James Martin: Learning to Pray


“Everyone can pray” is the hopeful and helpful opening message of Learning to Pray, the new book from bestselling Jesuit author James Martin. But he knows that many people don’t pray — even people who never miss church on Sundays. Prayer is something that, at least for those of us who grew up in religious homes, we learn as small children — but then it seems for so many of us...

How My Surrogate Grandmother Introduced Me to Silence


When I was a small boy, there was a lady named Mrs. Frazier who lived across the street from my home. Mrs. Frazier and her husband were a bit older than my parents; they only had one child, Pam, who was a good ten or twelve years older than me. So when I was a child, they lived alone in their house. Mrs. Frazier and I bonded; both of my grandmothers died before I was born, so she was a surrogate...

How do I choose a contemplative lay order? And do I have to be Catholic to do so?


A reader recently wrote to me: Dear Carl, I grew up as a Protestant, but as I’ve journeyed into Contemplative Christianity over the last while I’ve become more amenable to Roman Catholicism. I have been wondering about lay orders and how to connect with the contemplative tradition through a lay order. I was wondering if you could shed some light on which lay orders there are (main ones) and what...

The Prayer of Recollection: A Classic Mystical Practice as Taught by Evelyn Underhill


Contemplative spirituality has its own jargon, and this “language of prayer” evolves over time. Nowadays you’ll find students of the mystical path speaking about meditation, nonduality, mindfulness and heightened consciousness, whereas a century ago you’d be more likely to encounter terminology like mental prayer, unitive life, recollection and rapture. Sometimes words...

Why “Nobody’s Perfect” is Such Good News


Nobody’s perfect. It’s such a bit of folk wisdom that it just rolls off our tongue. But do we believe it? Do we accept the imperfections in ourselves — or others — or do we get caught up in judgment, when faced with something we don’t like or of which we disapprove? Jesus said, “Do not judge,” but I confess: sometimes I do. And often, the person I’m the hardest...

Balancing Faith in the Word with a Scholarly Understanding of the Bible


Sometimes, people grow up in conservative churches where the Bible is often read in a very literal or fundamentalist way. Such persons might go on to study at a college or university where they are exposed to a more scholarly, historical-critical way of reading the Bible. This usually feels more informed and honest than the fundamentalist approach to the Bible — but often it seems that something...

Two New Podcasts, One Existing Podcast, and a Youtube Channel for You to Explore


Dear friends, I’m excited to announce that I have launched two new podcasts. Each one will be oriented toward exploring mystical spirituality — one in a more “learning about” sense, and the other in a more direct, “practice/exercise” sense. Both of these new podcasts are now available on Apple Podcasts, and will be available on Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher...

Need Help? Ask the Angels


Today, September 29, is the Feast Day for the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. It’s traditionally known as “Michaelmas” and in the Episcopal Church it’s called the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. So for today I thought I’d write a bit about the angels, and how they can impact our lives, both spiritually and in general. I’m reminded of my one of my...

The Challenges of Spiritual Simplicity


One of the most attractive, although challenging, qualities of the Cistercian charism is simplicity. It’s a principle immediately apparent in Cistercian architecture: the monasteries and churches of the Cistercian order, whether built in the 12th century or the 20th, are typically remarkable for their aesthetic simplicity. There are few if any statues or other adornments, rarely even...

Contemplation When Things Seem Out of Control


A reader named Allen writes: With what is going on in the world, how do we as contemplatives take care of our spiritual health? I find it more challenging to sit now as there are a lot more distracting thoughts than normal. I’m not anxious about the virus — more about how we are managing it. I get frustrated and really hate the scare mongering by the media.  I feel a lot of things are out...

In Defense of Forgiveness


Forgiveness is a central tenet of Christian faith and practice. But what exactly is it? Is it an emotional process by which people are supposed to overcome hurt feelings — or is it something much deeper, much more radical and revolutionary? At least one person online thinks it’s all about the emotions; I’d like to make the case for something much more powerful and spiritually healing...

Questions After a Retreat: What Books to Read, What Steps to Take Next


Shortly after concluding my Praying with the Spanish Mystics Retreat, one of the persons who participated sent me this follow-up email: Hello. I have your book Answering the Contemplative Call, which I will be reading shortly. Which other books do you recommend for someone who attends silent retreats? I started reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain — what commentary book would you...



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