Is Mysticism Genetic?

A reader of this blog named Chris writes: I have been studying the German medieval mystics and I am strangely drawn to them. My ancestry is strongly German and my historical spiritual roots are there. Does God encode us with a certain kind of spiritual mystical DNA? I can't help but wonder if Christian mysticism runs in my family and ancenstry? Chris, thank you for your question. For me it immediately brings to mind the Star Wars myth, where Luke Skywalker learns that his strength in The Force … [Read more...]

Thirteen Characteristics of Healthy Spirituality

Following the passing of Anglican contemplative theologian Kenneth Leech, I've been revisiting several of his books. In the back of his book True God: An Exploration in Spiritual Theology is Leech's manifesto "Toward a Renewed Spirituality." It's an important statement that deserves wide consideration.Ken offers thirteen points that he considers essential for the ongoing renewal of Christian spirituality. Here are his points with a my reflection on them. Ken's words are in bold type, my … [Read more...]

Three Mystics You May Have Missed

Walk into a Catholic bookstore — or a general bookstore large enough to have a "Christian mysticism" section — and you will see books by or about Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila, along with anonymous works like The Cloud of Unknowing or The Way of a Pilgrim.  These are the "A-List" mystics: figures who are renowned for their sanctity, their wisdom, and their contemplative teaching.Anyone who is interested in discovering the wisdom of the mystics ought … [Read more...]

Seven Ways the Mystics Inspire Us Today

One of my favorite quotations comes from Karl Rahner: "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist."It's a prophetic statement, from a man who died in 1984. When paired with the demographic realities of the last 30 years (Americans who identify as Christian comprised 85% of the population in 1985, but only 70% of the population today, while the so-called "nones" — people without religious affiliation — grew from 8% in '85 to 16% today), it's fair to say that Rahner's "fut … [Read more...]

How Mysticism is Unique — and Universal

How, exactly, does Christian mysticism relate to all the other "mysticisms" of the world (Kabbalah, Sufism, Taoism, Vedanta, Zen, etc.)?A reader of this blog writes:I have been reading your Big Book of Christian Mysticism: on page 64 you say that "Ultimately ... no absolutely clear distinction can be drawn between Christian and non-Christian mysticism." This concerns me, because you *do* seem to say in other parts of the book that there *is* a clear distinction between the two (for one, … [Read more...]

Mindfulness and Contemplation

Recently a reader left the following comment on this blog:I have been reading and tried to practice the way of a contemplative life although poorly I believe. But my hunger for anything on the topic of contemplation continues. Recently I have also been enticed into “mindfulness” practices. Now what or how do you relation contemplation and Mindfulness? They’re beginning to sound that there is a correlation? Thank you!Thanks for your comment. First of all, we are all "poor" when it comes to con … [Read more...]

Letter and Spirit: Thoughts and Silence?

In his sermon On Conversion, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux quotes Acts 26:24, only he paraphrases it like this: "Too much thinking has made you mad!"Whenever I see a verse like this rendered in an unusual or thought-provoking way, I like to check out the original Greek or Hebrew, even though I'm strictly an amateur when it comes to Biblical languages.These words were spoken by Festus, who is criticizing Paul when the saint is addressing Agrippa. Festus says, in G … [Read more...]