Father William McNamara...

William McNamara is one of the most influential spiritual writers and mystics of the 21st century. The founder of the Spiritual Life Institute in Crestone, Colorado and Sligo, Ireland, and the author of more than a dozen books on Christian mysticism, McNamara is an elusive, mysterious, controversial figure who has touched the lives of millions, over more than 50 years as a Catholic priest, through retreats, spiritual conferences, personal counseling, books and tapes.

This website is dedicated to McNamara’s unique brand of “earthy mysticism,” a soaring, Christian-based spirituality that nevertheless is inspired by such down-to-earth, life-affirming, passionate figures as Zorba the Greek. It is not affiliated with him nor does he endorse any of its contents. It is merely an attempt to preserve the legacy of a unique approach to Christian mysticism that resonates with many people today.

In 2001, after celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a Catholic priest at the community’s fourth foundation in Sligo, Ireland, McNamara collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with massive internal bleeding. He received seven units of blood yet the Irish doctors were unable to stop the bleeding. As a result, McNamara was transferred to a hospital in California where doctors were able to insert a shunt and perform what they termed a minor miracle to keep him alive. They gave him less than two years to live.

Two years after McNamara’s prolonged convalescence in the hospital, catastrophe occurred: the spiritual community he founded nearly 40 years earlier began to disintegrate. Factions developed. A new prior took over. Some members, including ordained priests, left the community. McNamara himself resigned as abbot, was allegedly laicized and is no longer publicly associated with the Spiritual Life Institute, which now has only a handful of members (although he still considers himself a member of the order he founded in 1960, the Community of Apostolic Hermits). Long-time members, such as co-founder Mother Tessa Bielecki and Fr. Dave Denny, also left, founding a new “circle of friends,” the Desert Foundation, to maintain the original Carmelite spirit and ideals. At this writing, McNamara himself — known simply as Abba Willie — lives alone as a hermit in a rugged mountain wilderness in southern Oregon. Now in his mid-80s and afflicted with numerous life-threatening ailments, he is struggling, alone, to build a new foundation to carry on his unique vision of Christian spiritual life.

Below is a mini-biography of William McNamara, written by one of his oldest associates, Fr. David Denny of the Desert Foundation:


Carmelite Pioneer: William McNamara

By Fr. David Denny

Until you’ve kept your eyes
And your wanting still for fifty years,
You don ‘t begin to cross over from confusion.
– Rumi

Reflecting recently on the future of Carmel, Superior General Camilo Maccise, O.C.D called for “risk,” “daring,” and “structural changes” in “an ever-valid charism and identity.” He challenged Carmelites to adopt a “creative fidelity” to the Teresian charism: “New wineskins are needed to express (our spirituality) in intelligible, relevant and existential language.” Carmel needs the “establishment of centers and institutes of spirituality,” “small praying communities” living “close to real life,” sharing their spirit with the larger lay community.

After an audience with Pope John XXIII in 1960, Abba William McNamara, received permission to risk founding such an institute of spirituality, a “new wineskin” that is at once a return to primitive Carmelite eremitical life and a creative contemporary response to the needs of what he calls a “waist- high culture” whose contemplative vision has atrophied. “Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18). Throughout his priestly life, this provocative thinker and playful man has quietly initiated deep visionary changes in Western spirituality. A review of these creative initiatives reveals that many of the Father General’s hopes for future may be found in the Spiritual Life Institute community. Such a review also confirms French Jesuit Louis Lallemant’s contention that a man of prayer accomplishes more in a year than most accomplish in a lifetime.

Renowned preacher and author of The Art of Being Human (1962), The Human Adventure (1974) Mystical Passion (1977) and Earthy Mysticism (1982), Fr. William celebrated 50 years of priesthood at his Holy Hill Hermitage in Skreen, Co. Sligo, Ireland in July 2001. A second Jubilee was celebrated at Nada Hermitage in Crestone, Colorado October 5-7.

Spiritual Life Magazine

Once described by Walter Burghardt, S.J. as a man of ”Isaian Woe and Irish wit,” Father William (Willie) founded Spiritual Life magazine in 1955, and served as its first editor. As subsequent editor Stephen Payne, O.C.D. once wrote, “If it weren’t for you, there wouldn’t be any magazine for us to edit. Every day I thank God for those who have gone before me, and remind myself that I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Willie not only published groundbreaking authors, but also befriended them. He introduced British philosopher of mysticism E.I. Watkin to America readers and hosted Christian humanist Gerald Vann, O.P. during a lecture tour. Fr. William fondly recalls the absent-minded Dominican packing a half-empty open Coke bottle into his suitcase, along with his white habit! When the University Chaplain prevented Jacques Maritain from presenting his paper “Truth and Human Fellowship” at Princeton, Willie had the courage to print it.

At this stage, Fr. William was also deeply involved in the movement for liturgical renewal. But he grew dissatisfied with its direction and outlined his concern for Maritain, who subsequently articulated them in his Liturgy and Contemplation. Important as liturgy is for the health of the Christian community, these astute mystics both realized that the fundamental issue was not a crisis of ritual, but of contemplation.

Willie joined the Discalced Carmelites in 1939 at age thirteen. He traveled by train from Providence, Rhode Island to Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin. As confrere Richard Madden put it, young “Willie” was “usually in some kind of pain, somewhere or other in his body, but never complained about it. Rather, he continued to be a source of merriment that penetrated the deep cloak of monastic silence.” Ordained in 1951, Fr. William began giving retreats and parish missions immediately, traveling eventually to every state except Alaska, to Ireland, England, France, and Canada.

He changed the structure of parish missions by forming teams of priest, nuns, and lay people, and by shortening the missions to five days, making it easier to for busy families to participate. He also led retreats for extended families in their own homes, beginning in Arizona and Minnesota.

Earthy Mysticism

Shifting the emphasis of the parish mission from “hell-fire and brimstone” to a more positive, and always humorous, focus on Christian humanism, he preached the infinitely attractive beauty of Christ and called for conversion fundamentally motivated not by fear of hell but by worship and wonder. He insisted that the supernatural life is rooted in a healthy natural life. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, grace perfects nature with out destroying it. The young Carmelite encouraged listeners and readers to seek Christ not only in Roman Catholic Christianity, but in Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism; and not merely in religion, but the novels of Dostoyevsky and Kazantzakis, in movies such as “Becket” and “Dr. Zhivago,” music as diverse as Cesar Franck’s “Symphony in D Minor” and the folk songs of the Kingston Trio, as well as in painting, poetry, and nature. “Our peak religious experiences are not always pious,” he insists, “but they may be our holiest acts.” Therefore we must be “earthly mystics” and find both human and Divine in ordinary earthy acts, in “the secret surprises of customary objects and the regular, repetitive commonplaces of life: cleaning the house, baking bread, weeding the garden, romping with the dogs, lying in the sun, running in the rain.”

Willie’s prophetic critiques of Western culture are not rooted in puritanical world denial; rather he bemoans the apathy of the majority, the vapidity of mass media, the pollution of language, and an unmystical Christianity that turns the drama of Jesus’ story into a pharisaical power structure. In short, he insists that we are not erotic enough. His notion of eros has nothing to do with pornography. It has to do with Plato and the Hebrew prophets. Accordingly, he describes eros as a “reaching and stretching of the whole-body person for the fullness of life and love.” Its end is not self-gratification but a free and ecstatic self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ, the divine Beloved.

Contemplation for Everyone

Contemplation, the highest human act, is not for an elite, but for everyone, and so for Willie, “The mystic is not a special kind of person; everyone is, or ought to be, a special kind of mystic.” Mysticism is not a peripheral anomaly, but the heart of Christianity. But after the great flowering of mystical life in the 16th century, the West lost its mystical moorings and caved in to an Empire driven more and more relentlessly by a “techno-barbaric juggernaut” that demands ever-larger profits and Machiavellian “rational bulldozer” that sweeps away the vestiges of mystical wisdom only to replace it with “mendacity, mediocrity, and manipulation.” Although this Empire may change its name and rearrange its priorities in various ages, it remains the same respectable conspiracy, the “pretty poison” that killed Christ.

Our desert monk developed the theme of contemplation for everyone by expanding the understanding of St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night. He coined the terms “dark night of the Church” and the “desert experience” and demonstrated that this threshold experiences applies not only to an individual’s prayer life, but to life in the family, the workplace, marriage, the priesthood, the church and society. For example, the sense of the loss of God, of nothingness (nada), the desert that John described, happens to married couples: the romance fades; we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and our spouse’s; natural means of communion and renewal no longer work; we may drift toward addictions or extramarital affairs; we are tempted to give up and divorce. Placed in this new context, people who may have been baffled by John’s exotic descriptions of what happens to the cloistered Carmelites begin to see that he describes something very familiar. Fully acknowledging the terror and disorienting loneliness of this night, both Fr. William and St. John nevertheless insist that it is a happy night, “more beautiful than the dawn” because in it lover and beloved are transformed into a higher communion that turns “death” into new life.

......from Earthymystic.com

2 comments:

soma said...

Thank you, I also feel contemplation is important for life. When we are silent it is not that God speaks, but that we listen.

Anonymous said...

just stopping by to say hi