The Message of the Mystics

People ask me all the time if I’m working on a new book. The answer is yes — I’ve actually been developing an idea since late last year. I realized, though, that I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet, mainly because I have intentionally been limiting the amount of time I’ve been putting in to the blog, for a variety of reasons.

Anyway, now seems to be as good a time as any to post a few words about my new project. Bear in mind, of course, that this is very much a work in progress, so the concept could morph/change considerably over the months to come (and there’s always the chance that I’ll ditch this idea completely and put my energy into a different direction). So, with that disclaimer in mind… what I am exploring is this question: “What does it mean to apply the wisdom of at least some of the great mystics of history to the spiritual life today?” In other words, how can the wisdom of, say, Julian of Norwich, John Ruusbroec, or even more recent mystics like Evelyn Underhill and Thomas Merton, make a practical difference in our lives today?

After all, it’s one thing to read the mystics, and even take inspiration from them… but what do we need to do in order to truly apply their wisdom to our lives? This is particularly germane to those of us who do not live in a consecrated religious setting (like a monastery or convent). Many of the mystics throughout history, at least in the Christian tradition, have been monks or nuns — and their writing is geared toward others who share their vowed life. This is not to suggest that only monastics can be mystics or contemplatives; after all, a key message of writers like Underhill and Merton (and others, like Karl Rahner) is that mystical spirituality is for everyone. But what does that mean? What difference does the teaching of the mystics make to ordinary folks trying to make it through the day here in the twenty-first century? What is the relationship between mysticism and religion, or mysticism and postmodern values and ethics, or mysticism and social justice? Those are big questions, but how do we answer them in practical, down-to-earth ways?

I realize in writing this post that what I’m describing is still very amorphous and abstract — after all, my work on this project is in its early stages, and I don’t want to say too much more precisely because the project is so young. But my goal over the next year or so will be to combine stories from the lives of some of the mystics themselves, with stories from my life or the lives of others alive today, that will help to illuminate how the message of the mystics can transform, liberate, and enlighten us, here and now, today.

Stay tuned… more to come…

(via Blogpress for iPad)

Seven Essential Thomas Merton Books
Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the "Rahner Challenge"?
Why Is "Mysticism" A Dirty Word?
Meet the Newest Doctor of the Church: Saint Gregory of Narek
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Debra Masters

    Will be waiting with anticipation for your new work!!!

  • George


    This is a great, great idea. I love your Big Book of Christian Mysticism, a wonderful overview but also very practical which is where you seem to be going with this new proposed project. How would this work be different from you have done in in the the Big Book? We have such resources in our comtemplative christian heritage, but as you say much of this work has unfortunately been left to the realm of our “professional” members, religious orders, monasteries, etc. What are the lessons, practices from our contemplative tradition that make sense, can work in our lives filled with work, family, soccer and baseball practices, PTA meetings, chores, etc. Please, please go forward with this. Your writing style and sensitivity that you exhibit in BBofCM would be perfect for this. Lets rescue our mystics from the esoteric to the daily. Would love to read your insights into such a project. Blessings on this endeavor.

    • Carl McColman

      This new idea is meant to be a bit more focused on actual teachings from the mystics — or, at least, some of the mystics — themselves. So, more background information on the mystics I’ll be writing about, more direct quotations from their writings. Originally my idea was to draw from a large number of sources, but my current thinking is to limit my sources to perhaps seven or so mystical writings and the Bible of course. I may also throw in the occasional quotation from a non-Christian source, just to spice things up a bit. And if it’s successful, then I can write a follow-up book, drawing from a different seven or so mystics!

  • Peter G Kimble

    My prayers are that all you endevor will be God inspired and so proberbly come out as the right thing for you and us all in whatever form it takes. We must also remember that the miss takes are also important in teaching.
    May the Love of God be with you now and always. Yours sincerely Watchman Kimble

  • Grace

    Sounds like a great idea. I would definitely be interested in the reading it.