St. Benedict and the Prosperity Gospel

This past Tuesday night my wife and I went with some 19,000 other folks to hear Hillsong United, the Australia praise band famous for their song "Oceans," which is the closest thing I've ever heard to an actual contemplative piece of contemporary Christian music. It was quite the extravaganza: over two hours of praise music, the songs punctuated by earnest mini-sermons from the various band members on the necessity of forming or reaffirming an intimate relationship with Jesus, who loves us and wa … [Read more...]

St. Athanasius on the Nature of Angels

The Life of St Antony of the Desert, written by the fourth century Bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, contains this charming passage in which the author explains a little bit about the nature of angels. What I love about this passage is, while he is not trying to make a point about how contemplative the angels are (and how their presence in our lives helps up to be more contemplative), that is nevertheless pretty much the gist of what he's saying. The holy angels are friendly and calm in … [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...]

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives

Tibetan Buddhists have a series of spiritual exercises that are seen as foundational to their spiritual practice: a sort of "spiritual boot camp." They are called ngöndro or in English, "preliminary practices."The aspirant who wishes to attain enlightenment begins with these preliminary exercises, which include a series of 100,000 prostrations and a variety of chants designed to purify the individual of impediments such as jealousy, attachment, or delusion. According to Thubten Chodron, "The … [Read more...]

Pentecost and Ecstasy

A reader of my blog named Paul emailed me the following question: I realize this is a difficult question to answer because of its lack of specificity, however any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.  The Pentecostal experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, is it the same thing as experiencing the ecstasy of God? Thanks for your question, even though it does indeed lack specificity! It's a huge question, and I doubt that I can do it justice. So here are just a few thoughts, and I h … [Read more...]

Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It’s Because We All Do)

An editor at Patheos recently pointed me to the following trailer, and suggested I blog some thoughts in response to it.Well, aside from being very interested in seeing the film, it makes me ponder how so many people we think of as "saints" or "mystics" or particularly "holy" often have interior lives shaped by profound struggle.We need look no further than Thomas Merton. Granted, he's nowhere near canonization (and I doubt he ever will be — he's more like Meister Eckhart than John of … [Read more...]

In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech

I have learned of the passing of Father Kenneth Leech, who died on Saturday after a long illness. With his passing, we have lost one of the great contemplatives of our time, who was also a prophet for God's justice and mercy.He was born in 1939 and grew up in a secular home in the north of England. As a youth he was inspired by Alisdair MacIntyre (later famous for his renowned study of postmodern moral theory, After Virtue) who helped him realize that it is possible to have a critical, inq … [Read more...]