Five Key Words for Understanding Christian Mysticism


So often people will say to me, “I just don’t know what Christian mysticism is!” Which is perfectly understandable, since not only is mysticism related to mystery, but also the added confusion that the word gets used in so many different ways by different people.

Evelyn Underhill alluded to this, over a century ago, in her book Practical Mysticism:

The genuine inquirer will find before long a number of self-appointed apostles who are eager to answer his question in many strange and inconsistent ways, calculated to increase rather than resolve the obscurity of his mind. He will learn that mysticism is a philosophy, an illusion, a kind of religion, a disease; that it means having visions, performing conjuring tricks, leading an idle, dreamy, and selfish life, neglecting one’s business, wallowing in vague spiritual emotions, and being “in tune with the infinite.” He will discover that it emancipates him from all dogmas— sometimes from all morality— and at the same time that it is very superstitious. One expert tells him that it is simply “Catholic piety,” another that Walt Whitman was a typical mystic; a third assures him that all mysticism comes from the East… At the end of a prolonged course of lectures, sermons, tea-parties, and talks with earnest persons, the inquirer is still heard saying— too often in tones of exasperation— “What is mysticism?”

At the risk of becoming just another “self-appointed apostle,” here is a video I created recently that does not try to define mysticism, but does offer five ways of thinking about it. I hope it’s helpful…

I hope to create more videos similar to this one — short (3-5 minutes) and to the point: looking at a variety of topics related to Christian mysticism, contemplative prayer, Celtic spirituality, interfaith exploration, and related topics. If there’s a particular topic or question you have that might be an interesting topic for a video like this, please send it my way for consideration. Thank you!

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About the author

Carl McColman

Soul Friend and Storyteller. Lay Cistercian, Centering Prayer Presenter, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Speaker, Teacher, Retreat Leader.

By Carl McColman



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