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Via Mystica

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

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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...

Praying with the English Mystics

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Dear friends, I have now experienced what it is like to direct a spiritual retreat online. And while it is certainly not the same thing as a retreat in person (especially at a monastery, surrounded by the atmosphere of prayer and the timeless cadences of monastic chant), it is still a way for us to pause, take a deep breath, and attend to our souls — especially in this time of pandemic and social...

Twelve Mystics Who Lived Through Epidemics and Pandemics

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It’s been over a month now since the World Health Organization has acknowledged that COVID-19 is a pandemic. As of today (4/13/20), over 22000 Americans and 116,000 people worldwide have died from the virus; and those numbers will certainly rise in the days and months to come. While this is not the plague (which decimated over a third of Europe’s population in one terrible four-year...

“Don’t Call Yourself a Mystic” — How Kenneth Leech’s Challenge Helped Me To Embrace Contemplative Practice

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In my book Unteachable Lessons I talk about Kenneth Leech, the Anglican priest who wrote a variety of books on topics related to both contemplative spirituality and the struggle for social justice (if you’re not familiar with Ken Leech, check out Prayer and Prophecy, an anthology of his most essential writings). I only met Ken on a handful of occasions. When I ran the bookstore in Sewanee...

Seven Mystical Affirmations

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Currently I’m reading two classic self-help books, both for my personal edification and as research for a project I’m working on. The books are Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You. If you’re not familiar with these books, they have long been perennial bestsellers in the self-help market: Cameron’s book is...

Can Contemplation Change the World?

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Four years ago I wrote a blog post titled Is Contemplation Dangerous? It was a review of a book called The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? Written by two British psychologists, the book looks at a variety of meditation practices, such as Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the book offers a balanced assessment of what science has to say about how meditation...

What We Need for Union with God

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Recently I posted this quote from Fr. Thomas Keating on Facebook: If you’re curious about the source of this quote, it is found on page 71 of Open Mind, Open Heart. In response, one reader posted this question as a comment: Carl, what, in practice, does divine union actually mean? Surely we’ll be totally at one with God only in the next life? It’s a fair question, especially for...

A Few Thoughts About Julian of Norwich (Video)

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Here’s another one of the videos I filmed in the summer of 2015.  Previously on this blog I posted a video on mysticism. More will be coming, on topics like silence and contemplation.
This particular video begins with a prayer by Julian of Norwich, and then I talk about who Julian was and why she matters.

Understanding "The Dark Night of the Soul"

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A reader writes, Carl, have you written any articles on the “dark night” or about the struggles we face on our paths? I’d be grateful if you could either link me to any articles you have written or to any books you think might be useful.  I have Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross but find it quite dense. Thanks for your question. Many people find John of the Cross challenging to read...

The Difference Between Meditation and Contemplation

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A reader of my blog writes: As someone new and aspiring to find a more contemplative lifestyle, I’m curious of one thing. Is there a critical difference between sitting time and ‘observing silence, acknowledging God is present’ versus ‘meditating on God, whether through a holy text, your experiences with God, or other characteristics of God’? Thanks for your question. And...

Romans 8:28-39: Basic Instructions for A Mystical Worldview

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One of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament — perhaps even one of the most beautiful passages in all the wisdom literature of the world — comes from the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I think anyone interested in Christian mysticism and contemplative spirituality needs to be familiar with this passage. It affirms who God is, how God loves us, how inseparable...

Prayer for Beginners: What is the Best Practice for Newcomers to Mystical Christianity?

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A reader writes, I am emailing to ask you what particular practice of prayer you would suggest to someone starting out on the mystical path? I have a little experience of Zen sitting meditation and have tried to practice with the Jesus Prayer. There are differences between Centering Prayer (Keating) and Christian Meditation (Main). What do you suggest I start with? Over the years I have done...

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