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...]

Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?

A reader of my blog wrote the following message to me: I have been meditating for about a year now. I have been working with a meditation teacher who has been helpful, but, even though we are of the same Christian faith, he leans too far into the Yogi tradition for my comfort level. My experience with Centering Prayer has been very positive and what I have read and heard about the Christian Contemplative Path resonates with me. To really deepen my practice, do I need a spiritual teacher? If so, … [Read more...]

When Contemplation Feels Like Dying

"For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).How exactly does this "spiritual dying" fit in with the practice of contemplative spirituality? One reader of this blog is curious about this. In response to my post from a few weeks back (Why is "Mysticism" a Dirty Word), I received the following message on Facebook: Thank you for your thoughts on mysticism's more dubious meanings, my learned friend. I'm afraid I've been shallow in my understanding, based as … [Read more...]

What To Do When Your Prayer Doesn’t Get ‘In The Zone’

A reader named Kevin wrote the following comment to me on Facebook, in response to my recent post Why Is "Mysticism" a Dirty Word. Thanks Carl, interesting points. I was wondering if I could pick your brain on something...when I meditate/contemplate on my breath (I have a semi regular habit) I only seem to get "in the zone" of a peaceful meditative state about 1 session in 10. The rest of the time not much happens. Is this normal? Am I expecting too much? I'm getting a bit … [Read more...]

What Good is Religion? A Contemplative Perspective

Bloggers on Patheos have been asked to reflect on the question "What Good is Religion?" this month. I figured it might be worth pondering from a contemplative perspective.When I was a young man I was fond of saying that religion brought out the best in people and it brought out the worst in people. For the best, I'd cite Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Dorothy Day as exemplars. Nowadays I might add Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis to the list. For the worst, I'd mention Jim Jones (of the People's … [Read more...]