There is probably no more misused word in our days than ‘mysticism.’ It has come to be applied to many things of many kinds: theosophy and Christian science; to spiritualism and clairvoyance; to demonology and witchcraft; to occultism and magic; to weird psychical experiences, if only they have some religious color; to revelations and visions; to other-worldliness, or even mere dreaminess and impracticability in the affairs of life; to poetry and painting and music of which the motif is unobvious and vague. It has been identified with the attitude of the religious mind that cares not for dogma or doctrine, for church or sacraments; it has been identified also with a certain outlook on the world—a seeing God in nature, and recognizing that the material creation in various ways symbolizes spiritual realities: a beautiful and true conception, … but which is not [mystical] according to its historical meaning. And, on the other side, the meaning of the term has been watered down: it has been said that the love of God is mysticism; or that mysticism is only the Christian life lived on a high level; or that it is … piety in extreme form. Against all this stands the perfectly clear traditional historical meaning, handed down in the Christian Church throughout the centuries, not subject to confusion of thought until recent times.

Dom Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism, 3-41Dom Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism: The Teaching of SS. Augustine, Gregory, and Bernard on Contemplation and the Contemplative Life (1926).

This is a fourth podcast in response to a request for information about contemplative prayer in light of social distancing and the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. Here I reflect on the fact that, from the beginning, the contemplation of God has always been the true aim of the Christian life, and how the inherently contemplative character of Christian practice has become muddled in the West through various philosophical and historical circumstances. While we will likely continue to post audio reflections, this is the last in this series of four. You can listen to this post by clicking on the “play” button above.

Please know that I am happy to field phone calls from anyone desiring to talk about these things. I can be reached at 607-326-0052 between 10 am and 5 pm EST on weekdays. If I am not in, please leave a message with some good times to reach you and I will phone you back.

Cloud-Bearing Mountain: Christian spiritual training in the fullness of the ancient faith.

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Cloud-Bearing Mountain is a Christian spiritual retreat center. Through lectures, liturgical services, and residential retreat programs, we provide opportunities for authentic growth in the Christian life. The directed silent retreat and the practice of contemplative prayer form the backbone of our unique training program.

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1 Dom Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism: The Teaching of SS. Augustine, Gregory, and Bernard on Contemplation and the Contemplative Life (1926).