Guidelines for Organising the 'Roots of Christian Mysticism' Course


 

The "Roots Course" offers an overview of the Christian mystical tradition. Each class focuses on a specific figure or school in the historical tradition. The presenters speak from their personal expertise in this field and give an accessible introduction with accompanying texts and comments.

An important book that grew out of the Roots Course has beed edited by Kim Nataraja and published in November 2011, "Journey to the Heart: Christian Contemplation Through the Centuries -  An Illustrated Guide" (Canterbury Press)

 

Over the weeks or months the Roots Course becomes a spiritual journey followed by all the participants together. The scholarship is important but is at the service of an interior process of growth.
Below are some guidelines for presenting this course. For further information or advice you may contact the School Coordinator.

 

Requirements for joining the Roots Course:

  • No prior knowledge or advance preparation is required. 
  • Open to anyone of any spiritual tradition who wishes to explore Christian Mysticism.
  • Previous experience in meditation is not necessary.
  • No written assignments are required, but participants are expected to study texts in their own time between sessions.

Possible Formats for the Course

  • A year-long weekly Course in terms.
  • A monthly Course run over three years.
  • An on-going Course offered on a modular basis.
  • A series of weekends.

Organizing of the Course

Each class in the Course begins with a period of Christian meditaion.

For setting up the Course it is useful to link with a local Spirituality Centre or Theological Department for the supply of speakers. Do use your personal contacts for suggestions for appropriate speakers. In planning it is recommended to respect a gender balance of speakers and the ecumenical aspect of the mystical tradition. The formation of a core group to put on the Course will of course be useful.

The 'Roots' Course is normally run under the 'School of Meditation' guidance and is overseen either by the National School Coordinator or when appropriate the International Coordinator of the School. The 'School' has an advising role re-defining programme and specific contents. As a WCCM led course it should be guided by the community. 

Course Leaders

For each class it is advisable to have at least two people there to welcome the students, give them materials, look after the speakers, lead the meditation sessions and do the recording, if possible. In London a summary of the talk was made available to students, if they missed a session.

Apart from the actual evening, speakers need to be contacted and engaged well in advance. Stress needs to be laid on the importance of contextualizing their talks in relation to the practice of meditation/contemplative prayer. Prior to their coming they need to be contacted again with requests for materials to be duplicated and equipment needed. In London they were offered as many summaries of previous talks as they found useful.

It is also good to contact students and send them the relevant materials, when they have missed an evening. This nurturing reinforces the feeling that this is a community on a journey together rather than an academic course.

Shape of the Session

The shape of the evening classes in London was as follows:

6.00 – 6.30 pm Meditation

6.30 – 7.30 pm Speaker

7.30 - 8.00 pm Soup break

8.00 - 9.00 pm Speaker/ Discussion/Questions

A similar division of time would also work for a morning, or afternoon session with the 'soup break' becoming a 'coffee break'.

We must not lose sight of the fact that meditation forms an integral part of the Course. The 'Course' should not be allowed to become a 'head-trip'. Variations are of course possible. For example, in Brazil Ana Fonseca used the six week Introductory Course' side by side with the teaching on the mystics.

Finances

Outside speakers are usually offered a fee plus expenses. 

Students in London paid termly - (£150 per term for the 10 -12 sessions, i.e. about £15 a session).

 Here is a suggested Schedule based on the London Roots Courses

First term

Synoptic Gospels - Laurence Freeman OSB

Mysticism of St Paul & St John – Laurence Freeman OSB

Origen/Clement of Alexandria – Revd Prof Andrew Louth

Gregory of Nissa /Cappadocians Dr Marcus Plested

The Hidden Gospels – Gospel of Thomas- Kim Nataraja

St Augustine – Margaret Lane

Half term

Desert Tradition - Kim Nataraja

Evagrius/Cassian – Kim Nataraja

St Benedict – Esther de Waal

Hildegard von Bingen – Dr June Boyce-Tillman

Dominican Spirituality/St Catherine of Siena Rev Roly Riem

St Francis – Brother Nicholas Alan SSF

Retreat Day – Peter Tyler

Second Term

Cloud of Unknowing – Br Patrick Moore FSC

The English Mystics Richard Rolle/Marjorie Kempe/Walter Hilton – Stefan Reynolds

Julian of Norwich - Margaret Lane

Meister Eckhart - Kim Nataraja

Reflection/Seminar Evening:

Half Term

St Ignatius of Loyola – Sr Winifred Morley

Dante - Prof Dennis McAuliffe

St John of the Cross – Peter Tyler

St Teresa of Avila – Julienne McLean

Retreat Day – Sr Winifred Morley

Third Term

Renaissance Spirituality - Br Patrick Moore FSC

Theology of the later Byzantine Fathers 7-14 Century : Fr Maximos Lavriotes

Brother Lawrence - Graeme Watson

George Herbert - Br. Patrick Moore FSC

Thomas Traherne - Br Patrick Moore FSC

Thomas Merton – Peter Tyler

Half term

Simone Weil – Laurence Freeman OSB

Professor Andrew Louth – The Jesus Prayer

John Main – Stefan Reynolds

Abishiktanada/Bede Griffiths – Shirley du Boulay

Retreat Day - Laurence Freeman OSB

Certification

The Course was accepted by some religious institutions as a part of ongoing training, hence some students required a certificate of attendance, when employers had paid for the Course.

Comment: Kim produced a list of twelve of the most important mystics with regard to Christian Meditation for shorter modules:

  1. Jesus, the Teacher of Contemplation
  2. Clement of Alexandria/Origen
  3. Gregory of Nyssa
  4. Gospel of Thomas
  5. Evagrius/Cassian
  6. Meister Eckhart
  7. Teresa of Avila
  8. John of the Cross
  9. Julian of Norwich
  10. Cloud of Unknowing
  11. Thomas Merton
  12. Bede Griffiths/John Main