I acquired a passion for the mystics when I was studying at Princeton Seminary and attended a favorite professor’s final course. Dr. Froehlich was in his last semester of teaching and was given the opportunity
to teach anything he wanted. He chose “The Mystics.” I am grateful to have taken this course because it provided a balance to many of my other more intellectually oriented courses.
I suspect the title of this essay may raise eyebrows. Labeling Henri Nouwen, one of the most influential spiritual writers of the past century, a mystic is not likely to fuel any argument. But to call such a well-known Catholic an evangelical may be an altogether different story.Read More Post a comment (0)
I recently heard C. S. Lewis described as “the Lord’s logician.” Indeed, Lewis is widely regarded
as the most intellectually forceful voice for Christian faith in the modern era. Whether writing as a scholar, lay theologian, or story teller, he is famous for his commitment to “mere Christianity,” for presenting the basic tenets of faith shared in all places at all times by Christians from the first century to the twenty-fi rst. Lewis is generally thought of as a common sense Christian, one who offers understandable theology and practical morality.
The first image that comes to our minds when we think of Christian mystics is that of ascetic believers
who set themselves apart and deny the world in order to absorb themselves in God completely. Most of us would readily be reminded of people such as Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux, to name just a few. Their remarkable experiences of God often included visions, dreams, prophecies, and ecstasies. Out of these came poetry, music, and writings that have been passed down through the centuries to modern Christians.
Often enough, when the topic of Christian mysticism is raised, it draws looks of incredulity and
suspicion. Some express concern that mysticism of any type smacks of New Age heresies. Unfortunately, these doubts about Christian mysticism reveal an apparent neglect—certainly
ignorance—of a subject rich in Christian insight and directly related to spiritual nurture and
growth. Much of the material being mined and developed by the RENOVARÉ movement, as well as the material emerging from the topic of spiritual formation, owes a debt to the long tradition of Christian mysticism. One of the most prolifi c writers about mysticism was Evelyn Underhill, who did much to introduce others to this rich body of Christian literature.
I was surprised when I learned that I might be an ordinary mystic. I didn’t know mystics could be ordinary. I thought mystics were otherworldly people who probably lived in the desert. My
imaginary mystics were extraordinary people who had given up all material pleasures. Since I like indoor plumbing and other creature comforts, I assumed that mysticism was beyond my reach. But I have learned that mystics can indeed be ordinary. Author and retreat leader Emilie Griffin writes, “I believe that we are meeting mystics every day, but we do not recognize them.” She describes “a mysticism of ordinary living,” where “the ordinary routine of daily life becomes the texture of contemplation for the devoted Christian.”
This summer I was vacationing with my family in Europe when I was slapped in the face by a sentence hiding in a book. We were near the end of our adventure and had worn most of the print off our four Eurail passes. My wife and two daughters were napping, and by reading Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, I was trying not to join them. Somewhere between London and Edinburgh, I found the words that left me red-faced: “Paul, whose letters epitomize the concerns of the early Church, knew what Jesus had taught, but he almost never quotes him.”Read More Post a comment (0)
To anyone who knows me even superficially, my writing an article on contemplative prayer might seem ludicrous. By temperament I am far from being a natural contemplative. I am active (often impulsive), restless, and non-reflective. And anyone who knows my spiritual life well knows also that I have always struggled with disciplined prayer, in fact, with spiritual disciplines of any sort. How, then, could I be one who dares to offer others anything about this seemingly most advanced of all forms of prayer?Read More Post a comment (0)
After graduating from high school, James Finley did something unusual. He became a monk. For the next six years, he lived at the Abbey of Gethsemane and learned from one of the great contemporary spiritual figures, Thomas Merton. Now married and the father of two, Finley has built a career as a teacher, clinical psychologist, writer, and speaker. He is the author of Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, The Awakening Call, The Contemplative Heart, and Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God.Read More Post a comment (0)
Ever since I’ve been a Christian, I’ve asked God for lots of things He hasn’t given. There have been times I’ve begged God for clear guidance on how to handle messy relationships or on what direction to move in a confusing situation, and it never came. I could name a dozen nasty spots in my life, probably more, when I’ve felt desperate to hear from God yet heard only silence.Read More Post a comment (0)