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I had a conversation with several members of my Patreon circle the other day. We talked about the kinds of challenges people face when it comes to learning about contemplation and mystical spirituality. We talked about how so many people have had bad experiences with churches, or have a hard time relating to God, or have bought into the idea that Christianity is just a religion of judgment and fear.

In other words: there are plenty of reasons why people are either unable or unwilling to receive the joyful, life-affirming spirituality of the mystics and contemplatives.

Needless to say, this saddens me. …

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Why did God give us the gift of imagination?

If the idea of God giving us imagination puts you off, then why did evolution, or the universe, give it to us?

It seems to me that, fairly early on in human history, the ability to visualize something other than what is front of us must have had marvelous implications for thriving in the world. The ability to imagine something different is what lies at the root of technology (“wouldn’t it be good if I could create something to ward off that hungry tiger?”). …

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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 of my control. I think contemplative practice can help immensely here. What are your thoughts?

My first thought is, you are not alone.

I certainly have noticed that my prayer time seems more distracted than normal — and I tend to be distractible under the most ideal circumstances. I have a feeling I’m not alone. There’s a reason why Buddhists refer to the human mind as a “monkey” — like simians, our egos tend to chatter a lot and swing from tree to tree — i.e., from thought to thought, from idea to idea. It seems that consciousness is like a kaleidoscope: lots of thoughts and feelings and images and memories, jumbled together in an ever spinning wheel of changing awareness. …

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Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO is a Trappist monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. He is the author of a luminous book on contemplative spirituality, Tears of An Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer. If you don’t have it, do yourself a favor and get a copy.

The book is filled with many gems of wisdom and insight. Here is one example:

At times it may feel as though nothing is happening in that vast silence. And yet so much is happening!

In the endless region of our inner landscape, bit by tiny bit, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ, as we are changed by waves and waves of Silent Mercy; so that gradually we come to speak, think, and love as Christ does: gently, without fuss, in a marvel of beauty.

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I first “met” Julian of Norwich through reading Evelyn Underhill’s magisterial book Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. Underhill’s book changed my life, for a number of reasons: it gave me a language and a context for making sense of my spiritual experience, it helped me to see that there is a place for an intellectually honest, interfaith-friendly expression of Christian spirituality, and — perhaps most important of all — Underhill introduced me to the grand tradition of Christian mystical and contemplative spirituality, which means that through her book I was introduced to St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, The Cloud of Unknowing, Meister Eckhart, St. …

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Shrine of Julian, St. Julian’s Church, Norwich, England (photo by Carl McColman).

As someone who has long been interested in the Christian mysticism, I consider Julian of Norwich to be one of, if not simply the, greatest of western mystics.

I’m not alone in this assessment. Consider what Thomas Merton once wrote, in one of his legendary Cold War Letters:

Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I get older and whereas in the old days I used to be crazy about St. …

Last week, when the story about Amy Cooper, the white woman in Central Park who called the police after a black man simply requested that she leash her dog, was making headlines (this was the day before George Floyd was murdered), I sent a text to a couple of close friends of mine, in which I talked about how embarrassing it is to be a white person, given how some whites (like Amy Cooper) behave in such blatant and unthinkingly racist ways.

One of the people I texted replied with a similar text. The other friend must have been busy, for she didn’t reply that day. Then, George Floyd died in police custody. The horrific video of white cop Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes is both appalling and sickening to watch. It is not surprising that so many people across our nation and beyond have responded with anger and mass protests. …

Most of us spend a lot of time working — so what is the spirituality of work? And how does work impact, or integrate with, our spiritual practice?

The motto of Benedictine monasticism is Ora et Labora. It’s Latin for, “Prayer and Work” or “Prayer and Labor.” I love how the ora is actually found within labora, suggesting that prayer is (or can/should be) a part of work.

Compare this to the noble eightfold path of Buddhism: the Buddha’s prescription for how to balance one’s life in the interest of finding liberation from suffering. …

“I’m spiritual but not religious.” It’s an increasingly common way for people to identify their relationship to spirituality (as a system for personal growth) and religion (as an institution that requires membership, conformity, and submission). The younger you are, the more likely you will agree that this statement describes you.

It’s ubiquitous enough that it’s recognizable simply by its initials: “S.B.N.R.”

Other ways of describing this is “spiritually independent” and “the Nones” — a delicious pun that can describe anyone who, faced with a form that asks your religious identity, replies “None.”

Meanwhile, churches are facing a membership that is both aging and declining. Every year, it seems that fewer people are adhering to the traditional trappings of mainstream American religion: membership in a local church or synagogue, regular participation in weekly worship along with other activities organized around fellowship, education or service, and adherence to an ethical code that stresses personal morality and conformity to social norms. …

When I was a boy, my family did not regard silence in a positive way. Indeed, we saw silence as a problem to be overcome. “She’s giving him the silent treatment,” was a phrase you might hear used to describe a relationship where conflict or anger had shut down communication. “They’re not speaking to one another.”

Such silence pointed to disease or death — a diseased relationship, or even a death of intimacy. One hoped that the problems that caused the silence would somehow get worked out. Unfortunately, tensions couldn’t be resolved unless someone broke the silence.

At its worst, the silent treatment could lead to a permanent death — as in a nasty divorce where only the lawyers are talking. Thankfully, this kind of oppressive silence is not the only form of silence available to us. …


Carl McColman

Contemplative author, blogger ( and podcaster ( Lover of silence and words, as well as books, ikons, and cats.

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