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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Answering the Contemplative Call" (Carl McColman)

TITLE: Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path
AUTHOR: Carl McColman
PUBLISHER: Charlottesville,VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2013, (192 pages).

Before one can respond to any call, one must listen and recognize the call. Once the call is heard, one needs to decide what to do about it. Once the preparation is done, one needs to put it into action. This three fold process is deliberated in this book about "mystical faith." McColman summarizes spirituality as follows: "So, if life is a journey, then spirituality is an essential part of that passage." What makes the contemplative so mystical is that the goal of such a journey is to "have no goal," and the purpose of finding God is not on the outside, but finding God inside. Simply put, mystical spirituality is that deep longing for God, so much so that the material becomes immaterial. It is a call for deeper intimacy.

The first thing to note is to recognize that God loves us. The second thing is to respond to God's love by preparing for deeper communion with God. The third thing is walking this path of love. All three things are described in this book.  There are calls to pray and to seek God more deeply. There are communities that one can seek out to walk the journey together. There are opportunities to practice the journey both alone and with people. The main thing to note is that mystical spirituality is not something that necessarily locks us into any kind of a mould. It liberates us to choose to be caged in willingly, or to wander off freely. It encourages us to walk at a pace that is in tune with God and with our own creative makeup. It gives a peace that the world cannot give.

Let me offer five thoughts with regards to this book. Firstly, I like the aspect of invitation to the journey. For instance, love is not something that is forced upon, but freedom given and received in grace as gifts. Only when we are free to enter in and out, can we begin the journey of love. When we think about the "call," it is always about an invitation rather than an imperative. It is an invitation to wonder and to enjoy the entire experience. We need to see it as solving some kind of a problem, but to appreciate with thanks the privilege of embarking on a journey. Freely offered, freely accepted. It is that invitation to love God and to be loved by God.

Secondly, there is a certain mystery in this kind of journey. In our modern world of science and technology, sometimes we have become too clever for our own good. We concoct our dreams of happiness. We strategize our way to success. We calculate what makes sense with regards to personal fulfillment. If we let these things define our spirituality, we will be in trouble, just like us trying to explain the ups and downs of relationships. Psychologists or therapists will know that their prescriptions and theories can only go so far. The rest comprises of discernment and wisdom. Mystical is often an openness to the divine and for the self to learn new revelations from God. It is a journey that begins with Christ, continues with the Spirit, and ends in God the Father.

Thirdly, I appreciate McColman bringing into the book the wisdom and teachings from the classic spiritual mystics. People like Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Walter Hilton, Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, and many others have lots to teach us.  One of the common teachings is that it is God who notices us first, and not the other way round. It begins with God.

Fourthly, just like the mystics of old, McColman uses lots of metaphors and images to help readers understand the themes more. Like the image of mirrors in our lives, reflecting the need for inner purity so that we can reflect goodness to the outside. Being awake from our sleepy world is another useful metaphor. Far too often, we practice spirituality with heavy eyelids, and fail to even begin well. Spiritual awakening must happen first before the start of any spiritual journey. The spiritual life needs to be nuanced beyond our scientific mindset.

Fifthly, the use of stories gives life to the message. In fact, when explaining the mystical paths, there is no better way than stories to string together teachings and ideas. It highlights the relational aspect much better than any scientific steps or practical processes. The spiritual life is essentially about spiritual relationships. Unlike some other types of spirituality, Christian spirituality is an attempt to connect to the Person of Christ,  and not about a spiritual system or a kind of metaphysical state of being.

Highly readable, immensely practical, and richly inviting, this book is a great start for anyone desiring to learn more about contemplative spirituality.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by the publisher without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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