Contemplation and Dialogue (or, Speaking of Silence)

My latest Patheos column is Contemplation and Dialogue. Please follow the link to read it. In it I explore what role having a contemplative or mindfulness practice — the discipline of attending to silence on a regular basis, which for people of faith includes a dimension of prayer — in supporting creative and positive dialogue, as opposed the the kind of “dialogue” in which one party attempts to control or coerce the other.

I’d be curious to know your thoughts on this matter.

Five Things Christian Contemplatives can learn from Buddhists
Creative Conversation Begins with Contemplative Compassion
Why Trappists Make Great Spiritual Guides
Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?
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.

  • susan

    An absolutely beautiful Monastic Interreligious Dialogue article written by Sister Meg Funk back in 2003….so resonates with the spirit of your article Carl.

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks for the link. Sr. Meg is one of my heroes, so it is an honor to think that my work resonates with hers!

  • Jeff

    The below is definitely not in resonance with your article! But that is to be expected from me I suppose.

    Carl, you are a Catholic.

    In the 1500’s Catholic priests preached the gospel in Japan and many Japanese converted freely to faith in Christ. In the 1600’s thousands of Japanese Christians were cruelly and horribly martyred for refusing to renounce their faith. The survivors practiced their religion underground for 200 years until changing conditions in Japan caused by contact with western countries allowed them to come out in the open.

    In the 1700’s in Lhasa, Tibet, Tibetan converts to Catholicism were flogged for refusing to give divine honors to the Dalai Lama as these converts now felt that Jesus was the only man to honored as divine.

    Was all this a hideous waste of time? Should the priests have instead encouraged the Japanese and Tibetans to find truth in contemplative Buddhism and spared them sharing in Christ’s sufferings?

    Is Jesus just a spiritual accessory found in Christianity and not meant to be universal in application and presented as such?

    Yes, you can be a “spiritual” and wise and good person without Christ, but that isn’t the same as knowing the living and true God through Jesus. Contemplative spirituality is based on the denial of the central pre-eminence and mediatorship of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Unfortunately, while usually not openly affirmed, this viewpoint is found often in contemplative Christianity, hence the polite reluctance to “impose one’s views”.

    • Carl McColman

      Jeff, you appear to be confusing contemplative practice with interfaith dialogue. I know many contemplatives who do not share my interest in interfaith work. If you want to attack my interfaith work, so be it. But it doesn’t follow that contemplative spiritually is necessarily interfaith. Not all adherents of interfaith work are contemplatives, and not all contemplatives engage in interfaith work. They are different. Read Thomas Dubay for an example of a Catholic contemplative who is emphatically not interfaith.

  • Jeff

    Thank you for the clarification. Since I see Jesus as the Word of God incarnate in flesh and bone, the giver of light and life and the Spirit in the here and now, and not as the Silence of God this interfaith work is subtle and hard for me to appreciate or to really understand its purpose and point. I certainly want to live in peace with my neighbors and talk freely and kindly with them, but I don’t think it would be honest to say or give the impression that different religions or spiritual experiences are really the same and there are just differences in the terminologies used to describe things.

  • jane brunette

    @ jeff: When traveling in India, I encountered a number of Christian missionaries, some of whom were downright offensive in their arrogant belittling of local religions. But I met one Catholic priest who showed the true spirit of Christ: He lived among the people, went to their ceremonies with them–their weddings and celebrations. He served with open-heartedness and with no agenda but to love them fully as they were, and never “preached the Gospel” to anyone unsolicited. However, some would come to him and ask him to teach them his practice, because they saw in his example something real and beautiful that they wanted to emulate. These were the ones he taught, and who converted to Catholicism.

    From my side, there is no way to illumination besides complete unconditional love–which Jesus personified. The imitation of his mastery of love is the whole point of Christianity. As Carl so rightly points out, contemplation helps all of us to contact and rest in this love. Whatever our religion, contemplation is a tool we can use–and for those lucky enough to find in Jesus an inspiration that brings them to a deep longing to embody unconditional love, the power of their devotion is a great blessing. However, Jesus was not a Christian and the spirit of unconditional love does not favor Christians–just as the missionary I met served all with great love, whatever their professed religion. God and love are beyond all of that. As Jesus said, we are all children of God.