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spirituality

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Gnosis and Mysticism

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A reader of this blog named Brian writes: Carl, How would you compare and contrast mysticism with gnosticism? Thanks! I suppose there are three ways to answer this question. First we’ll look at the historical sense of mysticism and gnosticism in the history of Christianity. Then, to bring it closer to the present day, we’ll consider how these words were used by a twentieth century...

Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, and Centering Prayer: Three Mystical Books for Children

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Yesterday I received an advance copy of a wonderful book coming out this fall, that tells a simple children’s story about grief and loss, while using the wisdom of Julian of Norwich to underscore the message that “all shall be well.” All Will Be Well: Learning to Trust God’s Love by Lacy Finn Borgo, illustrated by Rebecca Evans, will be published in October, so you can get...

Seven Ways to Read a Mystical Book

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Reading the writings of the great mystics — of figures like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, or even modern writers like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or Bernadette Roberts — is not always easy. Many mystics use dense or figurative or poetic language in their attempts to express the inexpressible. Others rely on highly technical philosophical or...

“It Cracks Up the Archangels Every Time!” (“Because They Have No Taste in Comedy!”)

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I read lots of serious books: books about Christian theology, spiritual direction, the history of mysticism, and the psychology of meditation… that sort of thing. I’m not complaining — I love pretty much everything I read (actually, at this point in my life and career, if I don’t love it, I quickly stop reading it, because there’s always something else clamoring for my...

The Erotic Dimension of Mystical Spirituality (or, Why Do Mystics Love the Song of Songs?)

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Almost from the beginning of the Christian era, mystics and saints and theologians and spiritual teachers have reflected on one of the most beautiful and poetic of the “wisdom writings” in the Bible to explore the mystery of the love of God and how that love seeks intimacy with us, God’s human creatures. I am referring to the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or the Canticle of...

Divine Union is Embodied: Notes on the Incarnational Nature of Christian Mysticism

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I’ve been working my way through Mystical Theology and Contemporary Spiritual Practice: Renewing the Contemplative Tradition, a book in Routledge’s “Contemporary Theological Explorations in Mysticism” series. There’s a delightful essay in it called “Unlikely Mystics” about the sense of wonder and numinous reality that people encounter when visiting...

Concerning Contemplative Charismatics and Ecumenical Priests (Answers to Reader Questions)

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The same reader asked me both of the following questions, in two separate social media posts. but since they’re from the same person, I’m putting them together in this one post. Questions Concerning Ordained Ministry First, a question in response to Do I Have to be a Member of a Christian Church to be a Mystic? … It’s interesting what you say about seminaries. I’m...

After the Fire: Finding God in Silence and Stillness

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Like so many English-speaking Christians, I grew up immersed in the words and rhythms of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. So much of the language and lyricism of that 17th century translation of scripture has become integral parts of our cultural lexicon. Like the smart-aleck who said he refuses to read Shakespeare’s plays because they were filled with clichés, we can sometimes be...

A New Initiative for 2022: The Contemplative Study of Mystical Writings

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Friends, I want to invite you to a special online meeting on Thursday, January 13 to talk about my new initiative, which I am calling “The Contemplative Study of Mystical Writings.” Hope to see you there — to register, click here. This is an outgrowth of conversations I have been having through social media as well as with my blog’s financial backers, who support my work through...

Two Essential Questions for the Mystical Journey

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I was speaking with a few friends of mine who are spiritual directors recently, and we were talking about the work they do accompanying people who seek to draw closer to God. If you are not familiar with spiritual direction, it is a ministry of interactive care, in which a person supports another in the journey into deeper intimacy with God. A spiritual director does not “direct” in...

Online Event: Invitation to a Deeper Spiritual Life (Dates: January 10-February 7, 2022)

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Columbia Theological Seminary has a splendid certificate program for spiritual formation, and this four-week online course is the introductory program for those who wish to participate. But even if you don’t want to commit to an in-depth spirituality certificate program, this course is a great way to explore the riches of Christian spirituality and to give yourself a way to “go deeper...

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