Booknote: The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited and with an introduction by Bernard McGinn. New York, The Modern Library, 2006

McGinn, a Roman Catholic priest and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago divinity school, has done us a great service in compiling this anthology of about 90 excerpts from the best literature on Christian contemplative spirituality. Most of the major figures are represented, beginning with Origen and ending with Merton. The eastern church contributes pieces by Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Simeon the New Theologian, and several others. Not unexpectedly, western writers predominate; one can make the acquaintance of Bernard, Eckhart, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and many others. Regretably, the only Russian piece is a snippet from The Way of the Pilgrim.

At $20.00 in paperback the book is a very good buy and suitable for reading in bits and pieces when one is pressed for time. Of course, making time for a more leisurely read is greatly to be preferred.

I'll close by sharing three favorite excerpts.

Evagrius Ponticus

One of the brethren owned only a book of the Gospels. He sold this and gave the money for the support of the poor. He made a statement that deserves remembrance: " I have sold the very word that speaks to me saying: ' Sell your possessions and give to the poor ' (Mt 19:21)."

Anonymous, 14th Century Germany

Learn how to let go of God through God, the hidden God through the naked God. Be willing to lose a penny in order to find a guilder. Get rid of the water so that you can make wine... If you want to avoid things, learn to suffer; if you want to eat of the honey, you should not be put off by the bee's sting. If you want to catch fish, learn to get wet; if you want to see Jesus on the shore, learn to sink down into the sea first.

Thomas Merton

Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinetly abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond both reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees " without seeing " and knows " without knowing ". It is a more profound depth depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by " unknowing. " Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or " unknowing."

This entry was posted on Monday, August 27, 2007 at Monday, August 27, 2007 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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