in things such as witnessing to those in Indigenious cultures….As it concerns those who are involved in American-Indian cultures and Native Spirituality. For more info,

    —”Native Spirituality” ( )

    Richard Twiss of Wiconi International ( )is one of the greatest advocates/minds out there when it comes to contexualization of the Gospel and Biblical Discipleship amongst Indigineous peoples in America rather than making them feel as if they have to cease being “Indian” to see Jesus. ….just as it’d be wrong for Indians to do so in reverse. He spoke more on it in a clip entitled “Conquering England” ( ). For more information, one can consider:

    Richard Twiss: Avatar and Dancing With Wolves ( )

    Richard Twiss: A Theology of Manifest Destiny ( )

    Indigenous theologians discuss Christianity from a Native perspective ( ( )

    Richard Twiss 1 ( )

    • Gabriel, it’s so interesting that you should be mentioning Richard Twiss in a post directed to Tana… I met Tana a month ago when I participated in a conference in Portland OR, and the day after I returned to Atlanta, I went to an Emergent event where I met Richard Twiss! Small world.

  20. Seriously?!!

    Wow. I was so upset that I was not able to go to the Atlanta conference where Richard was going to be…as I had planned on going since I lived near there. But I missed the date. I was hoping to meet him as well, though its cool since I now know that I’m not the only one who’s interested in who he is…and I’ll have to settle (for now) with knowing others who know him. Indeed, its a small world

  21. Thank you Gabriel, for your thoughtful reply with so much information! I’m going to have to come back after Thanksgiving and dig into it.

  22. Gabriel, thank you for your links–and especially for your re-definition of evangelization, a concept that usually sets my hair on end. I am particularly sensitive to the missionary zeal of some Christians since my Grandmother, as a Native American child growing up on the Menominee reservation, was taken from her family (by order of the government at the time), forced into a Catholic boarding school and not allowed to see her family. The damage of the well-intentioned “evangelizing” at that time has been traumatic both in my family and in the tribe as a whole. Given this, though I was raised Catholic, it took my journey through Buddhism for me to again open myself to the goodness at the heart of the Christian message. What I see: “The good news” is far more flexible than those out to convert others understand it to be. It isn’t about people accepting Jesus particularly as their model, but about them accepting all that Jesus stands for: nonjudgment, unconditional love, the sacrifice of the ego–which is what I feel he did on the cross when he surrendered his spirit into God. These are all at the heart of what the Buddhists are also after, so there is no contradiction whatsoever. The cultivation of these “Jesus” qualities were also highly prized in the traditional religion of my Menominee grandmother. And here in Bali (where I am now staying) among the “pagans,” I see these qualities being cultivated by the traditional Balinese with great care and success.

    So why talk about mysticism, William? Because that is where we can find what joins us as one human family, no matter our diverse paths to God. We can see what is at the heart of all humans. We can then come to respect each others’ ways to God and actually learn from each other instead of always thinking we know best and trying to get everyone to do it our way. That’s why I appreciate Carl’s blog–this feels like a place where such a respectful and curious investigation is welcome and encouraged. My spiritual life and contemplations have been greatly enhanced by the intelligence and openness of the Christians I’ve encountered here.

    (For one example of a beautiful gratitude practice I learned from the Balinese, see my second blog post “No such thing as ordinary,” at

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