In the previous newsletter we began to explore three guidelines for
contemplative living: Find your practice and practice it. Find your
teaching and follow it. Find your community and enter it. When we feel
stuck on the spiritual path, returning to these three guidelines can
help us get unstuck and regain our bearings in the art contemplative
living. In the previous newsletter we explored the first of these three
guidelines. In this newsletter we will focus on the second guideline;
find your teaching and follow it.
To find your teaching in the context of this newsletter means to find
trustworthy guidance in contemplative living. There is an abundance of
trustworthy guidance in the teachings of the Christian mystics. There
is also much to be gained from the spiritual wisdom present in the
mystics of all the world's great religions as well as those poets,
artists and philosophers who bear witness to that expansive wisdom that
can be called truly mystical.
The problem is that these teachings are not easy for the sincere
beginner to understand.
In response to this situation I will offer here a suggested reading list
in mystical teaching, ranked according to their difficulty. I will
begin in this newsletter with sources that are the most accessible and
therefore best suited to the sincere beginner. In the next newsletter I
will continue with suggested readings in the Christian mystics that are
somewhat more challenging, along with some suggested readings in the
non-Christian mystical traditions. If you were to ask me on a retreat to
suggest books to guide you in your journey, I would first ask you
questions about yourself to help me suggest sources most likely to meet
your needs. Unable to do that here, I will share some of the sources
that have guided and formed my own journey over the years. I will
include as well other sources that seem to me to be helpful. I could
add others, but, for lack of space, this will enough to get you started.
As you read these books, your heart will tell you which are best suited
to your needs. You will find yourself relaxing into insight after
insight, reassurance after reassurance. It is not that everything will
be clear. But as you continue on in your awakening journey, things that
are not clear now will become clear later on. Reading the mystics helps
us to appreciate and accept the fact that being perplexed is part of
the path. For perplexity, when deeply accepted, is experiential
humility in which our heart is illumined and instructed by God in
matters we cannot comprehend. It is in this spirit then that I offer
this list of suggested readings. I hope you find among these sources,
ones that will help you.
Thomas Merton's writings embody the ancient wisdom of the mystical
heritage of the Christian faith expressed in a contemporary language
that we can relate to and understand. Merton, therefore, is a good place
for the sincere beginner to find trustworthy guidance in contemplative
living. There are first his basic spiritual writings, the most
accessible of which is perhaps his Thoughts in Solitude. His other basic spiritual writings include, New Seeds of Contemplation, Disputed Questions, No Man is an Island and The Inner Experience.
Some of Merton's most beautiful and insightful passages are found in his
autobiographical writings, journals and letters. In this category, you
might benefit from reading his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, and the journal he kept in the monastery, The Sign of Jonas. The volume of his collected letters entitled The Hidden Ground of Love contains his letters on the subject of religious experience and social justice. The Intimate Merton edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan Moltanado is a collection of journal entries that offer plenty to sit with and ponder.
Another source of eloquent and insightful Merton passages can be found
in A Book of Hours edited by Kathleen Deignan. In my book Merton's Palace of Nowhere
I introduce and explore Merton's insights into the true self one with
God beyond ego. Sounds True published an audio cd set of my Merton
retreat talks entitled Merton's Path to the Palace of Nowhere
in which I explore Merton's insights into the contemplative way of life
in which the true self is realized. The website www.merton.org contains
many resources in Merton as guide and teacher on the spiritual path.
Reading classical texts written by the Christian mystics can be
particularly rewarding but also particularly challenging. But some of
the classic works are more accessible and easy to understand. A gentle
way to begin is with the simple and profound classic The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The anonymously written The Cloud of Unknowing
is one of the great classics in Christian contemplative literature and
one of the easiest to read. I happen to prefer the translation by
William Johnston, published by Image Doubleday. Theresa of Avila's The Interior Castle is both down to earth and profound.
A highly readable classic work in the mystical tradition of the Eastern, Orthodox Church is The Way of Pilgrim and the Pilgrim continues His Way
that tells the story of a Russian pilgrim's discovery of the Jesus
prayer. I happen to like the translation by R. M. French, published by
Hope Publishing and by Seabury Press. Bernard McGinn's The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism is a goldmine of short classic texts. Stories about Saint Francis in The Little Flowers of Saint Francis breathes with a childlike mystical wisdom.
Two highly readable contemporary books that convey a deep contemplative spirit are Dag Hammarjold's Markings and The World of Silence
by Max Picard.
A good commentary on the teachings of a mystic can be an invaluable aid
in finding our way into the heart of mystic's teachings. A very
accessible commentary on the teaching of Meister Eckhart is The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith. Also helpful in getting into Eckhart is Robert Forman's Meister Eckhart: The Mystic As Theologian. In Franciscan spirituality, Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love and The Humility of God, both by Ilia Delio are quite good as is her Simply Bonaventure. Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis is lovely. Caroline Myss' Entering the Castle provides experiential access to Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle, particularly with respect to the earlier mansions.
Two books written in contemplative devotional style are They Speak by Silences by a Carthusian and Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade. Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Baptist Metz is a clear, precise and insightful. Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr gently draws the reader into the richness of the contemplative traditions. The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault offers insights into a mystical understanding of Christ.
Books on contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition can also be very helpful. Finding Grace at the Center: by M. Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating and Open Mind, Open Heart by Keating shed light on the teachings on prayer found in The Cloud of Unknowing.
Retreats and related sources and activities in the Centering prayer can
be found on the Contemplative Outreach website
The Benedictine monk John Mains explores contemplative prayer as
practiced by the early Christian hermits. A fine book by John Mains is
titled Word into Silence. Father Lawrence Freeman has continued the work of John Mains; one of his books is Christian Meditation: Your Daily Practice. The World Community of Christian Meditation
is a good source for more works by John Mains and Lawrence Freeman as
well as retreats and other World Community of Christian Meditation
activities. My book Christian Meditation provides an
introduction to meditation and contemplative prayer in the Christian
tradition. The Sounds True audio set entitled Christian Meditation contains my retreat conferences on meditation.
It can also be helpful to read books that provide a basic understanding
of what mysticism is. A clear and comprehensive guide in this regard is
William Johnston's Mystical Theology: The Science of Love. Ursula King's Christian Mystics is very good. Going beyond specifically Christian sources, The Perennial Philosophy by Aldeous Huxley and Forgotten Truth
by Huston Smith are two deservedly popular studies that demonstrate the
universal nature of mystical consciousness. A related work in the
field of transpersonal psychology is highly readable The Simple Feeling of Being by Ken Wilber.
Last January Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault and I led a retreat that introduced the Christian mystics. The retreat, called Following the Mystics Through The Narrow Gate,
is available for download or as an audio cd or dvd from www.cac.org,
which is the website for The Center for Action and Contemplation in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the website are a number of Richard Rohr's
talks, a number of which focus on the Christian mystical tradition.
His book The Naked Now is a very accessible introduction to non-dual consciousness.
In conclusion, I am pleased to announce that I will be leading two
retreats on the spirituality of healing in 2011 on the weekends of April
29-May 1st and Oct. 14-16, at Holy Wisdom monastery in Middleton,
Wisconsin. The retreats, entitled Compassionate Health Care: Transforming Trauma
provide an in-depth, experiential exploration of contemplative
spirituality as a resource in healing trauma and all forms of suffering.
A link providing information about these healing retreats is now posted
of my website.
Until next time,
You can find a continuously updated schedule at my website
Join Dr. Finley for a
2011 Retreat Schedule
Following The Mystics
Mar. 11-13, Colorado Springs, CO
Oct. 28-30, Burlingame, CA
Childlike Acceptance as a Path to Spiritual Wakening
Feb. 17 , Boca Ratan, FL
Compassionate Health Care: Transforming Trauma
Apr. 29-May 1, Middleton, WI
7 Steps to Spiritual Healing
May 13-15, Auburn, CA
For more details please see
To host a retreat
please contact Dr. Finley
"What I got from Merton most of all
the grace of God utterly and wholly permeates our lives,
just as they are in the present moment.
All our failures and weaknesses are absolutely irrelevant in the face of such all-pervading grace."
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Books by James Finley
Merton's Palace of Nowhere:
25th Anniversary Edition
For twenty five years Merton's Palace of Nowhere has been the standard
for exploring, reflecting on, and understanding this rich vein of
Merton's thought. Dog-eared, tattered, underlined copies are found on
the bookshelves of spiritual searchers everywhere. Now this Silver
Anniversary edition brings this classic to a whole new generation.
For more information please see:
Ave Maria Press
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The Contemplative Heart
The Contemplative Heart, enables readers to realize that wherever we
live, whatever we do, the richest possibilities of a contemplative life
are within our reach-that they are in fact what we have been searching
for all along.
For more information please see:
Ave Maria Press
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A former monk and student of Thomas Merton, Finley teaches readers to
expand (or begin) their meditation practices in concert with their faith
and guides them to discover that divine moments of awakened
consciousness can lead to a deeper connection with Christ. He explains
how meditation can enrich our daily lives by connecting us not only with
the present moment, but also with the eternal now that is beyond time.
For more information please see:
Harper Collins Press
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