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The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

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In popular usage, "mysticism" typically refers to New Age or Eastern forms of spirituality. However, the mystical tradition is also an important component of the Christian tradition. At its heart--and much like its expression in other faith traditions--Christian mysticism is an ancient practice that incorporates meditation, contemplation, worship, philosophy, the quest for In popular usage, "mysticism" typically refers to New Age or Eastern forms of spirituality. However, the mystical tradition is also an important component of the Christian tradition. At its heart--and much like its expression in other faith traditions--Christian mysticism is an ancient practice that incorporates meditation, contemplation, worship, philosophy, the quest for personal enlightenment, and the experience of Divine presence. This volume is a comprehensive introduction and guide to Christian mysticism. It is a big book about a big possibility: the hope of achieving real, blissful, experiential unison with God. Among the topics covered here are a general introduction to mysticism, the Bible and mysticism, the history and types of Christian mysticism, biographical sketches of leading Christian mystics, and practical instructions about practicing mysticism today. This is a breathtaking work that explores a form of spirituality that has changed lives over the course of 2,000 years. Learning about Christian mysticism and how it has been articulated through the centuries will prove inspirational for today's seekers, regardless of the faith tradition. "The mystic is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of mytic." --William McNamara


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In popular usage, "mysticism" typically refers to New Age or Eastern forms of spirituality. However, the mystical tradition is also an important component of the Christian tradition. At its heart--and much like its expression in other faith traditions--Christian mysticism is an ancient practice that incorporates meditation, contemplation, worship, philosophy, the quest for In popular usage, "mysticism" typically refers to New Age or Eastern forms of spirituality. However, the mystical tradition is also an important component of the Christian tradition. At its heart--and much like its expression in other faith traditions--Christian mysticism is an ancient practice that incorporates meditation, contemplation, worship, philosophy, the quest for personal enlightenment, and the experience of Divine presence. This volume is a comprehensive introduction and guide to Christian mysticism. It is a big book about a big possibility: the hope of achieving real, blissful, experiential unison with God. Among the topics covered here are a general introduction to mysticism, the Bible and mysticism, the history and types of Christian mysticism, biographical sketches of leading Christian mystics, and practical instructions about practicing mysticism today. This is a breathtaking work that explores a form of spirituality that has changed lives over the course of 2,000 years. Learning about Christian mysticism and how it has been articulated through the centuries will prove inspirational for today's seekers, regardless of the faith tradition. "The mystic is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of mytic." --William McNamara

30 review for The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Huff

    "Mysticism does not change the gospel. But it does shine an entirely new light on it that can help you see what has always been there in powerful and exciting new ways." -- Carl McColman The very term "mysticism" to some may sound ... well .... mysterious, or even a little spooky. If that was your reaction, then this thorough and well-written book will bring helpful clarity and perspective in understanding a facet of Christian spirituality that has deep roots in church history. This "Big Book" is "Mysticism does not change the gospel. But it does shine an entirely new light on it that can help you see what has always been there in powerful and exciting new ways." -- Carl McColman The very term "mysticism" to some may sound ... well .... mysterious, or even a little spooky. If that was your reaction, then this thorough and well-written book will bring helpful clarity and perspective in understanding a facet of Christian spirituality that has deep roots in church history. This "Big Book" is the more comprehensive companion to McColman's "Little Book of Christian Mysticism", which I reviewed here about a month ago (primarily a resource book of great quotes from mystics past and present). Christian Mysticism describes those who, through contemplative reading (especially of Scripture), meditation, prayer and silence seek a deeper and more intimately personal relationship with God. This book covers the topic very well, and also contains a generous, annotated reading list of many other books on this subject. Highly recommended. One serendipitous note - I by chance discovered that the author and I live about 30 minutes from one another. I had the delight of spending part of an afternoon with him last week, made a new friend who is warm, engaging and very knowledgeable, and enjoyed a great and edifying time of conversation together.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Manning

    There was time about 7 years ago when I was dabbling with the idea of Christian Mysticism and embarking on a journey towards being a contemplative myself. There is definitely something about that way of life that I am undeniably attracted to. I started reading everything I could get my hands onto from St.John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, Madame Guyon and so many others. Carl McColman had commented on a blog I had written in regards to the practice of Lectio Devina at that time There was time about 7 years ago when I was dabbling with the idea of Christian Mysticism and embarking on a journey towards being a contemplative myself. There is definitely something about that way of life that I am undeniably attracted to. I started reading everything I could get my hands onto from St.John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Evelyn Underhill, Madame Guyon and so many others. Carl McColman had commented on a blog I had written in regards to the practice of Lectio Devina at that time and because of this, I was lead to his personal blog. I found him to be very interesting and a great source for learning. A lot of things have happened in life since those days and now I find myself on a different path with Christ. Just a few months ago I picked up this book as I had been waiting for years to read it and now I see that his theology is radically different from what I've grown to learn as Truth. I haven't finished the book but I intend on it and will re-write this review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Deacon Tom F

    Superb in Every Way I absolutely loved this book. It is actually a reference book for those who want to go beyond recited and rote prayers (no judgement from me). Give this a try. It is a good blend of theological and practical.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine L.

    A really good introduction on Christian mysticism and its role in history; as well as how it can be practiced in practical ways. If you're new to the topic this could be very beneficial. At times, the author's personal views obviously shaped how he discussed other religions, but read those with discernment and you should be fine. A really good introduction on Christian mysticism and its role in history; as well as how it can be practiced in practical ways. If you're new to the topic this could be very beneficial. At times, the author's personal views obviously shaped how he discussed other religions, but read those with discernment and you should be fine.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joey Dye

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Many may come to this book expecting either biographies of famous Christian mystics or a how-to guide for starting on the path. This is not such a book, although there are cameos of mystics and guidelines for how to engage certain practices as lectio and contemplative prayer. Rather this book reads like an overview and manifesto for Christian mysticism as it is lived, embodied, and experienced in the faith as it is lived today. Carl McColman does an excell I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Many may come to this book expecting either biographies of famous Christian mystics or a how-to guide for starting on the path. This is not such a book, although there are cameos of mystics and guidelines for how to engage certain practices as lectio and contemplative prayer. Rather this book reads like an overview and manifesto for Christian mysticism as it is lived, embodied, and experienced in the faith as it is lived today. Carl McColman does an excellent job of making this a book for Christians of many traditions, particularly liturgical traditions, rather than a book solely for those of one particular perspective.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Forshee

    This book answered and confirmed so many questions/thoughts I've had about Christian Mysticism in a concise and provocative way. I enjoyed the first half more than the last as I found it quite defining. I felt the second half, which dove more into the practicalities of mysticism, to be a bit lacking, but I realize there is more literature in which to read that would put more flesh onto the practice or understanding. That truly would be my only complaint. Recently there are books watering down th This book answered and confirmed so many questions/thoughts I've had about Christian Mysticism in a concise and provocative way. I enjoyed the first half more than the last as I found it quite defining. I felt the second half, which dove more into the practicalities of mysticism, to be a bit lacking, but I realize there is more literature in which to read that would put more flesh onto the practice or understanding. That truly would be my only complaint. Recently there are books watering down the depth and beauty of Christian Mysticism in order to make it trendy while also leaving out the lasting historical treasures that are the Church's legacy, I believe this book redeems much of that and gives Christian Mysticism it's dignity once more as well as reinstates its place in our worship and pursuit of God. For anyone wondering about Christian Mysticism, I think this is a good introduction to the many nuances that make up this aspect of our Christian faith. I found it gave me words, and confirmation for so many experiences I've had in my faith journey that have often been disregarded or ignored by the evangelical church that have in turn left me wanting. I believe this is a part of our faith that will continue to make its way back into our way of worship in the church due to the richness, beauty, and genuineness that it fosters.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Logan Streondj

    A great introduction to Christian Mysticism for lay practitioners and those just starting out or curious about mysticism. It talks a little about the history of mysticism in general and how most mystics are actually interfaith since mystical experience is the underpinning of all faiths. It then talks about Christian mysticism and that while in Orthodoxy it was preserved in some other areas it was lost, and is only now being found again. It also talks about how to start with Christian mysticism on A great introduction to Christian Mysticism for lay practitioners and those just starting out or curious about mysticism. It talks a little about the history of mysticism in general and how most mystics are actually interfaith since mystical experience is the underpinning of all faiths. It then talks about Christian mysticism and that while in Orthodoxy it was preserved in some other areas it was lost, and is only now being found again. It also talks about how to start with Christian mysticism one should join a Christian church, and that it doesn't have to be a supportive one, as few are (according to the author), and then to read up about Christian mysticism and practice various forms of prayer, including reading the bible, centering prayer and contemplative prayer. Also has long reading lists of further reading at the back.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    Decent absolute beginners book on christian mysticism which basically showed me that this isn't my cup of tea (anymore) - to vast are the theological, ontological and what have you differences. But for everyone else, this is a easy to comprehend entrance, although the work comes afterwards. What I disliked is the often used sweeping generalisation of "xy is all about..." (where I always find myself shaking my head) and the depressing chapter about paradoxa, only that he lumps everything under th Decent absolute beginners book on christian mysticism which basically showed me that this isn't my cup of tea (anymore) - to vast are the theological, ontological and what have you differences. But for everyone else, this is a easy to comprehend entrance, although the work comes afterwards. What I disliked is the often used sweeping generalisation of "xy is all about..." (where I always find myself shaking my head) and the depressing chapter about paradoxa, only that he lumps everything under that title which only remotely makes the impression of being at odds with another notion. Albeit not being very strong on the philosophy-side, his appendix with a lot of ressources is actually quite valuable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brett Folkman

    I absolutely LOVED this book!! I'm a big fan of the historic mystical writers, Julian being my favorite. Carl's book is very well written, accessible to the average person who might or might not know much about Christian Mysticism. He isn't preachy or dogmatic and allows the reader to keep a very open mind about topics covered. It's very non-judgmental and the key messages of love and seeking unity with the Divine hits the mark! I'll be reading some of his other books now - a big fan!! Brett Folk I absolutely LOVED this book!! I'm a big fan of the historic mystical writers, Julian being my favorite. Carl's book is very well written, accessible to the average person who might or might not know much about Christian Mysticism. He isn't preachy or dogmatic and allows the reader to keep a very open mind about topics covered. It's very non-judgmental and the key messages of love and seeking unity with the Divine hits the mark! I'll be reading some of his other books now - a big fan!! Brett Folkman, Doctor of Ministry

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Dominguez

    Excellent description of Christian mysticism including the historical and biblical references. Provides helpful guidance on how to develop one’s contemplative prayer life. This is a great book for those who are looking for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God, following a path that is aligned but different from the more common Christian rote prayers. References also provided on history’s great Christian mystics and recommended reading to enrich one’s knowledge and understanding of Chr Excellent description of Christian mysticism including the historical and biblical references. Provides helpful guidance on how to develop one’s contemplative prayer life. This is a great book for those who are looking for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God, following a path that is aligned but different from the more common Christian rote prayers. References also provided on history’s great Christian mystics and recommended reading to enrich one’s knowledge and understanding of Christian mysticism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lori Shinkō Snyder

    I read this for a class on Christian mysticism and it was at times inspirational, and at times painful. Inspirational in that we are all mystics if we open to this beautiful practice. Painful since the author occasionally speaks of Zen Buddhist practices, but incorrectly for most all instances. As a Zen Buddhist reading this, I was saddened that the author is spreading wrong perceptions of my faith. I hope he finds resolution and writes an updated edition that omits these correlations.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    This was another book for my Foundations of Christian Spirituality class and I found this one to be the easiest to read, everything was explained in fairly simple terms. I really enjoyed the author's discussion about mysticism and how it doesn't necessarily mean "new age". McColman really knows what he's talking about! I will be referring back to this one again and again. This was another book for my Foundations of Christian Spirituality class and I found this one to be the easiest to read, everything was explained in fairly simple terms. I really enjoyed the author's discussion about mysticism and how it doesn't necessarily mean "new age". McColman really knows what he's talking about! I will be referring back to this one again and again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    This was a long read for me as it took a while to digest all that McColman shares. He opens up the reader to understand Christian Mysticism in all of its complexities. For many, this book will open up Christianity in a new way. I highly recommend this book for anyone interesting Christianity.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meade Adams

    This was a good book. A very thorough examination of Christian Mysticism, what it is and what it isn’t. It also provides an entire section on the practicality of it for current seekers or practitioners. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in Mysticism

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angi

    I’ve been studying mysticism for a little over a year now. This book brought all my thoughts together in an orderly fashion. The reading lists were particularly helpful - showing me I’ve read a lot of mystical writings in the past. I guess I’m already a mystic.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Jones

    I enjoyed this book, both for the information it provided and the inspiration it gives. The author explains what mysticism is; and is not! I see it as a distillation of of Christian mysticism and what other authors one can turn to for guidance.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth Mortimer

    Pure Gold This is my first serious read on mysticism. I was not disappointed. This is a treasure trove of resources, both the core writings and the appendices, which illuminate the path to Divine union.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Julie Girardi

    Loved. Use this book for reference from time to time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jared Walker

    I feel really blessed to have found this. Carl is a great writer, and this book left me really inspired.

  20. 4 out of 5

    joe leal

    Fabulous, essential very important book like no other very comprehensive highly recommended

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Olson

    The book is a kind of primer on Christian Mysticism for those unfamiliar. I listened to the Audible book which had perhaps the worst narration I've ever experienced. The book is a kind of primer on Christian Mysticism for those unfamiliar. I listened to the Audible book which had perhaps the worst narration I've ever experienced.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Spiro Theopoulos

    Excellent! The best I have found book on Christian mysticism to date. Impressive list of references included. I highly recommend it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This book is a mix of good and bad. McColman covers his topic well, offering readers a clear picture of what contemplative spirituality is like and the practices it involves. But he leans too much into paradox, in my view, to the point of making unbiblical assertions and blatant contradictions. For example, his statements about kenosis suggest that Jesus emptied himself of the divine nature itself, while his statements about theosis and deification suggest an ontological blurring of distinctions This book is a mix of good and bad. McColman covers his topic well, offering readers a clear picture of what contemplative spirituality is like and the practices it involves. But he leans too much into paradox, in my view, to the point of making unbiblical assertions and blatant contradictions. For example, his statements about kenosis suggest that Jesus emptied himself of the divine nature itself, while his statements about theosis and deification suggest an ontological blurring of distinctions between human persons and God himself. He says that "everything that reveals God also conceals him," a statement I find hard to square with the scriptural teaching on divine revelation. Ultimately, I have concerns with certain beliefs germane to mysticism itself.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Mathews

    Although not really essential to one's library, mine represented as it is with similar books, this is indeed a BIG book. The thing about mysticism is that there is really no guide, history doesn't help, and the person who "chooses" to become a mystic has to work infinitely harder than the one born to it. The subject is indeed a challenge and one worth learning about. Mother had her angels and her angelic-related experiences, Grandmother listened to and with her heart which was full of the Holy S Although not really essential to one's library, mine represented as it is with similar books, this is indeed a BIG book. The thing about mysticism is that there is really no guide, history doesn't help, and the person who "chooses" to become a mystic has to work infinitely harder than the one born to it. The subject is indeed a challenge and one worth learning about. Mother had her angels and her angelic-related experiences, Grandmother listened to and with her heart which was full of the Holy Spirit, and I was blessed to have my mystical experiences as a child so that I grew up knowing how all-encompassing yet unfathomable the mystery. I am saying (gentle smile) that reading books and articles, blogs and self-help manuals by famous and well-learned authors is invaluable but not the skeleton key to participation in the many faces of mysticism. I became engrossed in the book for various reasons and therefore tried to conjure up a bit of humor whenever McColeman quoted sources and proceeded to paraphrase them. Also when he enlightened his reader as to what he just said. "In other words...."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Having studied mysticism in a secular, academic setting, I can attest to the difficulty of writing about something that truly is ineffable. Carl does a terrific job of attempting to express the inexpressible. Some may not like that this is not a How-To guide, but as the author makes clear, there is no such thing as a How-To guide to mysticism. He points us in the right direction and gives us plenty of resources in the back of the book to continue in your own, unique quest.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yaholo

    By his own admission, Carl McColman sets out to revisit the initial efforts of Evelyn Underhill in bringing the "Ivory Tower" distance of mysticism to the life of everyday Christians. I think Carl does a great job of "hand-holding" (and I mean that in the best sense) and in that sense is more verbose and repetitive than Evelyn's style. Those finding the somewhat aged work of Underhill a bit inaccessible will most certainly enjoy Carl's approach. By his own admission, Carl McColman sets out to revisit the initial efforts of Evelyn Underhill in bringing the "Ivory Tower" distance of mysticism to the life of everyday Christians. I think Carl does a great job of "hand-holding" (and I mean that in the best sense) and in that sense is more verbose and repetitive than Evelyn's style. Those finding the somewhat aged work of Underhill a bit inaccessible will most certainly enjoy Carl's approach.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Wonderful book written by a lay associate of the Cistercian Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. It is the book that I would have read when I was twenty years old and that I enjoyed so much when I read at 48. A very good reading for everybody, I mean open minded christian of all confessions interested in deepening the knowledge of their religion and non christian and atheist curious about the great tradition of christian mysticism. Religion is good when it has no boundaries.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    So, turns out I'm a Christian mystic...who knew?! What I love about mysticism is it honors & empowers a lot of how I experience the presence of Christ: in unknowing mystery, silence, & surrender. I very much liked the explanation of & guidance around the Lectio Divina, so much so I have begun doing it. Thanks to Carl McColman for writing this book. So, turns out I'm a Christian mystic...who knew?! What I love about mysticism is it honors & empowers a lot of how I experience the presence of Christ: in unknowing mystery, silence, & surrender. I very much liked the explanation of & guidance around the Lectio Divina, so much so I have begun doing it. Thanks to Carl McColman for writing this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jim George

    It is safe to summarize; All the contemplative life asks of us is that we be willing to move forward in faith, one step at a time. Christian mysticism is a path without a destination, for the point behind the journey is not to reach a goal, but rather to be reached - by God. This book is very well written, simplistic and progressive, lots of How to Get There Spirituality.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sister Pam

    As the title claims, this is big book that offers a guide to contemplative spirituality. The book is partly historical, partly Biblical and partly "how to manual." This is a good reference book for those beginning a serious exploration of mysticism. As the title claims, this is big book that offers a guide to contemplative spirituality. The book is partly historical, partly Biblical and partly "how to manual." This is a good reference book for those beginning a serious exploration of mysticism.

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