Silence and Mysticism (Episode 16)

What role does silence play in mysticism?

That’s the question that launches our conversation this week. Episode 16 is inspired by the recent release of The Little Book of Christian Mysticism, by Carl McColman. But rather than just focus on the new book, we decided to broaden the conversation in this week’s episode to a more general reflection on how silence and mysticism belong together — and influence each other.

We launch our conversation by looking at the problems connected with merely trying to define the word “mysticism” (and related terms  like “experience” and “spirituality”). From there we explore the connection between mysticism, mystery and silence.

“The Christian of the future will be a mystic — which is to say, a Christian who’s comfortable with silence, who’s comfortable with mystery, who’s comfortable with paradox and ambiguity, but who moves into all of that for the sake of love: the love of the Divine, and the love of one another.” — Carl McColman

Our conversation considers how mysticism is misunderstood by both the academic world the world of “pop” spirituality, how mysticism can make a difference even in the context of the institutional crisis in the church today, and how mysticism can be meaningful to the ordinary person today — leading to the radical (but ancient and orthodox) teaching of deification or divinization — what Saint Peter called being “partakers of the Divine nature.”

In our conversation, we explore who are some of Carl’s favorite mystics, how the women mystics of the Middle Ages need to be acknowledged as courageous heroines of the faith, and which mystics ought to be declared doctors of the church.

“Experience is the beginning of mysticism… People will say ‘I am drawn to mysticism because I want an experiential faith.’ I think that’s great! But let that be your starting point, and not your ending point. If the experience of God is the beginning of mysticism, then God’s encounter with you is the end of mysticism.” — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

“In the ancient church, contemplation was the highest form of rationality. It was when you actually let go of your ideas so that you could have new ideas, you could be open and you could rest and you could listen.” — Kevin Johnson

Episode 16: Silence and Mysticism
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Date Recorded: March 29, 2018

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Carl McColman
Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.


  1. I’ve added the book to my list of things I read every day in snippets on (sorry) my e-reader. Carl’s book joins company with A Year With Thomas Merton (Merton times two as I also goto the prayer gem, Dialogues with Silence), Henri Nouwen (Bread for the Journey), A Year with Rilke, Eugene Peterson’s Holy Luck (not dated and not a year’s worth of poetry), Meister Eckhart, Book of the Heart (and incredible way to enter into Eckhart (technically not dated as a daily reader but that’s how I use it and the same with the newest book of selected poems by) Mary Oliver and a quite modern translation of a Thomas à Kempis’ classic The Imitation of Christ by James Watkins.

    Way too early to tell, of course, about Carl’s book 🙂 but the others I do read daily; some with breakfast, some mid day and some late; my own kind of “Hours”.

    Other titles slide in and out of the mix according to Season.

  2. Another one with great and profound questions and I’ll need some days to digest it. Just adding a small note that some theologians argue that maybe Jesus lived until 46 (the 46 years to build the temple) so maybe Carl wrote the 13 sections that would be missing with “NoWords” and silence 🙂

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