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The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality Paperback – August 1, 2010
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"Charmingly and conversationally written, but also rich in nuance and thorough in its coverage and its attention to detail, The Big Book is, as its name suggests, a big ... even an enormous ... contribution to our current literature on the subject. Highly recommended." - Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence
"Before I heard about The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, I had been thinking about how such a book has been needed for a long time. Now, having read it, I'm glad we waited for Carl McColman to come along to write it. It's accessible, well-informed, balanced ... just what we needed." - Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian
"A guidebook for going deeper on the Christian mystical path, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is grounded in sound scholarship and thoughtful reflection (often surprisingly fresh and insightful!), but what makes it sing is the authenticity of the author's own contemplative journey." - Cynthia Bourgeault, author of The Wisdom Jesus
"Carl McColman has both studied and practised the Christian mystical tradition, stressing its earthiness and 'ordinariness'. He holds that mysticism is not an esoteric realm, reserved for the very holy, but is what all Christian life is about. I strongly commend this book." - Kenneth Leech, author of Soul Friend
"McColman's book on Christian mysticism is a masterpiece of scholarship and wisdom. This author obviously earned his understanding of mysticism through years of research as well as his own personal spiritual journey and there is no more powerful combination for inspired writing." -Caroline Myss, author of Defy Gravity and Anatomy of the Spirit
From the Author
Given how important Underhill's book has been to my own spiritual life, I discerned a desire to write an introduction to Christian mysticism for the third millennium. While my book can never replace or supplant hers, my hope is that it can help introduce its readers to the splendor and beauty of Christian mysticism, just as Underhill's book made that introduction for me. So on a very personal level, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is my way of saying "thank you" to Underhill -- and beyond her, to God, who Christians believe is the source of all true mystical experience.
Evelyn Underhill was a brilliant scholar who spent years researching the history and literature of mysticism. Her pioneering work led to further studies by such renowned academics as Bernard McGinn, Harvey Egan, Andrew Louth, and the late Grace Jantzen. My book is designed to serve as a complement to such important researchers and theorists. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism bridges the gap between the "ivory tower" of scholarly studies of mysticism, and the everyday experience of ordinary Christians, for whom mysticism is not a topic for bookish research, but rather an invitation to a deeper experience of God. Because I assume that my readers may not know anything about mysticism (or, for that matter, anything about Christianity!), it can be an ideal introductory book.
My spiritual journey, like that of many seekers in our time, has been marked by a variety of twists and turns. I was raised a Lutheran Christian, moving to the Episcopal/Anglican communion as a young adult. But I was also drawn to the wisdom of other traditions, including Buddhism and Neopaganism. Eventually I spent about seven years outside of Christianity, exploring Wicca, shamanism, Goddess spirituality, Celtic Druidism, Ken Wilber's Integral Theory, among other spiritual paths. But the Christian contemplative path called me back, and in my 40s I entered the Catholic Church, placing myself under the spiritual guidance of Cistercian monks and Benedictine wisdom. What all this means is that I've been able to ponder the meaning of Christian mysticism for people both inside and outside the institutional expression of Christianity (the church). With this in mind, I endeavored to write The Big Book of Christian Mysticism both for Christians who might be new to the topic of mysticism, but also for people outside of the Christian tradition, who may or may not be students of the mysteries, but who are unfamiliar with how mysticism has been uniquely experienced and expressed within the lineage of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth.
Mysticism is a wonderful "location" of spiritual experience, particularly for those who are more drawn to what unites all people, rather than what separates us. All through history, Christian mystics have been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue: the great conversation between people of different religions. Unlike how some Christians too often approach "others" merely as targets for conversion, the great mystics and contemplatives of the Christian faith, especially in the recent past and present, see mysticism as the bridge that enables fruitful and positive interaction across religious boundaries. Thus, Thomas Merton explored Buddhism, and Henri Le Saux became so immersed in Vedanta that he even took a new religious name as Swami Abhishiktananda. More recently, contemplatives like Cynthia Bourgeault, Tilden Edwards, Mary Margaret Funk, and Paul Knitter have been leaders on the frontier where Christian spirituality engages with the wisdom of other traditions. The Big Book of Christian Mysticism is not an interfaith book per se: it really is intended to serve as an introduction to the distinctively Christian expression of mysticism. But it is written as a contribution to an understanding of spirituality that is both deep (as in deeply-rooted in the Christian path) and inclusive (open to the wisdom of others). It is my hope that readers who do not identify as Christians will nevertheless find in this book a lovely expression of a particular stream of spirituality. Meanwhile, those readers who do identify as Christians will find themselves called to a deeper, richer, more intimate, and hopefully transformational dimension of their faith.
One final word: I'm rather embarrassed by the book's title. Here's the inside story. My editor came up with the idea of calling this work the "big book" because, in early conversations before I actually started writing it, we envisioned a tome rather like Underhill's: 500+ pages long, providing more information about mysticism than you'll ever need. But as I wrote the book, I began to question whether my goal of writing an accessible introduction to Christian mysticism would really be served by making this book so long that it could seem intimidating. My editor agreed, and eventually the book ended up being about half the length we originally thought it would be. Which I'm perfectly happy with -- except neither he nor I thought to revise the title. Oops! I've had a few readers scratch their heads over how "little" this "Big Book" is. Thankfully, only a couple of snarky reviewers have attacked the title, and then there's Richard Rohr, who very kindly told me he thought the title was "whimsical." Maybe in a future edition we can drop "The Big Book of" and just call this work Christian Mysticism: A Guide to Contemplative Spirituality. But for now, it is what it is. I humbly hope you'll order yourself a copy. Just don't be surprised at how "normal-sized" this so-called "Big Book" is!
More About the Author
Carl's work is characterized by an optimistic, expansive understanding of spirituality, rooted in Christianity while embracing the wisdom of the world's contemplative traditions. In his own words, "I am passionate about helping people to embody creative, joyful lives of love and service, formed by prayer, silence, and the wisdom of the saints and mystics."
Carl McColman learned the practice of contemplative prayer at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is a professed Lay Cistercian -- a layperson under the guidance of Trappist monks. He regularly speaks, teaches and conducts retreats on contemplative Christian practice, and blogs at www.carlmccolman.com.
Top Customer Reviews
"Christian mysticism is all about experience - the experience of union with God, or of God. But it is also about a spiritual reality that undermines experience itself, deconstructing all your masks and self-defen[c]es (sic) and leaving you spiritually naked and vulnerable before the silence of the Great Mystery. It is the spirituality of bringing heaven to earth, and of going through hell while here on earth in order to get to heaven" (p.9).
McColman structures his book into two parts. The first part explains what mysticism especially Christian mysticism is and the second is how to be a mystic through a contemplative life. The book is written in such an easy to understand way that a reader may easily miss how much knowledge and experience is needed to make such a complex subject appear simple. I discern that McColman has depth knowledge of many of the Christian mystics, notably Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Bernard of Clairvaux, author of the Cloud of Unknowing and Hildegard of Bingen.
McColman's writing reflects the output of a gentle and kind soul who wants to share what he knows but is fearful of the repercussions. He walks gingerly through the minefield of what we commonly called mysticism.Read more ›
Despite that the modern view of Christianity is one only of allegiance and compliance (kind of like thinking of citizenship as voting, paying bills, and doing taxes), true Christianity is about a relationship with God. Of course this relationship can never be captured, because it is one of love. A parent sets rules for his or her child, but to say that those rules are the entirety of parenthood or family life would be ludicrous. So this book, or any book, cannot adequately encompass all of God or all of our relationship with God. But it tries, and within those limits I think it has at least a partial success.
I think one of the worst, maybe even the absolute worst aspect of the fall of man was that it brought separation between all of us, and separation of us from God. And yet there is still a connection. Maybe it's buried deep and hard to find, but it is there.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent book on not just mysticism but Christianity as well. Author is very clear and a joy to read on a topic that is not easy to grasp. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Paul D. Hierholzer
Great book for those who didn't think that there was mysticism in Christianity. Christian mysticism invites us to look at Christ, our souls, at God, , sin, holiness, and the... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Amazon Customer
What a wonderful and thorough book about Christian mysticism. McColman does it justice, as well as being respectful to other forms of meditation and contemplation. Read morePublished 8 months ago by D. Newcomb
The only thing I can find to say against this book is that it is slightly too inclusive. However, the nature of the topic does, almost necessarily, lend itself to inclusiveness. Read morePublished 9 months ago by jwoodard
This is a wonderful book of basic Christianity as well as the deepest of spiritual revelation of what a growing intimate relationship with God is all about and the extraordinary... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Dan of Lubbock
Very well written book. It did a wonderful job of explaining the ties between Jesus, the mysteries and us.Published 11 months ago by Steve M
Amazing book on an amazing topic! 2 months ago, I had no idea what mysticism was. This amazing book has the audio option available. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Chuck