St. Teresa’s Advice for Dealing With People Who Cannot or Will Not Engage in Christian Contemplation

Some things never change.Here's a little quote from Teresa of Ávila's classic book about prayer, The Way of Perfection: Let us now return to speak of those souls I have mentioned who cannot practise recollection or tie down their minds to mental prayer or make a meditation. We must not talk to them of either of those two things— they will not hear of them; as a matter of fact, there are a great many people who seem terrified at the very name of contemplation or mental prayer. The next time … [Read more...]

Instructions on Prayer from a Trappist Monk

"I'm speechless," remarked Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO, after a congregation of several hundred young evangelicals vigorously applauded his visit to their worship service last month. But then he quipped, "We don't talk in the monastery much."Grace Fellowship in Athens, GA (home of the University of Georgia) recently invited this deeply contemplative Trappist monk to come and speak to the congregation, comprised mostly of students. Grace's pastor, John Raymond, has for the past decade re … [Read more...]

John Cassian: The Leap Year Contemplative

February 29 is the feast day of St. John Cassian — who, in addition to being a "leap year saint" is also one of the most important early contemplatives in the Christian tradition.Cassian (ca. 360-435) brought monasticism — and, therefore, contemplative spirituality — from the deserts of the Middle East to Western Europe. His birthplace is uncertain, but by the 380s he was living in a monastery in Bethlehem; subsequently he left that location to travel the deserts of Egypt, where he and his sp … [Read more...]

Emptiness and Non-Attachment

Last week I wrote about the difference between how Catholics understand meditation and contemplation, based on material found in the Catholic Catechism. A reader left the following comment on that post: We rest in God. But we do not empty our minds. We are always in communication with God. Prayer is focusing on God and we praise him for who He is, we intercede for others, and we put our requests to Him. We align our wills with His in prayer. Never do we make our minds a 'spiritual vacuum' for … [Read more...]

Catholic Meditation and Contemplative Prayer: What’s the Difference?

A reader of my blog wrote to me and asked this question: What do you see is the difference between Catholic meditation and contemplative prayer?  It's a great question, made complicated by the fact that words like meditation and contemplation can be used in a variety of ways, especially in society at large.For example, many people may associate "meditation" with eastern or secular practices such as zen or mindfulness meditation, exercises that are primarily a form of self-knowledge or self- … [Read more...]

Why Trappists Make Great Spiritual Guides

If you want access to a living Catholic contemplative tradition, look to the Trappists.In the past few weeks I've read three books that demonstrate the wisdom of Trappist monks. Two of the books are new, and one is an overlooked gem from twenty years ago. One of the titles is written by a monk; the others by laypersons who share how the friendship and guidance of monks helped them in periods of transition in their own spiritual journey.First up is Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship … [Read more...]

Creative Conversation Begins with Contemplative Compassion

A friend of mine, who is the executive director of a progressive Christian ministry, told me the story of meeting an activist who identifies as spiritual but not religious. At first, this person wasn't even interested in talking to my friend.He saw a Christian as someone hopelessly irrelevant, part of the problem rather than the solution.Fortunately, my progressive Christian friend was able to communicate one essential detail. "I'm not here to convert you or to argue with you. I'm here … [Read more...]