Archive for the 'Christian Mysticism' Category

The Landfall Crowns the Voyage: CS Lewis in Carl McColman’s ‘The Lion, the Mouse & the Dawn Treader’

I first got to know Carl McColman mere months (possibly even weeks) after getting married. In early 2006, both he & I were linked to a mutual Christian mystic’s blog whose name escapes me now. Carl’s Website of Unknowing was instantly familiar to me as a site that had both intrigued and scared me a bit in college, years before. It was then – in the late 1990s or early 2000s – that Carl had laid out his then-path of being a “Christian-friendly Pagan’ who was wholly conversant with my tradition. It scared me because of his easy fluidity between these two worlds, where I saw only hard walls.

Flashing forward to my re-discovery of Carl’s site five years or so later. I was intrigued by his autobiographical Beliefnet piece After the Magic, describing his exit from his neo-Pagan milieu into Roman Catholicism of all things!  Once again rendered palatable to this newly-married, newly-minted (cautiously) post-evangelical, a website became a person: I got to know Carl in realtime as my wife and I started hanging out with him and others at the Atlanta Christian Mystics Meetup during our final months before the Raleigh move. I learned a thing or three about how to hold one’s tradition as truth with integrity while not running roughshod over others, upon witnessing Carl’s lived experience of now being a “Pagan-friendly Christian.”

Last year he released the acclaimed Big Book of Christian Mysticism, which certainly lived up to its name. And while his next offering is not the autobiographical work I’m still hoping for (the Beliefnet piece was such a tease), The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader  is a step in that direction. It takes a serious, sustained look at C.S. Lewis’s life and spirituality vis-a-vis the most allegorical of his Narnia novels.

Lewis, Carl contends, penned his children’s novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader around the classic Christian mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union.

This voyage, the book’s official description reads, is “for Christians of all ages, is full of adventures, temptation, discomforting silence, dealing with “Dufflepuds” (distractions), and a final terrifying journey to the “Island of Darkness” (the dark night of the soul). As the Dawn Treader sails beyond where the stars sing, you will discover a world of wonders characterized by light and clarity, and encounter Alsan – Christ – himself.”

Lewis’s interpreter, McColman, is an enigma himself. As I’ve gotten to know him over the years, I’ve met a gentle soul with a wicked wit. Raised a staunch Lutheran, forged in the fires of both the Jesus Movement and charismatic renewal, McColman became by turns Episcopalian, agnostic, and neo-pagan. In the latter mode he became a trusted spiritual guide and best-selling author, counting books such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism and Embracing Jesus and the Goddess to his credit. Then, after his visionary encounter with Christ led him to a transfigured Christian faith, Carl began retail work with the monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, where he remains today. 

So what does he do with Lewis? Here’s an example:

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis refutes the idea that mystical experiences are an end in themselves. As he saw it, mysticism, by itself, is neither good nor evil; it is the content or the object of mystical experience that determines its ultimate value. “Departures are all alike; it is the landfall that crowns the voyage.” In other words, any kind of mystical experience is simply a “departure” from normal awareness and ordinary reality. It’s like seeing a glorious site in nature—the Grand Canyon, for example—for the first time. The beauty, the vastness, the austerity—these all combine to create an experience of wonder, or of humility, or even of ecstasy. Or, think of how some people’s lives are changed when they encounter suffering, or poverty, or other forms of human need. The experience of compassion and sadness in the face of human misery can change a person’s life forever…But an experience, in itself, does not make someone a mystic.

Whether an experience is one of great joy, or love, or sorrow, or suffering, or even a more “classic” mystical experience of feeling God’s presence in our hearts, we need to ask: where does this experience take us? Lewis goes on to say, “The saint, by being a saint, proves that his mysticism (if he was a mystic; not all saints are) led him aright; the fact that he has practiced mysticism could never prove his sanctity.” In other words, mysticism does not necessarily make a person a saint, nor does sanctity necessarily make one a mystic. For Lewis, there’s no contest: if we have to choose between being a spiritual master and a holy person, seek holiness. Better to be humble and holy than to be mystical and lost in the illusions of our own egos.

It’s this kind of counter-intuitive wisdom that avoids clichés and presents fresh considerations. I’ve gotten a lot out of this slender volume. Carl’s background makes him uniquely qualified to mine the depths of Narnia, as he is by turns literary, Christian (in the same Anglo-Catholic sense that Lewis was), and knowledgeable of the great reservoir of global pagan mythology that Lewis himself loved and employed. All of this makes reading The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader a contemplative experience in and of itself.

Watch a trailer for the book here:


If Darwin Prayed – Bruce Sanguin

If you listen to the pundits, contemporary people are increasingly divided between godless scientists and superstitious religionists. Those who attempt to bridge the gap between science and faith are portrayed as either wild-eyed fundamentalist creationists or self-hating liberals throwing Jesus under the bus to be more palatable to a modern age. Thankfully, pastor and author Bruce Sanguin defies all of these stereotypes in his prayerbook If Darwin Prayed. As a person who’s serious about both the historic faith of the Church and an open-hearted embrace of contemporary science, Bruce has given us a treasure trove of prayers that can form a liturgical backbone for the 21st century.

As Bruce puts it, “These are new prayers for a new era. They spark the spiritual imagination back to life and reorient us to a mystical unity with the universe, Spirit, and all of creation. Emerging out of the conversation between the science of evolution and spirituality, these prayers continually surprise with their earthy wisdom and a profound celebration of life. They awaken in us a sacred impulse to evolve in and toward the heart of the divine.”

For worship leaders, the prayers follow the season of the Christian year. You’ll find prayers you can use for every season of the year as well as for special occasions like communion and baptism – even Trinity Sunday! As an aid to private devotional practice, they awaken the soul to a cosmic identity – being the presence of the evolving universe in human form. The prayers are also being used as devotions to open small groups, cohorts, and Sunday schools.

 What others are saying:

“The spirit expressed in Bruce’s Sanguin’s inspired prayers is not just intelligent and innovative, it’s juicy! It transcends the split between charismatic evangelical Christianity and better-reasoned but less-inspiring mainstream Christianity. The living presence of God shines through the words of these intelligent prayers. May that power help Bruce serve the birth of a new dynamic Christianity for a new millennium.”

—Dr. Terry Patten — co-author, with Ken Wilber, of Integral Life Practice”

Bruce brings radical thoughts and poetry of evolutionary Judaic-Christian lineage. It goes beyond religious rhetoric and into incarnate imagery and insights. The Cosmic Christ is presented as He should be, more than, greater than, and all in all for all-time. Synchronizing prayers that invoke life to body, soul and spirit in the now and for tomorrow.”

— Robert Ricciardelli, Converging Zone Network 

“There are two ways to truly explore an evolutionary panentheistic Christianity.  One involves a bunch of books with tons of footnotes and the other is prayer.  Bruce’s prayers are composed with the hand of a poet, the heart of minister, and the kind of eye opening sincerity you just can’t help but lean into the integral vision they inspire.”

Tripp Fuller, co-founder, Homebrewed Christianity Podcast

“Earthy, yet cosmic; scriptural, yet poetic; scientific, yet spiritually inspiring – Bruce Sanguin has created a compilation of immense liturgical worth, but also a timely source of nourishment for the spiritual seekers of the 21st. century.”

— Diarmuid O’Murchu, Author of Evolutionary Faith

“Until evolution and the new cosmology become the context of our faith, spirituality and worship, the wonders of nature as recently revealed by science will remain intellectual abstractions. This is why Bruce Sanguin’s adventurous new book is an important contribution to the current dialogue of religion and science. Surely the great geologist and spiritual master Teilhard de Chardin is smiling on Sanguin’s work.”

— John F. Haught, Ph.D, Senior Fellow, Science & Religion, Woodstock Theological Center

“Today, there is no shortage of wonderful books on prayer, but Bruce Sanguin in his book, If Darwin Prayed, blends wonder, contemplation and Holy Mystery in prayers that resonate deeply with co-creators embracing their connectedness with all that is.  These cosmic prayers for the liturgical seasons are uniquely inspiring for pioneers on the sacred path of conscious evolution, evoking a coherence of heart, mind and soul.”

—  Barbara Marx Hubbard, Founder of The Foundation for Conscious Evolution, author of Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential.

“If Charles Darwin had not been in a spiritual muddle because of the inadequacy of his era’s dominant theology, he might well have prayed with the power and passion of Bruce Sanguin. Some people dismiss Christian theology that embraces scientific evolution as arid. But they have not experienced Sanguin’s deep, earthy, joyous prayers. The outpourings in this book shimmer with mystical connection. Their psychological insights elicit shudders of recognition. They offer direction for our sacred paths.” 

Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun spirituality columnist

Sunday Devotional: Authentic Mystical Experience by Richard Rohr

Bernard McGinn authored a fourvolume study on the history of Christian mysticism.  He says mysticism is “a consciousness of the presence of God that by definition exceeds description and … deeply transforms the subject who has experienced it.”  If it does not radically change the lifestyle of the person—their worldview, their economics, their politics, their ability to form community, you have no reason to believe it is genuine mystical experience.  It is usually just people with an addiction to religion, which is not that uncommon, by the way.

Mysticism is not just a change in some religious ideas or affirmations.  Mystics have no need to exclude or eliminate others, or define themselves as enlightened, whereas a mere transfer of religious assertions often makes people even more elitist and more exclusionary.

True mystics are glad to be common, ordinary, egalitarian, servants of all, and “just like everybody else,” because any need for specialness has been met once and for all.

Adapted from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate

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And illustrating this theme nicely is ‘Chain Reaction’ by Cloud Cult. Enjoy.

Sunday Devotional: Love is Love

Hello all you lovers in the blogosphere! Augustine (or was it John Caputo?) once famously probed: “What do I love when I love my God?” And Tom Oord in his Nature of Love: A Theology begins to take seriously, perhaps for the first time in contemporary theology, ‘God IS Love’ as a starting point for theology, spirituality, and practice. I think his project is exciting (you should really check out the book if you haven’t already), and if it resonates, it begs the question: Who do I love? What is love? And how can we explore/express these questions together trans-rationally, devotionally, ecstatically, in song?

Well, if these are questions that matter to you, I’ve got your mystical poetry for absorption into the One this morning. This is Love is Love, coming from post-hardcore band Lungfish‘s visionary, wheel-within-a-wheel frontman, Daniel Higgs. The version that so resonates with me – and with Trinity’s Place, my faith community in Raleigh – is actually a cover by Tortoise, when they collaborated with Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

I use this song frequently – working out on the ROM, and as a prelude to prayer or contemplation. Here it is:

The lyrics are anybody’s guess. Here’s mine:

Love is love in the shape things take

Love is love in the womb of wombs (wound of wounds)

Love is love at the highest height

Love is love at the deepest depth all right

Love is love as the risen rise (as the risen Christ)

Love is love in the sight of creation

Love is love in patterns of light

Love is love at the root of the grave

Love is love in the life of all life

Love is love in echoes through space

Love is love a vigil for this world (a vision for this world)

Love is love in the marrow of new bones

Love is love as above so below

Love is love in the record of events

Love must be love to let time begin

Love is love always reconciled

Love is love in the wind and shade

Love is love – alien and strange

Love is love in truth and falsehood

And, for your added enjoyment, here’s the original Lungfish version. Enjoy!

Red Letter Christianity, Black Letter Epistle-anity, or Whole-Canon Spirituality?

Frank Viola pointed to Leonard Sweet’s Napkin Scribbles podcast awhile back, where Sweet explains why he won’t join Red Letter Christians or The Beatitudes Society. Frank asks what we think of Len’s reasons, which you can (and should, for the purposes of this post) listen to here. This is what I think.

I appreciate what Sweet’s saying here about the sometimes-seeming arbitrariness of exalting one portion of Scripture over & above others – for instance, many Reformed Christians seem to exalt the Old Testament to the exclusion of the New Testament altogether! But the flip-side of this observation is that we all do it – whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have our “canon within the canon” to which we afford pride of place. Sweet himself does this when he, after noting that “Red Letters” are themselves an outdated metaphor, then launches into how Paul seemed to care very little about the historical teachings of Jesus. I happen to agree with this assertion, but so what?

Using the “all Scripture is God-breathed” lens that he introduces as his hermeneutic, why should we care what Paul did or did not emphasize if we ought to be…I dunno what Sweet might call us…Whole-Canon Christians? The very existence of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels would make the teachings of Jesus important, regardless of whatever is or isn’t found in Paul. (And of course, conversely, it would make Paul’s perspectives and understandings important, regardless of what is or isn’t in the Gospels) In short: I like his avoiding the ditch that could characterize some contemporary social justice emphasizing Christians, but I’m not yet convinced that he wouldn’t steer us into the opposite ditch of reading the Epistles to the exclusion of the Gospels – the ditch that the worst excesses of Protestantism has been steering us in for 400 years.

Why do we vacillate from ditch to ditch? Let me offer a possible reason, speaking as a very young Gen-Xer (born in the last years that it’s acceptable to be an X-er, but I’m rather out of place as a Millennial) who has deep sympathies with the theologies that make my friends Sweet and Viola nervous: The reason why groups like The Beatitudes Society seem to be more focused on following Jesus rather than believing in Jesus is because we, generationally, have significant doubts about the kind of world has been left in the wake of “believing in Jesus.” Even if Jesus’ teaching is simply a re-assertion and universalizing of core Judaic values (or indeed, an ethical core at the center of all the great world religions), these are values that we feel the world is out of touch with, and desperately needs. If the Church had followed the Sermon on the Mount instead of  canon law reflecting Christendom-Empire values, would we see the massive devaluation of human, animal, and ecological life that runs rampant today?

For many in my generation, an over-emphasis of the metaphysics of Paul’s Epistles seems to have created a world where ‘spiritual’ salvation is divorced from practical change, where the state of one’s soul seems to have little bearing on the way we treat one another. Nowadays we distrust metaphysics in general – too much talk of God (even in church!) makes us nervous. A dear friend of mine recently asked me wistfully, “Couldn’t we love another another, serve one another, sing, eat together, even pray and meditate, without God? ‘God’ seems to have caused so much pain, and so many problems, in our lives.”

Focusing on the beatitudes, justice and morality of Jesus might indeed be lowest-common-denominator stuff compared to the semiotic actions, signs and wonders, symbol-laden death, vindicating resurrection, astonishing ascension, and (allegedly) transforming indwelling of Jesus the Christ, but for many bewildered Christians of the Red Letter ilk, starting over from square one with the Son of Man seems not only the sanest course of action, but the only viable alternative we have, facing conceptual-metaphysical burnout. Just give us something to do, please, and don’t tell us we have to believe anything.

And yet, having swam in such waters for the past 3-5 years, I have to confess that this perspective is bankrupt, damaging, and most certainly not sustainable. I do not say this as a judgmental outsider, but a sympathetic insider. I love me some deconstruction, some Caputo, Kearney, and Rollins; if given a desert island Bonhoeffer choice, I’ll take Letters and Papers from Prison with it’s death-row-conceived Religion-less Christianity over the bright-eyed idealism of The Cost of Discipleship any day. Give me divine mystery, holy opacity, the via negativa and apophatic mysticism. Revelation conceals as much as it reveals, and I think such a perspective is a healthy corrective of overly-positivist, modernist articulations of Christianity, where there’s a 1:1 correlation to what we imagine to be true and What Exists.

Still – a human life and human faith cannot be nourished in the long term from wholly deconstructive faith paired with righteous activism. We’ll become burned-out husks, without an epistemological web of meaning to rest in. Further, the culture at large, while suspicious of metanarratives, craves a larger meaning-making story to situate ourselves in. It can’t be a contemporvant version of What’s Come Before, but needs to be a deeply-rooted yet wide-open faith, with the human and divine Christ at the center. And I stand by what I said in June – Sweet and Viola’s work is a crucial, needed, and important Evangelical contribution to the re-enchantment and re-faithing that must happen in the next 10 years if Christianity is to be transfigured.

It seems obvious that – given the very real ecological and humanitarian crises (as well as opportunities) that face us, things we need to act on immediately if we are to survive as a species and a culture – we all need each other. It doesn’t do to dismiss Red Letter Christians only to over-correct in a “Paul Only” Protestant throwback. We need a recovery of the mystical, the positional, and the activist dimensions of faith; we need a gospel that is Good News for the cosmos; we need Sweet and McLaren (and Boff, for that matter, not to mention the scores of unsung women theologians and leaders who truly make up half the sky); we need the same kind of risk-taking taken with early, transgressive works like Quantum Spirituality, and drawing on voices like Brian Swimme, Tim King, Ken Wilber, Cynthia BourgeaultMichael Dowd, the late Thomas Berry, and Bruce Sanguin. We might not agree with everything these folks are saying and doing, but they’re out there, interaction with the questions and crises that people are facing today, as well as addressing the perennial questions of humanity’s search for meaning. Since when is 100% agreement the prerequisite for operating in grace? At what point did we begin thinking that any of our factions could compass an infinite God? Is the idea of a generous orthodoxy so hopelessly early 2000s? As Tim King says, we all need to come together at the intersection of mystery and humility.

All hands on deck, ladies and gentlemen. Spaceship Earth is in for some rough turbulence in the decades ahead – materially, spiritually, kosmically. We need a coordinated effort, not a spitting contest between so-called orthodox, so-called heretics, and everything in between. We’ll need the wisdom of crowds, the nerve of leaders, and the collaboration of every domain of knowledge – as well as its transcendence. Are you with me?

Ian Cron: Influences and Aspirations

This is the final installment of my interview with Ian Cron. To recap: A novel he wrote over three years ago, Chasing Francis, has been steadily gathering a devoted and enthusiastic reader base. He’s even received new endorsements, something rather unheard of in the publishing world. This includes Archbishop of Catnerbury Rowan Williams saying “I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book” and Marcus Borg relating “I was powerfully and wonderfully moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a broader vista of God’s passion for the world.” In this post I ask Ian “What’s next after Francis..?”

Mike Morrell: So you’re no longer pastor at Trinity. What’s next for you?

Ian Cron: We’re living in Nashville as of this month. I have two books to write for Thomas Nelson. I also curate this speaking series called Conversations on Courage and Faith through a very big Episcopal parish in Connecticut called Christ Church. Last year we had Brian McLarenPhyllis TicklePete Rollins; the artist Mako Fujimura. We commissioned an orchestral and choral piece that was composed and performed by Rob Mathes and the Irish poetMicheal O’Siadhail. It was an extraordinary night. In June we finished up the series with Desmond TutuNT Wright and Marcus Borg will be here this year.Tony Campolo is also coming. We’re working on getting a couple of other folks as well.

MM: Those lightweights..?

IC: My own speaking ministry is getting busier as well. What I’m working on right now is a night called, “Bread, Song, and Story”, where I’ll do some readings from my new spiritual memoir, interspersed with original songs and then we close the night with the Eucharist. It’ll be a great night.

MM: So you’re a priest? Somehow that was lost on me. I figured you started this non-denominational church, but…….

IC: Yes, I did start a non-denominational church, but I am a priest. Right now I’m not on a church staff. I’m adjunct clergy at Christ Church in Connecticut.

MM: So whose voices are really resonating with you right now? What are you into reading, listening, conversing with, etc.?

IC: As far as writers go Thomas Merton is my anchor and the place I always return to in my life. He is just extraordinary. I’ve been reading New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander again which for me are his masterpieces. I have been getting ready for Borg and Wright to come to my speaker series so I have been reading them as well.

Because I’ve been writing a memoir I’ve also read a lot of memoirs in the last year from Mary Carr to Frederick Buechner’s works. I’ve been reading Dave Tomlinson’s Reenchanting Christianity. And because of my doctorate program I’ve been reading tons of material on the contemplative life–lots of material from the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.

MM: So, any music?

IC: Broken BellsMumford & Sons. The classical composer Eric Whitacre is someone I really like a lot. I’ve been kind of going back in time and listening to old Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. People with that sense of groove should be arrested. I’m a big fan of Duncan SheikFoy Vance, as well. But the majority of the music I listen to is 13th, 14th, and 15th century choral music, just because I love the almost mathematical purity of it.

MM: I’m unfamiliar with about half of that – I’ll have to check it out! The book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. It’s an story of one man’s spiritual journey into both the premodern world and the postmodern world through the lens of an extraordinary person named Francis of Assisi. Check it out!

This concludes our interview with Ian. Here it is in case you missed it:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant

The Chasing Francis interview is now concluded! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.


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