James Finley


‘Following the mystics

through the narrow gate’

A report by R. Taylor    rhian

When Nicholas asked me to write a review of the recent event with James Finlay I hesitated. Not because there I hadn’t got a huge amount from this very special weekend, but because there was a depth to the input which is hard to summarise and difficult to put into words.

Despite communicating a large amount of fascinating input on mystical experience through the centuries, James Finlay does not only educate your mind, he seems to communicate with your heart. Listening becomes an act of faith, where the words reassure and touch us deeply.

The title for the weekend was ‘Following the mystics through the narrow gate’. James Finley started at the end. He conveyed his vision for potential unity with God.
 He describes how it is possible to realise a unititive mystery, without limits, that can wholly permeate and transcend the fragments and division our lives. What he feels the mystics do is bear witness to this presence, as well as indicate some ‘gates’/ journeys where this experience can be sought.

He then went on to suggest seven ‘gates’ which he feels will be passed through on the journey to enlightenment.
His gates describe a process of change in ourselves, where we let go of aspects of our ego and develop a spiritual worldview. He talked about how engaging purely with the mind can restrict our growth. He also pointed out how solemnity and cynicism are likely to restrict our ability to move towards a greater knowledge of God.
The real transformative power for Finley is contemplative prayer, where silence and ‘letting ‘go facilitate our openness to the divine. He also described disciplines and ideas to help us develop our own meditative practice.

The mystics can really help us with this. Examples from St John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, St Teresa of Avila, and Julian Norwich give an amazing insight into this process of growth, as well as providing a historical context which grounds the experience, rather than considering it as a purely modern phenomena .

Teaching from Thomas Merton also gave depth to his teaching. James Finley had Thomas Merton as his spiritual director for several years whilst he was in a monastery, and as a consequence his personal reflections and insights into Thomas Merton added a fascinating dimension to his speaking on the subject.
Similarly memorable was Finley’s ability to respond to questions. The fluency and intelligence in his responses was quite remarkable creating a really dynamic interaction within his audience and meaning even quite difficult and complex ideas could be explained with practical examples in the here and now.
Perhaps the audience is what I will remember most. The day was interspersed with periods of meditative silence and there is a power in holding communal silence together which is difficult to describe. For me, being part of a large group of people interested in the contemplative path is hugely encouraging. It is always good to know, on all kinds of levels, that one is not alone.

To buy a copy of the recording of the event click here to email Agape Ministries