“You Wrote Books About Paganism?!?”

The late Kenneth Leech used to tell the story about giving a lecture at a seminary in America on the topic of race relations, and afterwards a seminarian seemed surprised to learn that he was the "same Kenneth Leech" who wrote books on spirituality. Apparently, the mind of this seminarian couldn't equate a social-justice Christian with a contemplative-prayer Christian.But yes, Leech-the-expert-on-racism and Leech-the-expert-on-mysticism were one and the same.I often have a similar c … [Read more...]

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...]

Dear Pope Francis… (or as they say in Ireland, A Phápa Proinsias, a chara…)

Did you know that when Pope Francis was a little boy, he wanted to be a butcher when he grew up?Or that, as a young man, his favorite dance was the tango?These are just two of many delightful surprises found in Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World, newly published by Loyola Press. Children from Jesuit schools around the world were invited to write a brief letter to the pope, asking him one question, and drawing a picture to accompany their … [Read more...]

Seven Blessings of Silent Prayer

Silent prayer — contemplative prayer, what the Catholic Catechism calls "wordless prayer in which mind and heart focus on God's greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration" — is an important element of a mature Christian spirituality. The Bible instructs us to "be still and know... God" (Psalm 46:10), and even promises us that "silence is praise" (Psalm 65:1, translated literally).I thought it might be helpful to reflect on the many ways that contemplation brings blessing into our l … [Read more...]

The 2016 Presidential Candidate Prayer Challenge: Are You In?

As a blogger, I tend to avoid politics like it's radioactive. Not because I don't have political views (I do, and they're rather strong), but because of my conviction that contemplative prayer is for everyone — not just people who hold the same political views as I do. Unfortunately, the way the Internet echo-chamber works, far too many readers tend only to read writers with whom we agree (and ignore, or argue with, those with whom we don't). Since my goal is to promote silent prayer, if I star … [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...]

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...]