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practices for inner journey

The writings of Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and John Main have sparked a renewed interest in contemplative life and practice among many individuals and communities in both the Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions. Parallel to this development is the explosive growth in the West of the practice of Mindfulness. Originally a Buddhist practice, Mindfulness has been adopted by many Christian and non-religious practitioners as a way of integrating the mind, heart, and body in present moment awareness.


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In this course we will first trace the roots of Christian contemplative prayer with a particular emphasis on the Conferences of John Cassian, the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing, the Spanish Carmelites Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and the contemporary Trappist monk Thomas Merton. We will then examine in some detail the theoretical framework of Centering Prayer (Keating), Christian Meditation (Main), and Mindfulness as well as the ways these practices support and deepen the inner journey.

Students will also have the opportunity to practice Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, and Mindfulness and reflect on their experience.

Student Learning Outcomes:


Upon completion the student will be able to…

  1. Explain the role of contemplative practice for the inner journey and contemporary Christian spirituality and discipleship.
  2. Outline the development of contemplative prayer in the Western Christian tradition with particular attention to the primary sources of the contemporary renewal in contemplative prayer.
  3. Compare and contrast the theoretical foundations of Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, and Mindfulness.
  4. Assess the practice of Mindfulness in a Christian context.
  5. Explain and distinguish Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, and Mindfulness as spiritual practices with respect to their contribution to contemporary Christian spirituality and their use in spiritual accompaniment.

Course Requirements and Means of Assessment for Credit Students:

Note: Enrichment students are encouraged to participate in the discussion posts and keep a practice journal.


  1. Weekly discussion posts: Students will be expected to participate in the online forums for class discussions. Questions for discussion will be posted each week and students are expected to post responses to the initial questions as well as comment on responses from other students. The instructor will respond to student questions, add comments, or supply additional information as necessary in the forum. 25% of course grade


  1. Practice journalStudents will keep a written practice journal covering a minimum of 1 hour per week of formal practice over the duration of the course for a minimum of 15 hours. Instructions for the journal will be provided during the first week of class. Completed journal is due by December by Saturday, December 5 at 11:59pm Central Time. 25% of course grade


  1. Section reflection papers: Three papers of approximately 1000 words each will be due at the end of weeks 4, 8, and 12. The papers should reflect a synthesis of the course material (lecture material, required reading, practice sessions) for that 4 week period as well as a mature integration of the material into her/his own spirituality. More instructions for the section reflection papers will be provided during the second week of class. Papers are due at 11:59pm Central Time on the following Saturdays: September 19, October 10, and November 7. 25% of course grade
  1. Comprehensive reflection paper: This paper of approximately 4000 words will include revised versions of the three previous reflection papers based on instructor feedback and should be a culminating synthesis of all course material and its relevance for the inner journey and Christian spirituality. Due by Saturday, December 5 at 11:59pm Central Time. No late comprehensive reflection papers will be accepted. No exceptions. 25% of course grade.




Required Textbooks:

Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice. Boulder: Shambhala, 2016.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York, N.Y.: Hatchette Books, 2014.

Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. New York: Continuum, 2006.

Main, John. Word into Silence. New York: Continuum, 2001.

Tyler, Peter. Christian Mindfulness: Theology and Practice. London: SCM Press, 2018.

Other required and recommended readings will be posted in PDF form to the course Moodle site.







Course Outline and Required Reading for Credit Students:

Note: Enrichment students are invited to do as much of the reading as their schedules allow.


Week 1 – Aug. 24-30 Silence and Interiority

Meredith Secomb, “Being Attentive to Silence” (PDF posted to Moodle)

Kallistos Ware, excerpt from “How Do We Enter the Heart?” in Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East (PDF posted to Moodle)

Peter Tyler, Christian Mindfulness, vii-x, 1-16

Week 2 – Aug. 31-Sept. 6 Introduction to the Practices

Sr. Pascaline, Coff, OSB, “The Universal Call to Contemplation: Cloisters Beyond the Monastery” (PDF Posted to Moodle)

Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 1-31

John Main, Word into Silence, How to Meditate and pp. 1-22

Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Sitting Meditation,” in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, pp. 54-74 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Week 3 – Sept. 7-13 Roots of Contemplative Prayer I: Cassian and the Desert Tradition of Asceticism

Tyler, Christian Mindfulness, pp. 17-38

Main, Word into Silence, pp. 57-61

Olivier Clément, “The Interior Combat,” in The Roots of Christian Mysticism (PDF posted to Moodle)

John Cassian, Conferences, Conference 1 (excerpts) and Conference 10 (PDF posted to Moodle)

John Chryssavgis, “Fire and Light in the Egyptian Desert: Aspects of Desert Spirituality” (PDF posted to Moodle)

Week 4 – Sept. 14-20 Roots of Contemplative Prayer II: Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross

Tyler, Christian Mindfulness, pp. 39-91

Harvey D. Egan, “St. Teresa of Avila,” in Christian Mysticism: The Future of a Tradition, pp. 118-146 (PDF posted to Moodle)

———, excerpts from The Interior Castle, in An Anthology of Christian Mysticism, pp. 438-451.

———, “John of the Cross,” in Soundings in the Christian Mystical Tradition, pp. 250-256.

John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, the poems “The Spiritual Canticle,” “The Dark Night,” and “The Living Flame of Love,” pp. 44-53; and Book One, Chapters 8-11 from the treatise “The Dark Night,” pp. 375-385. (PDF posted to Moodle)

Week 5 – Sept. 21-27 Roots of Contemplative Prayer III: Thomas Merton

Tyler, Christian Mindfulness, pp. 92-122

Roger Lipsey, “About Thomas Merton, a Seeker of Truth” (PDF posted to Moodle)

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 21-46 (PDF posted to Moodle)

———, “Fire Watch” in A Thomas Merton Reader, pp. 210-226 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Judith Simmer-Brown, “‘Wide Open to Life’”: Thomas Merton’s Dialogue of Contemplative Practice” (PDF posted to Moodle)

Week 6 – Sept. 28-Oct. 4 Centering Prayer I

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer, pp. 11-39

Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 31-42

William Johnston, ed., The Cloud of Unknowing, pp. 40-51 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Bourgeault, Heart of Centering Prayer, 117-175

Week 7 – Oct. 5-11 Centering Prayer II

Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 43-77

Bourgeault, Heart of Centering Prayer, pp. 43-93

Week 8 – Oct. 12-18 Centering Prayer III

Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 95-114

Bourgeault, Heart of Centering Prayer, pp. 94-114

Thomas Keating, “The Psychology of Centering Prayer,” in Intimacy with God, pp. 72-91 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Welcoming Prayer,” in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pp. 135-152 (PDF posted to Moodle)


Week 9 – Oct. 19-25 Christian Meditation I

Main, Word into Silence, pp. 23-45

John Main, “The Silence of Real Knowledge,” in Monastery Without Walls, pp. 125-134 (PDF posted to Moodle)

John Main, Moment of Christ, pp. 46-58, 89-93 (PDF posted to Moodle)



Week 10 – Oct. 26-Nov. 1 Christian Meditation II

Main, Word into Silence, pp. 47-73

Main, “Faith and Belief,” in Monastery Without Walls, pp. 153-160 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Laurence Freeman, “The Labyrinth,” in Jesus: The Teacher Within, pp. 214-238 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Laurence Freeman, The Selfless Self, 1-5, 31-35, 55-59 (PDF posted to Moodle)


Week 11 – Nov. 2-8 Christian Meditation III

Sarah Bachelard, “John Main’s Contribution to Contemplative Theology: ‘In meditation we verify the truths of our own experience,’” in John Main: The Expanding Vision, pp. 51-75. (PDF posted to Moodle)

Heather Thomson, “Conversion’s Inner Adventure” (PDF posted to Moodle)

Beatrice Bruteau, “Entering the Heart of Jesus: Devotion, Renunciation and Faith” (PDF posted to Moodle)


Week 12 – Nov. 9-15 Mindfulness I

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, pp. 1-86

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness, pp. 1-8 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Christophe André, Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-Five Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art, pp. 2-19.

Week 13 – Nov. 16-22 Mindfulness II

Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, pp. 87-169

———. “The Foundations of Mindfulness Practice: Attitudes and Commitment,” in Full Catastrophe Living, pp. 19-38 (PDF posted to Moodle)

John Welwood, “Between Heaven and Earth: Principles of Inner Work,” in Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation, pp. 11-21 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Week 14 – Nov. 23-29 Mindfulness III

Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, pp. 170-275

Jack Kornfield, “Did I Love Well?” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, pp. 11-21 (PDF posted to Moodle)


Week 15 – Nov. 29-Dec. 5 Critical Synthesis

Tyler, Christian Mindfulness, pp. 123-156

Kevin Culligan and Mary Jo Meadow, “Purity of Heart: The Teaching and Example of Jesus,” in Christian Insight Meditation, pp. 3-11 (PDF posted to Moodle)

Beatrice Bruteau, “On Being Observant,” (PDF posted to Moodle)






















Select Bibliography


André, Christophe. Looking at Mindfulness: 25 Ways to Live in the Moment through Art. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2014.

Bourgeault, Cynthia. Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2004.

———. The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice. Boulder: Shambhala, 2016.

Bruteau, Beatrice. “Entering the Heart of Jesus: Devotion, Renunciation and Faith.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1985): 116-130.

———. “On Being Observant.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 26, no. 1 (1991):v72-85.

Cassian, John, Colm Luibhéid, and Eugène Pichery. Conferences. New York: Paulist Press, 1985.

Clément, Olivier. The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Second Edition. Hyde Park: New City Press, 1993.

Chryssavgis, John. “Fire and Light in the Egyptian Desert: Aspects of Desert Spirituality.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (1999): 455-467.

Coakley, Sarah. “Deepening Practices: Perspectives from Ascetical and Mystical Theology.” In Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, edited by Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass, 78-93. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.


Coff, Pascaline. “The Universal Call to Contemplation: Cloisters Beyond the Monastery.” Thomas Merton Annual 16 (2003): 197-220.

Cunningham, Lawrence, and Keith J. Egan. Christian Spirituality: Themes from the Tradition. New York: Paulist Press, 1996.

Egan, Harvey D., ed. An Anthology of Christian Mysticism. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991.

———. Christian Mysticism: The Future of a Tradition. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1998.

———. Soundings in the Christian Mystical Tradition. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2010.

Freeman, Laurence. Jesus, the Teacher Within. New York: Continuum, 2002.

———. The Selfless Self: Meditation and the Opening of the Heart. Londong: Canterbury Press, 2009.

Freeman, Laurence and Stefan Reynolds, eds. John Main: The Expanding Vision. London: Canterbury Press, 2009.

Frolich, Mary. “Critical Interiority.” Spiritus 7 (2007): 77-81.

Gethin, Rupert. “On Some Definitions of Mindfulness.” Contemporary Buddhism 12 (2011): 263-279.

John of the Cross. The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C: ICS Publications, 1991.

Johnston, William, ed. The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling. New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 2005.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Revised and Updated edition. New York: Bantam Books trade paperback, 2013.

———. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York, N.Y.: Hatchette Books, 2014.

Keating, Thomas. The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

———. Intimacy with GodAn Introduction to Centering Prayer. New York: Crossroad, 1994

Kornfield, Jack. A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Laird, M. S. A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Lamm, Julia A., ed. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism. Hoboken: J. Wiley, 2013.

Lipsey, Roger. “About Thomas Merton, a Seeker of Truth.” Parabola 39, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 38-45.

Main, John. The Gethsemani Talks: Christian Meditation: A Simple Teaching on Meditation in the Christian Tradition. Singapore: Medio Media, 2007.

———. Monastery without Walls: The Spiritual Letters of John Main. Complete ed. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006.

McGinn, Bernard. “The Language of Inner Experience.” Spiritus 1 (2001): 156-171.

Meadow, Mary Jo, Kevin G. Culligan, and Daniel Chowning. Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2007.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions, 1972.

———. A Thomas Merton Reader, Rev. ed. Garden City: Image Books, 1974.

Nhất Hạnh. Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. New York: Random House, 1996.

Norris, Kathleen. Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality: A Guide for the Perplexed. Guides for the Perplexed. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Simmer-Brown, Judith. “‘Wide Open to Life’”: Thomas Merton’s Dialogue of Contemplative Practice.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 35 (2015) 193-203.

Thomson, Heather. “Conversion’s Inner Adventure.” St. Mark’s Review 218 (Nov. 2011): 40-47.


Tyler, Peter. Christian Mindfulness: Theology and Practice. London: SCM Press, 2018.

Waaijman, Kees. Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods. Leuven: Peeters, 2002.

Wrigley-Carr, Robyn. “The Butterfly and the King: Self-Knowledge in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.” Studies in Spirituality 19 (2009): 113-133.



Image Credits

Labyrinth https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/files/2013/12/labyround.gif

Red Flowers courtesy of Jamie Rivers from Unsplash

Woman Walking on Beach courtesy of Ashley Batz from Unsplash

And Breathe courtesy of Georgia de Lotz from Unsplash

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