Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives

Fostering Humility is a Christian "Preliminary Practice" (image: Shutterstock)

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...]

Is Mysticism Genetic?

A German monastic church (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

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...]

Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the “Rahner Challenge”?

Karl Rahner in 1974. (Copyright Info goes here)

So today is the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.It's also the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis. Which is a wonderful way to honor Vatican II — a year devoted not only to seeking God's mercy, but to reflecting on how the Body of Christ can be mercy, can bring mercy to a world that seems increasingly fraught by violence, fear, and injustice.What does it mean to be God's mercy, to bring's God mercy to a world where mass sho … [Read more...]

Happy St. Hildegard’s Day!

A Feather on the Breath of God

One of the most colorful and remarkable of mystics, of any age, is the irrepressible twelfth century Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Today (September 17) is her feast day.Hildegard was a Renaissance woman who lived several centuries before the Renaissance: not only was she a mystic and visionary, but she was also an accomplished musician, an artist (or, at least, an art director), a preacher, an herbalist, a prophet, and a respected leader in the church of her day. She lived at a … [Read more...]

Why Is “Mysticism” A Dirty Word?

Andrew Louth is one of numerous scholars who criticize "mysticism" as a controversial or useless category.

In the introduction to her book Writing the Icon of the Heart, Maggie Ross makes this rather in-your-face claim: The word 'mystic'... has, in my view, become entirely useless. It has acquired nuances of romanticism, exoticism and self-absorption. In addition, far too many studies of 'mysticism' and 'spirituality' are based on a modern and narcissistic notion of 'experience' as self-authenticating that corresponds neither to the way the brain works nor to notions of experience in the ancient and … [Read more...]

Meet the Newest Doctor of the Church: Saint Gregory of Narek

Armenian manuscript of 1173

Vatican Radio announced earlier this week that Pope Francis has declared a tenth century Armenian saint and mystic, Saint Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi), a Doctor of the Universal Church.St. Gregory of Narek is the first new Doctor of the Church appointed by Pope Francis. The last saints to be given this title were Sts. Hildegard of Bingen and Juan of Avila, conferred by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Before that, the last Doctor of the Church was St. Thérèse of Lisieux, declared by Pope Jo … [Read more...]

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

A class through Emory University Continuing Education.The renowned twentieth century German theologian Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” What could he have meant by this? In the popular mind, mysticism is associated with eastern spirituality, like Yoga or Zen. But there is a little-known tradition of meditation and spiritual awakening even within Christianity. This non-sectarian class will survey the history of Christian mysticism from … [Read more...]


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