“Religion without love is like breathing without oxygen…God is love.” – Carl McColman

In October, 2015, The Only Love Project’s Bill Murphy (BM) spent an enjoyable and fascinating hour on the phone with author and columnist Carl McColman (CM) CarlMcColman whose latest book Befriending Silence: Discovering the Gifts of Cistercian Spirituality will be released on November 20th, according to Amazon.

Carl has written over a dozen books on spirituality, blogs regularly on the popular Patheos web site, and is a seemingly inexhaustible source for both encouragement and information – all presented with self-deprecating humor and keen wit.

Many thanks to Carl for his time and insight!

BM: The first question is, “Briefly tell us your background. What would you like others to know about you?”

CM: How do I do this briefly? That’s the tricky part. I think you could call me a seeker.  I was raised in a Lutheran home, and I in my mid-50’s now. Over the last 40 years I have really kind of wandered. I got involved in Charismatic spirituality for a while. In college, I gave up on Christianity and did sex, drugs and rock and roll for a few years. Yes, you can quote that. It’s a little embarrassing, but there it is. Then I washed up on the shore of the Episcopal church and was an Episcopalian for a decade. I have been interested in interfaith dialog since I was in high school and from the Episcopal church I went and spent several years exploring Neopaganism, and did that for seven or eight years until that path ran out of gas for me, and then I revisited something that I had also been interested in since high school — the contemplative tradition of the Christian faith which for me really meant connecting with Catholicism. So I was received into the Catholic church in 2005.  It’s been over ten years now, and I am still a Catholic. Like many Catholics, I do struggle with being a Catholic, but I love being a Catholic so that’s where I am. In 2007, I entered into formation as a Lay Cistercian and made my life promises in 2012 which means that I am under the spiritual direction of Trappist monks and am part of a community of lay people who follow the spirituality of the Trappists and apply it to our lives outside the cloister. I am still very interfaith. I hang out with Buddhists a lot. I hang out with Muslims. I am very involved with the Atlanta interfaith community, but I am grounded in the Christian tradition. I guess I could call myself a contemplative. I think there is a little bit of pride in doing that. Let’s just say I am a student of the contemplative path. That is a humbler way to put it.

BM: Yeah.

CM: I am also very much committed to engage in the spirit of Vatican II, to engaging people of other traditions to learn from them, to be their friends, and hopefully to work together to build a better society, so that’s it in a nutshell — and I am an author and a blogger, so people should all go visit my blog.

BM: Absolutely, and I will link to it. I will link to not only your website but your blog as well. [Which I did in my introduction above.]

CM: Yeah.

BM: So the second question I pretty much believe we have covered, but “Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?”  [Laughs.]

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 11.48.25 AMCM: Well, you know, that’s kind of a loaded question.  As you know there is a kind of a big phrase out nowadays: “I am spiritual but I am not religious.”

BM: Yeah.

CM: And that’s not me. I am very comfortable having identity as a religious person, so I have a narrow definition of spirituality. For me spirituality means that as a follower of the Christian faith, I take the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life seriously.

BM: Uh-huh.

CM: And I am not a fundamentalist Christian. I don’t subscribe to the idea that only Christians go to heaven, you know, and that only Catholics only go – or any of that kind of nonsense. I think the Holy Spirit touches people in many, many different ways and shows up in many, many different guises or names if you will. Earlier today I was Continue reading


My wife has a green thumb. No. I take that back. Her entire body is green. She can magically transform any space — like our balcony — into a haven of wondrous sights and smells.

I don’t know much about flowers. But I know she does. So I watched her care for them, and I took mental notes. Eventually, when I realized that I wasn’t likely to break anything, I joined in. Mostly, I just water the flowers and plants. I let her pluck off the dead flower heads, rid the plants of Japanese Beetles and aphids, and add food to the water from time to time.

My job is to give the flowers a drink.

If I do say so myself, I’ve gotten good at it. I can tell at a glance that the flowers are thirsty.

They look droopy.

Like in the picture, above.

I know what healthy, satisfied pansies look like. And the flowers in the picture ain’t it.

But I wouldn’t have known that unless I paid attention to the flowers, both when they’re vibrant and when they’re lacking something.

People are the same way.

Example: One Saturday, late afternoon, we were in a local grocery store (one of Michigan’s major chains of grocery/clothing/pharmacy/sporting goods/audio & video stores) buying our food for the upcoming week. As we approached an empty check-out lane, I noticed the cashier Continue reading


A dear friend of mine recently introduced me to Bede Griffiths, the Benedictine monk who moved to India and opened a dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. He became known as the “Christian Yogi” and was part of the Christian Ashram Movement.

Here’s a one-hour documentary on the life of Bede Griffiths:

The Life of Father Bede Griffiths

If you don’t have an hour, here’s a very brief history of Bede from the Wikipedia article about him:

In November 1931, Griffiths went to stay at the Benedictine monastery of Prinknash Abbey where he was impressed by the life. Despite the strong anti-Roman Catholic sentiments of his mother, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church and made his First Communion at Christmas Eve Mass at the abbey.

Griffiths was received by the abbey as a postulant a month after his reception into the Catholic Church. On 29 December 1932, he entered the novitiate and was given the monastic name of “Bede”. He made his solemn profession in 1937 (a year before the death of his mother in a car accident) and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1940.

In 1947 the abbey sent a group of 25 monks to give support to two monasteries in the United Kingdom which had been founded by monks from France. Griffiths was chosen to be the obedientiary prior for the monastery at Farnborough in Hampshire. He led that house for four years, but was unable to generate sufficient financial support to keep the community going. The abbot then sent him to the other monastery, Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. It was there that he wrote his autobiography.

During Griffiths’ time at Farnborough, he had come to know Father Benedict Alapatt, a European-born monk of Indian descent who was greatly interested in establishing a monastery in his homeland. Griffiths had already been introduced to Eastern thought, yoga and the Vedas and took interest in this proposed project. The abbot at first refused permission. Later, however, he changed his mind and authorised Griffiths to go to India with the Indian member of the community. There was one condition, though, Griffiths was not to be there as a member of the abbey, but as a priest subject to a local bishop, which meant that he would be giving up his vows.
Christian yogi

After some painful inner debate, Griffith agreed to this and, in 1955, he embarked for India with Alapatt.

In today’s world, with divisions among race, gender, economic status, and even religion so profoundly delineated, possessing the wisdom and compassion of Bede Griffiths seems like it would be an “only-love” answer. Opening one’s heart, extending one’s hand, to another religion is undoubtedly tough. One could face ridicule, even outright shunning. Or worse. But unless we begin to make the effort to understand one another — and, more, to love one another — we may not see too many more generations on our planet.

Perhaps one way to make The Only Love Project work in one’s community is to seek out those in another religion and spend time in their shoes. Or temple. Or sangha. Or ashram. Or synagogue. Or church. Until we can worship (or sit contemplatively, quietly) beside a fellow human being, we will never truly know the depths of his soul — or our own.