A Q&A with Carl McColman, author of Christian Mystics!

Are you looking to learn more about Christian Mystics? Read on!

What is Christian Mysticism?

It’s an umbrella term for a profound type of spirituality which stresses encountering the presence of God and realizing union with God. It is the closest thing within Christianity to “enlightenment” as understood in eastern religions.

Who are some of the great Christian mystics?

Some of the mystics are well-known: figures like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, and St. Teresa of Avila. Others are not as well-known but are amazing, fascinating personalities: figures like Julian of Norwich (14th century) or Thomas Merton (20th century)

How does someone become a mystic?

That’s a great question, because there is no official process for being recognized as a mystic (such as there is in the Catholic Church for canonizing saints). The great mystics are usually recognized in hindsight, because their writings or their teachings contain universal spiritual truth and profound insight into the heart and mind of God.

Can anyone be a mystic?

Absolutely! In fact, a renowned German Christian writer in the 20th century, Karl Rahner, said “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” Another writer, William McNamara, said “the mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic.” Therefore, the first step to being a mystic is being true to yourself; every mystic, like every human being, is unique.

What does it take to become a mystic?

The great mystics usually taught that to be a mystic requires three things: a deep commitment to holiness (to being a person of heroic virtue); a daily practice of prayer and meditation; and a willingness to give your life fully to God, which means fully to Divine Love. Obviously these are tall orders! But it’s a lifelong process. “Becoming a mystic” doesn’t happen overnight; it’s usually the result of years of prayer and meditation.

Some of the mystics listed in this book are called “heretics.” What does that mean?

Many of the great mystics, down the ages, were controversial figures in their day.  Their teachings often were rejected by the religious establishment, and some of them were even condemned for their views. Ironically, though, some of the great mystics eventually become honored as saints! Mystics are often visionaries, calling humanity forward into new ways of responding to the Love of God. Like all visionaries, sometimes their wisdom and value was not recognized until long after their death.

You also have a category of poets who are mystics. Why do mystics write poetry?

Not all mystics are writers, of course, but it’s the ones who wrote down their life stories or their teachings who are remembered by posterity. Interestingly, many mystics were poets — lovers of language who wrote about their visions and their experience of God in lyrical and beautiful ways. Indeed, some of the great mystics, like St. John of the Cross or John Donne, are also considered classical poets, honored for their literary achievements as much as their spiritual genius.

What, in a nutshell, do the mystics teach?

Since there are so many different types of mystics, it’s hard to summarize their teachings briefly. But I think you can see some general themes: mystics proclaim that God is a God of infinite, unconditional Love, a God of Love who desires to be close to each of us, and who wants us to be happy — a happiness that is found in union with God. Beyond that, the many mystics offer many different “maps” or methods for attaining that Divine Love in our lives.

Are there any great mystics who are still alive today?

Indeed there are. In the book, I profile several mystics who were alive when the book was written, including Bruno Barnhart, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating and Willigis Jäger. Each of these figures are famous for the writings filled with spiritual wisdom and inspirational insight.

Some of the mystics seem to be very interfaith in their approach. Is this normal?

Actually, interfaith-friendly mystics have been a part of the Christian path since the first centuries, but it has become more common in recent years as Christians have become more familiar with other faiths. Even though Christian mystics tend to be deeply devoted to Jesus, they also often are open to other streams of wisdom, such as Buddhism or Vedanta. I’ve profiled several of these “interfaith-friendly mystics” as a way of celebrating the deep spiritual wisdom that is found throughout the world — among Christians as well as the adherents of other paths.


From the Introduction to Leaving the OCD Circus

When I was nine, I started developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And I lived in its grip for over twenty years. People without OCD often ask me what it feels like. Imagine you are building a house of cards. Your OCD is the blowing fan right next to it. You can’t stop yourself from building the house of cards because your brain has a hiccup, and the fan will never shut off. And, oh yeah, there is someone holding a gun to your head demanding that you perform perfectly.

Frustrating doesn’t come close to describing it, but complete madness does.

I have learned how to stop building the house of cards, doing what my OCD tells me to do, and most importantly, I have shut off the fan.

In this book I tell the story of how I learned to take down my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I will show you how to do the same thing. Yes, you heard that right. YOU are BIGGER than YOUR OCD, and of this I am sure. What’s different about this book than others you may have read is that it’s written not by a doctor or therapist or expert, but from the perspective of someone who has lived through the disorder—from what my editor calls “the street level.” I’ve read a lot of books, met with a lot of doctors, and fought a lot of OCD battles, and this book gives me the opportunity to share with you what I’ve learned about what OCD is and how to work with it until you are back in charge of your life. I know it might sound cliché, but if I can do it, so can you.

Artist: Doug Pagacz
Artist: Doug Pagacz

OCD comes in many different forms; it all depends on the person. Some people are afraid and crippled by the thought of contaminants and are cleaners; others are driven to madness with the overwhelming need to be perfect; there are compulsive checkers, hoarders, and repeaters, also orderers, those who require that the things around them be arranged in a particular and rigid way; there are thinking ritualizers; and the list goes on from there. However, we are all human, and we are all so much more than these labels! Maybe we don’t fear the same things, maybe the form of your OCD is different from mine (I experienced most of the things on that list), but we all want the same peace, don’t we? That’s why we do such crazy things! We’re chasing that elusive mental stillness. My intention is to give you a book that is protein-packed for the mind and the soul.

I constructed this book—text and pictures—to help you out of your own constriction.

I have been collecting imagery, especially vintage art and ephemera, nearly all my life. Pictures and words that really spoke to me at a core level. Some seemed to capture exactly what I was feeling. Some reminded me of pain, some of hope or freedom. I have a feeling these images and words will hit you like that, too, and I’ve sprinkled them like bread crumbs throughout the book to help guide you out of your dark forest or show you a different path. I want you to feel seen and heard. I hope these pictures help you feel my presence in your life. I hear you. I get you.

Sufferers will relate; the people who love us will learn. If you are an OCD hostage like I once was, or if you wish to understand and help someone who suffers from OCD, this book is for you. It is about claiming your freedom and getting your life back. If you feel alone and isolated, or know and love someone who does, I hope this book will become a good friend and a valuable resource. We are all at different places on the OCD and wellness spectrum, and I wrote this book with the intention to meet you right where you are, wherever you are.

Kirsten Pagacz is the founder of Retro-A-Go-Go, an online seller of retro kitsch. She suffered from OCD for two decades before discovering that it had a name (and a cure). Before founding her own company, she worked in marketing and sales for a number of Fortune 500 companies. She is a member of the International OCD Foundation and won first place in one of their art competitions.


How to Tell If You’re Tuning Into Spiritual Guidance

As you start building a relationship with your spirit guides, your ego will try to discourage and dissuade you. It wants to maintain the status quo, keeping you stuck in fear rather than growing spiritually and personally.

Because of this, you may often hear the voice of your ego rather than your guides. How do you tell the difference?

How to Tell if You’re Tuning Into Spiritual Guidance

The ego is loud. Your guidance is quiet.

The ego can’t sit or stay sill for very long. As soon as you ask a question, it’s typically going to jump out of its chair, stick its nose in your face and tell you exactly what it thinks, often in the loudest and most insistent voice possible. Messages from Spirit, on the other hand, often float in like a breeze. They’re soft, gentle and still, and they feel light, like a feather that’s just passing through your awareness.

Your guidance is always a voice for love.

Your guidance will always speak from kindness and compassion. It will not direct you to act out of fear. This isn’t to say that it won’t encourage you to do something that makes you nervous. You’ll often feel this way because the guides are nudging you to grow. But they won’t encourage you to dislike, disrespect, or hate someone, to carry a grudge or to lash out in any way. Their guidance will always be in alignment with divine love.

Guidance is judgment free.

When Spirit speaks, you can listen without getting defensive because you know you’re not being attacked. Guides convey messages without judgment, blame, anger or coercion. They speak the truth and leave it that. Then it’s up to us to accept it and learn from it…or not. If we don’t, they’ll generously arrange for another opportunity.

Debra Engle is the author of The Only Little Prayer You Need and Let Your Spirit Guides Speak. You can find her on Facebook and at debraengle.com and at her Patheos.com blog “Everyday Miracles.”

Deb Engle's Books

The Only Little Prayer You Need | Let Your Spirit Guides Speak

I See Peace.

by Karen Casey

One of the glories of making a commitment to the practice of peaceful behavior is that it feels good. It feels honorable, respectful and kind. And I’m convinced it adds benefit to the universe we share with 7 billion other souls. I’ve heard this phenomenon explained as the “Butterfly Effect.” The idea that we add positive or negative ions to the atmosphere each time we make a gesture to a person, react to a situation or even simply think an unkind or harmful thought is a mighty idea. Making the commitment to be a purveyor of peaceful ripples is a worthy “assignment,” indeed.

Over the last few years I have made more than a concerted effort to impart “tools” for peaceful living through the books I have written and the workshops I have facilitated. And even though I share these ideas joyfully and sincerely, my own ego fails to adhere to that which “I preach” far too often. Embarrassingly often, in fact. Woe is me.

And yet, I know, each day offers me another collection of moments in which to practice what I know to be true. I’d like to include a handful of these “tools” here for your consideration. I know they will effectively change people and relationships. I also know that nothing changes if nothing changes.

I See Peace

Embrace powerlessness.

Practice the thought, “I can choose peace instead of this.”

Choose carefully between the two voices in your mind. One is wrong.

Every person we encounter is “a messenger.” Honor him and the message.

Our “learning partners” are intentional, not accidental.

Sidestep chaos.

Sidestep angry people. They are simply afraid. Love them.

Choose love, regardless.

Seek reasons to be grateful.

Ask: what can I bring to my relationships today?

Forgiveness is our primary lesson.

The Holy Spirit is a “gift” from God. Rely on him.

Change happens when it is time for us to grow, to move forward.

Nothing happens by accident.

Surrender does not mean defeat. It means love.

I am here only to be truly helpful. . .

This list of tools have completely changed my life, for the better. I know, from deep within me, that if I can manage to practice these tools on a pretty consistent basis, you can too. No one of us can do something that no one else can. What’s possible for me is absolutely possible for you.

The planet needs us to step up to the challenge to make this a better world for all 7 billion of us. i am excited about being part of this challenge. I hope you are too. There is no time like today for picking up the challenge and moving forward.

And I thank you for all 7 billion of us.

Karen Casey is a writer and workshop facilitator for 12-step recovery. Her first book, Each Day a New Beginning, has sold more than 3 million copies. She has published 28 books since then including Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, which was a finalist for the MS Society Books for a Better Life Awards. She has traveled throughout North America and Europe carrying her message of hope for others on the road to recovery.


Other Titles by Karen Casey

Bookstores We Love! – Isis Books, Gifts and Healing Oasis

We are very excited to launch our newest addition to the blog, Bookstores We Love, a feature dedicated to our independent bookstores! Our first store featured is Isis Books, Gifts and Healing Oasis. 

Isis Books, Gifts and Healing Oasis


Isis Books, Gifts and Healing Oasis has been serving our wonderful, unique and always interesting clientele for over 36 years in Denver, Colorado.  We started out very small in 1980, renting one side of a small duplex and now, since 2007, we own our building of 6,000 square feet.  Our building was originally a mortuary built in the 1920’s.  As we were looking for a building to purchase, we stumbled upon our location and really liked the fact that its rectangular, free standing shape was much like so many traditional Egyptian temples, up to and including pillars across the front facade.  When we went inside and saw the lotus flower stained glass skylights, we knew we had found the right space for our amazing store.

We are sometimes asked if our building is haunted.  Of course, a mortuary is simply a temporary resting place for someone’s physical remains, not a place they get attached to, so we don’t have more than the normal amount of activity that any older building tends to experience – but we do have Ernie, the caretaker who worked in the building for over 60 years.  He’s out of body now, but he keeps an eye on things for us.

The front counter at Isis Books.

Since our inception, we have offered a multitude of workshops and classes, psychic readings and alternative healers.   Information, education and empowerment are essential components of what we at Isis Books seek to encourage and foster in our diverse spiritual community.  Enriching our spiritual communities by the sharing of wisdom and providing tools for spiritual development is a big part of our mission.  We believe that all spiritual paths lead to the Source.  We honor and respect all life-affirming, positive paths.  We sum up this belief in our tag line ‘Tools for Your Soul’s Journey’.  And we celebrate this conviction by showcasing our diversity of book titles which represent so many spiritual paths along with our sacred statuary, music, herbs, essential oils, stones and more.

The Dream and Astrology section (l) and the Eastern section (r)

Our customers love this diversity of cultures, world views and products, spending hours at our store exploring and discovering new things.  We feel very lucky to be located in the Denver metro area with its accepting, educated and always curious population.  Our angel customers share with our Wiccan customers; our Shamanic folks share knowledge and stories with our Asatru folks.   The majority of our customers also believe that everyone has the right to their own form of spiritual expression and enjoy learning about different pathways to the Divine.

One of the things that we have loved over the years has been watching our customers’ families grow up.  People who have shopped with us since 1980 often come in with their children.  Those children are now grown and bring in their kids and grandkids, so we have had the delight of being a part of 3 or 4 generations of spiritual families during the time that we have been serving our community.

Many people have remarked that Isis Books feels like an eye of calm in the middle of the city.  In addition to coming by to shop, we also have quite a few people who drop by just to chill after a stressful day.  They tell us that they love the sense of peace and serenity they feel as soon as they enter the store.  As one of our favorite Weiser authors, Christopher Penczak, describes us, “Part library, part apothecary and part temple, Isis has all the tools you might need, whatever path or tradition you follow.”

The Tarot section

In a time when our world is in such a state of constant tumultuous change, words can take on alternate meanings and that has certainly been the case with the name of our store.  In November, 2015 our large street sign with our name Isis in all capital letters was severely damaged by rocks and bricks by a person who apparently flunked their junior high mythology class and mistook us as a shopfront for terrorists.   We posted briefly about the damage on our Facebook page and the ensuing show of support and love was overwhelming.  Over the next couple of weeks, our Facebook page had over 600,000 views and tens of thousands of shares.  We did TV interviews on all our local news stations and did radio interviews for stations across the country as well as for Australian, British, Russian and French news sites.  In the interviews we had the opportunity to explain who Isis really is, what our store is about and give a ‘shout out’ to our amazing, supportive community.   So as a result of a sad incident, we connected in an even stronger way with our wonderful customers and got the word out about our store in ways we would never have been able to afford through advertising.

Isn’t it fun living in a magickal world?

Connect with Isis Books!

Website | Facebook | Twitter 

2775 S Broadway, Englewood, CO 80113


Why I Wrote About Christian Mystics

by Carl McColman

When Peter Gabriel came to Atlanta in 2003, my wife Fran and I were able to get tickets to the concert through a friend who works in the music business. Not only did we have the best seats in the house (right behind and above the soundboard), but we were seated next to a row of VIPs. In fact, the man sitting right next to Fran had a copy of the setlist, so obviously he was connected with the band. I started chatting him up, and when I asked him if he had a professional relationship with Gabriel, he rather shyly said yes; I introduced myself, and when he replied, “I’m Trent Reznor,” I almost fell out of my seat.

“What are you getting all excited about?” Fran hissed into my ear.

“We’re sitting next to the leader of Nine Inch Nails!” I whispered. I spent the rest of the evening trying to play it cool; I didn’t even ask him for his autograph. Suspicious that this could have been someone with delusions of grandeur, as soon as I got home I looked up a picture of Reznor, and sure enough, he (or his identical twin) was the guy.

Fran still teases me about that; she doesn’t get star-struck as easily as I do (I once asked her, “Does anyone impress you?” She laughed and admitted she’d like to meet the Obamas or Pope Francis). I, on the other hand, am unrepentant about loving to meet people whose work I admire. It’s not just fame that dazzles me —  I’m not one to stand in line at a convention to get five seconds with a celebrity — but the chance to pick the brain of a writer or artist or theologian I admire? That’s catnip.

A friend of mine who was an Episcopal priest once arranged for me to have breakfast with the Anglican spiritual theologian Kenneth Leech, just the two of us; I felt like I had won the lottery. On another occasion I had the chance to interview the Irish mystic John O’Donohue, which turned into an afternoon filled with insightful conversation. Yes, I admit it: I’m a fan-boy.

Leech and O’Donohue are just two of the great mystics and contemplatives I write about in my new book, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints and Sages. It profiles a diverse and colorful assortment of visionaries, teachers, story-tellers, philosophers, prophets, saints, heretics, and others who lived interesting and remarkable lives, fueled by a passionate love of God — and even a profound sense of union with God.

Of course, most of these spiritual masters lived centuries ago, so you and I would only have a chance to “meet” them through their books, their poetry, or other writings. But isn’t that what makes books so miraculous: that they give us access to some of the great minds (and hearts) of history? You and I will never have the chance (at least, not on this side of eternity) to gush over Francis of Assisi, or Hildegard of Bingen, or Isaac the Syrian, or any of the other great mystics. But we can discover who they are, learn their stories, and benefit from their wisdom, which has been preserved for us, thanks to the written word (some of the more recent mystics, like O’Donohue and  especially Howard Thurman, have also left us a treasury of recorded sermons and lectures).

But Christian mystics often are not widely known — I bet at least one of the folks I mentioned above is unfamiliar to you, even if you are already interested in contemplative spirituality. When Fran looked over the table of contents in Christian Mystics, she said, “There are a lot of people here I don’t know!” I resisted the urge to suggest she spend more time poking through my library; instead I said, “That’s the point behind this book: to introduce people to amazing spiritual teachers and guides whom they probably have never met before.”

Some of them, like Beatrice of Nazareth or Gregory of Narek, lived centuries ago. Others, like Sara Grant or Bruno Barnhart, walked the earth in our time. My only boundary was limiting the book to Christians, but it includes Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Quaker mystics, ranging from two Biblical figures to three who are still alive today. Most important of all, these mystics cover a wide terrain in how they manifest their spirituality: many were monks and nuns, but others were ordinary folk leading humble lives. When you look at them as a whole, what becomes obvious is that there’s no one single or right way to be a mystic, which is to say, to respond to the love of God. Which means that every one of us is meant to respond to God’s love in the unique way that is right for us.

Maybe you’re like my wife, not easily impressed when you meet someone famous. But I hope you’ll take the time to discover the great Christian mystics. They may not be household names (although I think they deserve to be), but they are brilliant guides to living a spiritually meaningful and joyful life. Their stories — and their wisdom — is worth getting to know.

Originally published on Carl’s blog

Carl McColman lives near Atlanta, Georgia, where he is the member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit—a contemplative community under the spiritual guidance of Trappist monks. He is a member of the Atlanta Shambhala Center and is active in the Atlanta interfaith community. Carl frequently leads workshops and retreats on contemplative spirituality at churches, seminaries, monasteries, and retreat centers