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The Contemplative Way
James Finley, Ph.D
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Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate

Jesus said, "Narrow is the gate that leads to life and few there are who enter it." In this retreat we will follow the mystics through this narrow gate. This means to follow the mystics through the mysterious process in which we realize God is the very reality of ourselves, others and all things. Seeing God in all things and all things in God we experience the peace that surpasses understanding.

The mystics that will be singled out as our guides will be those that have most influenced and guided me on my own ongoing spiritual journey: Meister Eckhart, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, John Ruusbroec, Mechthild of Magdeberg, Julian of Norwich and Thomas Merton. Rather than focus on any single mystic, we will instead zero in on the ways in which each mystic attempts to help us to understand and pass through the following critical phases of our journey of spiritual awakening:

The topics covered in the conferences include:
  • Recognizing and passing through the obstacle we encounter as we begin to enter this vast interior realm of the Spirit. Discovering that struggling with and passing through these obstacles propels us yet deeper in the toward the gate through which we pass through into God.
  • Noting the methods and ways of praying and meditating that tend to accompany and enhance each phase of spiritual awakening.
  • In arriving at gate, discovering it is narrow in the paradoxical sense in which only God and all that is of God passes through. Anything that we try to take with us through the gate that is less than God gets stuck. But as we learn to let go of all that is less than God as the source of our security and identity we pass with ease through the gate into God. In passing through this gate, we are surprised to discover we do not go anywhere. Rather, we simply awaken to God, who, from the beginning, has been passing through gate into us.
  • Finally, we will learn how each mystic attempts to help us prepare for the life of love that blossoms in passing through this gate. Seeing self through eyes at once God's and our own that we are generosity of God, we are moved to be generous and loving toward ourselves as precious in our fragility. Seeing others through eyes at once God's and our own that others are the generosity of God, we are moved to be generous in our love for them. Seeing the earth through eyes at once God's and our own we moved to be generous in our love for all living things.
  • References will also be made to the non-Christian mystical traditions, noting how mystical traditions of each world religion bears witness the universal capacity that all humans have to awaken to the fullness of who they are as spiritual beings created in the image and likeness of God who is Spirit.
  • The emphasis throughout the retreat will be on the humbling and liberating details of what it is actually like to sincerely follow the path the mystics mark out for us. Time will be given for group meditation, personal reflection and discussion of the themes presented.
Suggested Reading

John of the Cross, The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross
Johnston, William, (trans.) The Cloud of Unknowing
Merton, Thomas, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation
Smith, Cyprian, The Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught By Meister Eckhart
Theresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Underhill, Evelyn, Mysticism

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