Flannery O’Connor on Dogma

"Dogma can in no way limit a limitless God. The person outside the Church attaches a different meaning to it than the person in. For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction. It preserves mystery for the human mind. Henry James said the young woman of the future would know nothing of mystery and manners. He had no business to limit it to one sex." —Flannery O'Connor, "Faith and Mystery" from Spiritual Writings … [Read more...]

The Trappists

Twice in the last six months I've visited Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist Monastery in Conyers, not far from where I live near Atlanta. I had only been there two or three times previously, in all the years that I've lived here; never mind all my interest in contemplative spirituality and mysticism. Here is one of the most dedicated living traditions of Western mysticism, a tradition with a documented lineage of over 900 years, and I've basically just ignored it. To my own loss, to be … [Read more...]

Good Omens

While I was in London, my friends Gwen and Rob gave me a gift — a copy of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. At some point in our rambling conversation the book had come up, and I confessed that I had never read it. Rob wanted to make sure that this horrendous gap in my cultural literacy was repaired, and quickly.How glad I am that he cared! I devoured the book on my plane ride home, making it easily the most enjoyable transatlantic flight of my life thus far. I post this as a wa … [Read more...]

Clement of Alexandria

Yesterday (December 5) was, in the Episcopal Church Calendar, the feast of Clement of Alexandria. Clement was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar in the late sixteenth century, but the Anglicans have given him no such demotion. Regardless of whether Clement deserves to be seen as a saint or not, he has been acknowledged as one of the earliest of Christian mystics.Born in the middle of the second century, Clement lived some 170 years after Philo; that not-quite-two-centuries was a … [Read more...]

Final Thoughts About Philo

I finished reading Philo today. The last third of the book didn't particularly grab me—with eighty pages of Philo's ethical thought, followed by what he had to say about the role Moses and Israel play on the stage of world history. What emerges is that, no matter how splendid his mystical vision may have been, Philo remained very much a man of his time—which is to say, his thought suffers from a harsh dualism, chauvinism, and an almost adolescent assurance of his own rightness. Again … [Read more...]

Sparkle the Dark Up

Every year on December 1, I play what is far and away my favorite secular song for the holidays: December will be Magic Again by Kate Bush. Rhiannon and I listened to it this morning while I was helping her brush her teeth and get ready for her school bus to pick her up. It's a hard track to find—the easiest way to get it on CD is to purchase the Kate Bush box set This Woman's Work which I bought at the Piccadilly Circus Tower Records in 1990 for £99! If you are more sensible with your money th … [Read more...]

A few quotes from Earthy Mysticism by William McNamara

"The mystic is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of mystic.""It is by coping creatively with the exigencies of life that we engage in the perpetual and progressive enfleshment of God. The Creator has entrusted himself to creation, to our freedom. He is always there, pure Spirit, longing to be enfleshed.""An old catechism holds that our reason for existence is to enjoy God forever. The Gospel message is that God had the same idea. He came to enjoy us … [Read more...]