Today I would like to share a guest post with you from my friend Carl McColman. Carl is a full-time contemplative writer, blogger, podcaster and speaker. He is the author of numerous books, including The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Unteachable Lessons, and the forthcoming Eternal Heart. Find Carl online at www.anamchara.com. His newest project is a really cool idea and I think you’re all going to love it. But I’ll let him describe it to you in his own words.
Many years ago, I heard a talk given by Anne Lamott on public radio. She was speaking about the craft of writing, from the perspective of her work as a writing teacher. I don’t remember too much about what she had to say, but one sentence in particular burned itself into my memory:
“Write the book you wish you could have read.”
I was already published at that point, but I hadn’t approached writing from that common-sense perspective: don’t just “write what you know,” but write what you want to know. Let writing be an aspirational process: a tool for personal growth as much as for self-expression. I realized, reflecting on Lamott’s advice, that the book I wish I could have read was a beginner’s guide to Christian mysticism, written not from an academic perspective (although scholarly informed), but from the perspective of a practitioner. Several years later my book The Big Book of Christian Mysticism was published — the fruit of that basic insight.
Write a Book… or a Website
One of the gifts I’ve received from The Big Book of Christian Mysticism has been discovering my “tribe” — people from all over the world who share a desire to grow spiritually through the wisdom and guidance of the Christian mystics. I don’t know how many of us there are, but we are not alone. Over the years since the book was published, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to speak at churches, teach at seminaries, and lead retreats at monasteries and retreat centers, all with an eye to connecting with people who, like me, want to follow the invitation of the great mystics — visionaries like Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Ávila, and Evelyn Underhill — to calibrate our lives toward the transforming love that unites us with God.
And while I’ve been blogging since even before my mysticism book was published, I’ve discovered over the years that for many people, blogs and/or social media have become an important entry-point into the world of mystical Christianity. I don’t think I need to make the case for that fact — after all, you are reading these words on a blog!
It occurred to me a few years ago, that Anne Lamott’s advice could apply to a website just as much as to a book. So I began to ponder, what is the website I wish I could visit? As I reflected on this question, I began to notice how more and more websites have what is called a “Knowledge Base” — a section of the site devoted to practical information, often related to whatever product or service the website is promoting. If you buy a new iPhone, and you have a question about one of its features, you can call Apple and probably end up on hold for who knows how long — or you can visit the Apple Knowledge Base where, with a few key words typed into the search box, you are likely to find one or more articles that give you the information you need.
In essence, a knowledge base is a database of knowledge. For learning how to use or troubleshoot technology, such a database is invaluable. But if something like that is so useful for ordinary tech, couldn’t it have an application for spiritual technology as well? In other words, imagine how useful it would be to have a knowledge base devoted to the study and practice of the mystical life.
Thank you, Anne Lamott. For the second time, I have discerned a calling to create something that I wished I could use.
Knowing — and Unknowing
Since I already have a website, and a blog, it seemed like I was in a good position to create a Christian Mysticism Knowledge Base. But immediately I was struck by the irony of those very words. One of the greatest books in the annals of mystical literature is called The Cloud of Unknowing. Mysticism, you see, is related to mystery — both words come from the same Greek root (which also is the root for our English word “mute,” like the mute function on Zoom: which means silence, of course). Mysticism, related to mystery and silence (and unknowing), is a topic that stresses hiddenness, paradox, darkness, and ineffability (the inability to be put into words). What kind of fool’s errand was this: to create a knowledge base for a body of knowledge that stresses its own unknowability?
Well, I like a challenge, and I also believe an essential quality of mystical spirituality is childlike playfulness (after all, Jesus instructed us to “become like little children”!) — so, humbly acknowledging that any body (or database) of mystical “knowledge” must always be limited, provisional, and incomplete, I have begun work on what I am calling a “Christian Mysticism Unknowledge Base” — now available online at www.anamchara.com/unknowing.
It’s still in its early stages, but I am adding new content every week, and the goal is simply to be an online companion to The Big Book of Christian Mysticism — a searchable compendium of blog posts, articles and essays exploring mysticism in both theory and practice.
The topics include:
- Overview of Christian Mysticism
- Profiles of some of the greatest Christian mystics
- Mystical Theology
- Mystical Spirituality (the practice of mystical Christianity)
- History of Christian Mysticism
- Miscellaneous topics
- User-supplied questions about Christian Mysticism
- Bibliography/Recommended Books
- Community Resources
This is a labor of love, offered freely on my website — there’s no payment gateway and no intention to add one (readers can make donations through Patreon or Paypal, but that’s completely voluntary). It’s just a resource that I feel called to create, and am happy to make available to the online community, in the hopes that it may be of use to others. Please check it out. At the bottom of every page is a comments tab, so let me know if you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for future topics. And please keep in mind, this is a work in progress — so bookmark it and visit it again in the future, and watch it grow.
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