in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

'Mystical Doctrines of Deification' edited by John Arblaster and Rob Faesen

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to see that the proceedings of the Deification conference held in Leuven a few years ago will be published shortly. Go to for more information. It was a superb conference and this should be an excellent book.

best wishes


Friday, 20 July 2018

Christian Mindfulness

Dear Friends,
I am enjoying going through the proofs of the above on these long hot summer days. SCM-Canterbury are doing a wonderful job. Below is some of the first chapter for your interest. We hope to have it launched in the autumn.
best wishes
'We seem to be in the midst of a mindfulness storm.

            Until very recently comparatively few people, apart from a few dedicated practitioners, had heard of this form of meditation. Yet today there seem very few areas of healthcare, psychological intervention, education or even business and commerce that have not in some way been touched by what has been termed ‘the mindfulness revolution’. Why this should be so is anyone’s guess but the trend, especially in the older Western democracies, for formal religious belonging to be replaced by looser forms of spiritual expression, as traced by sociologists of religion such as Linda Woodhead and Paul Heelas, seems by now well documented and well entrenched (see inter alia Heelas and Woodhead 2004; Bullivant 2013). That this is related to the coming era of ‘mindfulness’ is no doubt linked.

When the molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn first developed his mindfulness courses at the University of Massachusetts in the late 1970s he was not so concerned with the metaphysical implications of what were originally Buddhist meditation practices as their clinical and medical efficacy. This novel notion of giving mindfulness meditation a sound clinical and experimental basis is what proved the essential catalyst for the subsequent explosion of mindfulness (See Boyce 2011, pp. xii‒xiii). Thirty years later the clinical evidence for the efficacy of these methods in treating illnesses as diverse as depression, cancer and eating disorders is overwhelming (even though latterly there is the inevitable counter-movement expressing the ‘dangers’ inherent in mindfulness). This, alongside courses such as Kabat-Zinn’s own Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR) ‒ the eight week forerunner for many of the later mindfulness courses - and the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed at Oxford by Professor Mark Williams and colleagues, have contributed to the success of mindfulness as we know it today.

            Kabat-Zinn himself defines mindfulness as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’ (Kabat-Zinn 1994, p. 4). This ‘bare’ definition is supplemented by many practitioners with wider values drawing upon something closer to traditional Buddhist notions of mindfulness. Thus Chozen Bays (2011) suggests that it is ‘deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself – in your body, heart and mind – and outside yourself in the environment... it is awareness without judgement or criticism’ (Boyce 2011, p. 3). She goes further to state that ‘when we are mindful, we are not comparing or judging. We are simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts and emotions that come up as we engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.’ We could continue multiplying these varying definitions yet, following Mace, what becomes clear when we analyse these contemporary understandings of mindfulness is that there seem to be two directions in current usage (see Mace 2008). First, the desire, as Mace himself puts it, to concentrate on the ‘bare attention’ - to observe, Buddha-like, the passing show of sensations, thoughts and emotion with no sticky entanglement. As neuro-biologists and scientists have become interested in the subject this ‘pure bare mindfulness’ (difficult as it is to isolate) has become the main source of their study. On the other hand, writers such as Chozen Bays above or Shapiro (2006) link the practice with wider connotations of ‘heartfulness’, compassion and the general teleological development of character.

            Esoteric though these debates may sound I think they go right to the heart of the subject we shall be considering in the present volume: ‘How far, if at all, can mindfulness be accommodated into an established religious practice such as Christianity?’ And I think the answer will be (in typical philosophical fashion) – ‘it depends what sort of mindfulness you are talking about’. Let me explain further.

            Mace makes the point that Kabat-Zinn’s original 1990s formulation of the basic notion of mindfulness as commonly used today has ‘something of the spirit of the US Founding Fathers’ in that he wanted ‘to make mindfulness available without any requirement to accept or reject particular religious beliefs’ (Mace 2008, p. 59). And there can be no doubt that this agnostic method assuming no adherence to any particular religious belief system (as expounded by Kabat-Zinn et al) has clearly filled a hole in the collective psyche that was left when the box ‘no religion’ was ticked in numerous surveys, censuses and questionnaires (see Bullivant 2013).

            The sceptical outlook of the Buddha himself – he always advised his followers not to trust his teachings but to test them and scrape them (like a goldsmith) to see if they were counterfeit – adds to their ability to fit into the prevailing zeitgeist of sceptical humanism within which we find ourselves. As Mace puts it, ‘part of the genius of Buddhism has been to link aspects of spiritual attainment with psychological changes that can be expressed in cognitive terms. This has made it appealing to people in the West who are respectful of reason, and who believe in human potential, but distrust deist religions’ (Mace 2008, p. 161).

            So faced with the question, ‘How far, if at all, can mindfulness be accommodated into an established religious practice such as Christianity?’ as well as asking ourselves what concept of mindfulness we are applying we also need to ask ourselves a more fundamental question – what concept of religion are we applying to ourselves? Indeed, a similar question might arise for any practitioner of mindfulness whether they considered themselves a Muslim, Jew or Sikh as they came to terms with the implications of the practice for their own religion.'

Monday, 5 February 2018

Rediscovering the Roots of Franciscan Spirituality : 12th May 2018

Dear All,

Please find below details of our next InSpiRe event, this time inspired and supported by the Franciscan community of the UK. You are all most welcome.




Sunday, 24 December 2017

Happy Christmas!

As Our God became a child for us let us too become children again in the mystery of this perfect night.

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Confession Blog - Catholic Herald

 Dear All,

Please find below a link to an interview regarding confession on the Catholic Herald. It may enhance your preparations for Christmas!

best wishes


Monday, 18 December 2017

Book Review: Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain, 1500- 1650, Bernard McGinn

Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain, 1500- 1650. (The Presence of God, Volume 6, A History of Western Christian Mysticism)

Author: Bernard McGinn

Date: 2017

Publisher: Herder and Herder: Crossroad

ISBN: 9780824500900

pp. 478, hbk


We live in a Golden Age of writing on Christian mysticism. McGinn’s own monumental and era-defining study now sails triumphantly into Spain’s own Golden Age and his galleon delivers us a wealth of riches to admire. From its origins in the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of Abbot García de Cisneros in the fastnesses of the Abbey of Montserrat in Catalonia to the quarrelsome but brilliant Fray Luis de Léon, the professor of Hebrew at Salamanca University arrested for his controversial translation of the Song of Songs, the book takes us on an incredible and dazzling journey through this incomparable era of mystical writing. Thus, as well as the titans of the era, Ss. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius of Loyola, we are introduced to a host of unfamiliar mystics, saints and seers who populate this fabled time and place. We hear of the early visionary and mystic, Juana de la Cruz (1481 – 1534) who ran away from home at the age of fifteen disguised a a man in order to join a community of Franciscan holy women. Here she became a local celebrity famed for her sermons which will seem rather provocative to 21st Century sensibilities. Then there is the controversial figure of María de Jesús de Agreda (1602 – 1665) who had the remarkable ability of bi-locating between Spain and her transatlantic missions in New Mexico. I shall be praying to her from now on whenever I get on a Virgin Airways flight. As well as navigating us skillfully and tactfully through this colourful collection of characters McGinn presents us with thoughtful and arresting surveys of the life and works of the major players of the period. There is very little secondary literature on the great saints that is not thoughtfully assessed, weighed and incorporated into three fascinating central chapters that summarise the state of play with regards to contemporary scholarship on these key figures of Western mysticism. For any serious student of Spanish mysticism this book will become a must-have. We have to go back to Edgar Allison Peers’ three volume ‘Studies of the Spanish Mystics’, published in the middle of the twentieth century, to find anything comparable, and in many ways McGinn’s work will now supersede that masterpiece. Indeed, there is very little to compare with McGinn’s magnum opus. Now into the seventh volume, there are three more projected to come. In the present volume we already have signs of the ‘Crisis of Mysticism’ that will come with the Quietist affair of the seventeenth century and we await these last volumes with anticipation. In the meantime we pray for Professor McGinn’s continuing good health so that the final ships of his fleet may be brought safely into harbour.


Thursday, 14 December 2017

'A Scent of the Divine' - Happy Feast Day of St John of the Cross!

Happy Feast Day of St John of the Cross!

Born on the feast day of St John the Baptist, like his name-saint, Juan de la Cruz points us towards the Christ-child and the approaching Joy of Christmas, often whilst standing in the darkness. But don't forget he also called his night 'more lovely than the dawn'. In the passage below, from my recently published book 'Confession: The Healing of the Soul', I concentrate on the mysterious passage in 'The Living Flame of Love', his last poem, in which the saint urges us to seek out, like a truffle hound, the sharp scent of the rastro of God in the frosty early morning air. Rastro is the scent or spoor left by a wild animal during the night. We know a fox or boar has been in our gardens the night before but we do not see it - all we are left with is the 'trace of the Divine'. An earthy metaphor for a saint often accused of being too other-worldly. So, as Christmas approaches, let us follow the 'scent of the Divine' which will, he assures us, lead us to the Christ-child.

Confessions of Fire - St John of the Cross

Flame, alive, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret center of my soul!
Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread,
wound me and make me whole!

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!
Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
slaying, you give me life for death’s distress.

O lamps of fire bright-burning
with splendid brilliance, turning
deep caverns of my soul to pools of light!
Once shadowed, dim, unknowing,
now their strange new-found glowing
gives warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.

Ah, gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret, all alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.[1]


Prologue: A Trace of the Divine


          I have felt somewhat reluctant, most noble and devout lady, to explain       these four stanzas, as you asked, since they deal with such interior and    spiritual matters, for which communication language normally fails (as  spirit transcends sense) and I consequently find it difficult to say anything   of substance on the matter. Also, it is difficult to speak well of the           intimate depths of the spirit (entrañas del espíritu, literally ‘entrails of the     spirit’) if one doesn’t inhabit those depths oneself. And as I have not much done that up to now I have delayed writing about these matters. But now the Lord has appeared to grant me a little knowledge and given      me a little fire... I feel encouraged knowing for certain that by my own           power I can say little of value, especially regarding such sublime and important matters. (LF: Prol.1)


So begins the commentary by St John of the Cross on his last, and possibly greatest, poem, The Living Flame of Love. The poem probably written sometime between May 1585 and April 1587 (according to the testimony of Juan Evangelista he only took a fortnight to write it) whilst he was Prior of the Convent of Los Martires in Granada under the shadow of the magnificent Sierra Nevada and Alhambra Palace.[2] The preamble to his explanation above resembles the prologue to the last work of his equally famous co-worker and spiritual associate, St Teresa of Avila. John had arrived in Granada in 1582, the year of Teresa’s death, and I don’t think it is too fanciful to suggest that in this, his last great poem, he recalls the indomitable spirit of the great Teresa whose shade often hovers over the pages. For had she now not reached the place of bliss of which they had both spoken during their long and eventful collaboration together?

At this point of entry to the transcendent he declares that:


          There is a certain “I don’t know what” which is felt yet remains to be        said, a thing which is known but remains to be described, a trace of the     divine discovered by the soul which God has left to track Him down...     (CA 7.9)


It is as if having entered the Grail Castle only poetry will now suffice to convey what is happening. Using the language and imagery of the hunt John speaks of a divine trace or scent (un subido rastro que se descubre al alma de Dios quedándose por rastrear) which we have caught on the early morning air – this alone ( the ‘I-don’t-know-what’) will lead us to the Divine. It is, as he continues, ‘a love that wounds the soul,’ an outstanding experience that really cannot be put into words. It is Abhishiktananda’s ‘Grail’ experienced outside the bus station of Rishikesh, it is Wittgenstein’s fire of longing felt in the lonely dark nights of Norway:


          One of the outstanding favours God grants briefly in this life is an     understanding and experience of Himself so lucid and lofty as to make        one know clearly that He cannot be completely understood or       experienced. (CA: 7.9)


John’s Living Flame is thus his final confession and testament as he goes ‘gently into that good night.’ A testimonial made not to a Priest or Bishop, or even a Discalced Friar, but to a simple ‘unlettered’ lay woman – Doña Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa. Born in Segovia, to which she would return with John to found his convent there, she was at this time widowed and living in Granada with her brother.  John’s final testament is made to a woman, and it is to a woman’s heart that he confides his last attempts at spiritual writing.





[1]St John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, translated by Marjorie Flower, OCD: The Poems of St. John
of the Cross, incorporating adaptations by Fr Iain Matthew OCD:
¡Oh llama de amor viva
que tiernamente hieres
de mi alma en el más profundo centro!
Pues ya no eres esquiva
acaba ya si quieres,
¡rompe la tela de este dulce encuentro!
¡Oh cauterio süave!
¡Oh regalada llaga!
¡Oh mano blanda! ¡Oh toque delicado
que a vida eterna sabe
y toda deuda paga!
Matando, muerte en vida has trocado.
¡Oh lámparas de fuego
en cuyos resplandores
las profundas cavernas del sentido,
que estaba oscuro y ciego,
con estraños primores
color y luz dan junto a su querido!
¡Cuán manso y amoroso
recuerdas en mi seno
donde secretamente solo moras,
y en tu aspirar sabroso
de bien y gloria lleno,
cuán delicadamente me enamoras!
[2] For more on the chronology and background of John’s poems see Tyler 2010. For both Teresa and John I will use the BAC Spanish edition of their writings and the Kavanaugh and Rodriguez translations modified where necessary. See bibliography for more details and abbreviations of texts used.