Dec 212015
 

This series presents, in no particular order, what I regard as the scriptural teachings most essential to Christian mysticism. It draws attention to key words and phrases, and poses some questions about them that I simply leave for interested readers to address as they see fit.  Part 1 was on the Great Commandments. You are welcome to respond in the comments section.

Teaching 2: The Farewell Prayer of Jesus

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_Apostles

My prayer is not for them [my chosen disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:20-26)

Key Words & Phrases

“I pray also for those who will believe in me….”

Jesus’ farewell prayer begins by expressing his hopes for everyone who believes in him. In contemporary Christian life, we often take the word “belief” only its connotation of agreement, consent, or submission to a doctrine. But deeper than this intellectual position is the attitude of trust, and so Jesus is saying that his prayer is for those who trust him, who have enough confidence in his claim of oneness with God.

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

The end of this sentence suggests that the belief, the trust and confidence, he has spoken of is not an end in itself, but that it is a step that opens us to the possibility of existing in oneness, to “be one,” experiencing and knowing it, “just as” he does.

“you are in me and I am in you,” “May they also be in us,” “I in them and you in me,”

Note the interchangeability of subject and object in those statements:  God in Jesus, Jesus in God, us in God and Jesus, Jesus in us, God in Jesus, and thereby God in us.  This interchangeability communicates oneness as well as can be done in dualistic terms.

“complete unity”

In John’s Gospel, the Greek for “complete” is teleioo, and like our English word it speaks of something finally accomplished, in a state of fullness, and perfected.  The Greek for “unity” is the same as that used for “one” in this passage. Thus “complete unity” speaks of being fully one.  In the state of complete oneness, there is no longer two or any other number of things, only the one.  The subject and object dichotomy becomes meaningless, and all these statements are, in effect, simply different ways of saying the One is one.

“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Here, at the very end of his prayer, Jesus says that all the ways in which he has made and will make God known to us are for the purpose of having us come to experience the same love (agape) that God has for Jesus, and thus he will be one with us.

Questions for Meditation

  1. How does your meditation from Part 1 on the oneness of God inform the way you think about the meaning of oneness or unity in Jesus’s prayer?
  2. In mystically loving God, what is the role of belief and how does it relate to the Great Commandments?
  3. How does belief in someone or something differ from knowing someone or something? How does believing in something differ from being in it?
  4. What does this prayer say to you about possible outcomes of following Jesus, ones that he greatly desires for us?
  5. How might your life change if you were to ever know oneness with God so completely, even for just a single second, that it no longer made sense to speak of you and God as separate from each other?
  6. What would be the implications of such oneness for your relationships with other humans beings, the world, and all of existence?
  7. What relationship is there between being loving and knowing oneness?

 

Christ be with you!

Maranatha

Agape

Jul 212015
 

There is some folly in presuming to offer explanations, guidance, or suggestions about mysticism. To begin with, the very nature of the subject leads us toward, if not into, realizations about matters well beyond the abilities of human consciousness to fully grasp. Next, there is a crucial experiential (for lack of a better term) dimension of mysticism that can only be pointed toward or perhaps facilitated, but never actually communicated from one mind to another. As has been noted by many mystics and philosophers, that dimension is enigmatic and even paradoxical when viewed from an ordinary rational perspective. And of course there are the very ordinary and natural limitations that arise from trying to speak about anything without chasing down and working through every possible implication or misunderstanding. One can make statements in one context that seem contradictory with those made in another. For example, even if you were to carefully read everything I’ve ever posted on this blog, there would still be plenty of room for drawing inaccurate conclusions about what I mean.  None of these challenges are anyone’s fault, they are simply facts that we may try to integrate into our understanding of mysticism and how we communicate with each other about it.  With these points in mind, this series presents, in no particular order, what I regard as the scriptural teachings most essential to Christian mysticism. It draws attention to key words and phrases, and poses some questions about them that I simply leave for interested readers to address as they see fit. You are welcome to respond in the comments section.

 Teaching 1: The Great Commandments

Les pharisiens et les saducéens viennent pour tenter Jésus

One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

The first commandment is taken by Jesus directly from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

The second is taken from Leviticus 19:18:

Do not try to get even. Do not hold anything against any of your people. Instead, love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am the Lord.

Key Words & Phrases

“The Lord is one.”

In the Gospel of Mark, the English ‘one’ is from the Greek heis, which has connotations of first in rank or importance, something unique, and something singular, whole, or unified.  In Deuteronomy, the Hebrew word is achad, which has similar connotations.

“Love the Lord…. Love your neighbor….”

In Mark, the Greek for love in both cases is agapaō, and in Hebrew it is ahab. Both of these words communicate love in the sense of an affectionate, intimate, caring relationship, and even a romantic one in the original Hebrew.

“all”

The Greek is holos, and the Hebrew kol. The connotations of both are the same as for the English ‘all,’ which means everything, the whole, the entirety and each of its parts.

“heart”

In Greek, kardia, and in Hebrew, lebab. These words speak of the innermost part of the human being, the seat of our thoughts, emotions, affections, desires, intentions, and will.

“soul”

In Greek, psyche, and in Hebrew, nefesh. Here the scriptures are addressing everything we regard as the personal self, and especially the very essence of our lives as creatures in this world. Furthermore, both words are directly connected with the concept of breath, and thus the literal and figurative meanings we give to the English phrase, “with every breath,” may also be found in “with all your soul.”

“mind”

In Greek, dianoia.  This is a word that the author of Mark has Jesus adding to the faculties listed in Deuteronomy. While it has the same broad possibilities as the English, ‘mind,’ also like the English word it has the more specific connotations of rational, analytical, technical, theoretical, and imaginative thinking.

“strength” or “might”

In Greek, ischus, and in Hebrew, mehod. In both cases, as with the English words, the reference is to power and force.

“neighbor”

In Greek, plēsion, in Hebrew, rea.  These terms certainly address people physically nearby, yet are also used in general reference to anyone other than oneself.

Questions for Meditation

  1. What is mystically significant about beginning with an affirmation that God is one?
  2. In telling us how to love God, why might there be so much redundancy in referencing all the different faculties of our being and all of each one?
  3. For each faculty listed by Jesus – heart, soul, mind, and strength – what are its more specific implications for how we can love God?
  4. When asked for the most important of all commandments, why might Jesus have provided not only the first but also the second?
  5. In the version of this story given in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus even says the second is “like the first.” What might he mean by that?
  6. What are all the possible ways to love another person as yourself?
  7. Christian mysticism, similar to the mysticism of other religions, has two broad categories.  One is the Via Negativa, or apophatic mysticism, where the approach to God is through letting go of all our thoughts and feelings about God to simply abide with God in stillness and silence. It tends to emphasize God’s incomprehensible transcendence.  The other way, the Via Postiva, or cataphatic mysticism, approaches God through affirming and adoring the attributes of God as we experience them manifested in our lives. It tends to emphasize God’s immanent presence.  How might the Great Commandments have relevance to both of these ways?

 Click here to continue to Part 2

Christ be with you!

Maranatha

Agape

Jun 042015
 

Recently, I got very ill for a few days. I lost over 6 pounds in 3 days! I was in such pain with fever one night that I was in tears. That has happened once before in my adult life, and the previous experience actually Opnamedatum:  2011-04-29facilitated an epiphany.  In the depths of misery, I realized there are many people in this world who would willingly take some or all of that pain on themselves to give me relief. Just the knowledge that someone would be willing produced a feeling of gratitude that was immensely powerful, and relieving in its own way. I found that this willingness to give up some of one’s own comfort to relieve the suffering of others is part of how I understand the presence of Christ in the souls of all people. I know prayer for others is part of living with awareness of this presence in our own souls. Jesus was constantly uttering prayers for others, and he also knew what it was like to desperately pray to be spared from suffering. So, as I reconnected with these memories in my recent suffering, I thought of the times others have prayed for me, and my gratitude was magnified. When I hear or say, “Christ be with you,” it means, in part, that I hope you know the beauty of both giving and receiving from such willingness.

There is another connection here, which is my awareness of people’s misery in feeling distant from The One we call “God.”  I have felt that misery, and the memory of it is part of whatilluminor drives me to serve those who feel it.  My prayer is that the words I write may in some way comfort others with hope and by knowing that they aren’t alone, at the very least. But it is also my prayer that what I write helps facilitate the realization that, no matter how lost anyone feels, we are all already intimately connected with God right now, no matter what we are thinking, feeling, or doing, no matter how distant God seems.  In this sense, when I say “Christ be with you,” it is an expression of my hope that you know the mystical truth that Christ is with you.

Christ be with you.

Maranatha

Agape

Mar 032015
 

This piece is dedicated to my dear friends and brothers, Justin Glosson and Matt Smithey, and to all others who, like them, are musicians on the way of the heart.

Practice is another one of those words that gets used a lot when describing the mystical or contemplative life. It makes no sense to speak of “achieving” the contemplative life, let alone “completing” it. The contemplative life is like an art, something that we craft, that we experiment with, practicing and practicing, and thus becoming more skillful and having it flow more naturally. Yet we never get to a place where something has been attained so that we no longer need to practice, but how we practice may change significantly. In fact, a genuine music lover is simply driven to some form of practice as part of enjoying both the experience and the expression of music. In the process, one naturally refines the ability to let the music flow, and to flow with it, as freely and beautifully as possible. For contemplatives, the “music” we love is the ever flowing presence of Being Itself, of Love Itself, in all Its diversified unity. Our practices are therefore quite diverse, and so it is that there are at least as many different means and styles of practicing the way of the heart as there are means and styles of enjoying music. Just as every music lover must love music as one is most moved to do so – whether playing an instrument, writing music, singing, dancing, or simply listening deeply – so must each of us on the way of the heart practice somewhat uniquely. However, just as all ways of enjoying music have some things in common, so do all forms of contemplative practice.

St. Cecilia with Two Angels

The way of the heart, like music, urges us toward wholeness in the moment, to be willing to give ourselves over to it, fully present, deeply attentive and alive with a harmony of both focus and fluidity, of both intentionality and spontaneity. It requires awareness and acceptance of the moment just as it is, most importantly including ourselves, just as we are, with all our talent and skill, as well as our apparent lack of talent and skill; with all our knowledge and understanding, as well as our apparent lack of knowledge and understanding; with all our patience and perseverance, as well as our apparent lack of patience and perseverance; with all our peace and joy, as well as our apparent lack of peace of joy; with all our awareness and acceptance, as well as our apparent lack of awareness and acceptance. When we play, or dance, or sing along with music in this spirit, with this attitude, we become aware of mysterious depths in which we intuitively realize our oneness with the music. This unity inspires and informs the unique experience and expression of it in the moment, and therefore even what might have been regarded as a mistake can be experienced as a delightful quirk, if not the creative spark of some entirely new expression of music. So it is with the contemplative way of the heart in lovingly realizing, experiencing, and expressing our oneness with the One and All. Finally, just as the love of music has both solitary and interpersonal dimensions, so does contemplative practice. In music and the contemplative life, greater development and enjoyment of one’s potentials comes through practice in private as well as in companionship with others. Both dimensions are part of the whole love we are experiencing and expressing.

Agape

Feb 282015
 

After writing my last article, On Self-Love, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to explain what I mean by “self,” and to examine some important connections of that meaning with mysticism.

Defining “self”

The term self is used in many different ways. In fact, significant confusion and disagreement can happen between people communicating with each other with “self,” often simply because the different parties don’t realize they are using “self” in significantly different ways. The same problems arise with other words like psyche, soul, ego, and even mind.  I currently tend to use self, soul, and psyche interchangeably.  It is important to note that I say “currently tend to,” because I have not always thought, written, or spoken in this particular way, and I might not at some future time. With these terms I refer to the whole being of an individual human, and not any particular part or function of the whole.  My use of “self” is thus essentially equivalent with an ancient Christian use of “soul” in reference to an individual’s totality of body, mind, and spirit.  It also seems helpful to point out that the term ego does not equate for me with “self.”  Ego is a word I use to describe certain aspects of the self.  So, in Freudian terms for example, the psyche is that which contains the ego, id, and superego, and has both conscious and unconscious dimensions.  In that respect, I use self and psyche synonymously.

The capitalized “Self”

Sometimes we see the capitalized word Self in psychological and spiritual literature. In Jungian psychology, this term is used in much the same way as I use the un-capitalized “self.”  However, like many other spiritual writers, I use the capitalized “Self” to denote a Supreme Identity that transcends individual human existence. This Supreme Identity is a universal and divine Self that is regarded by mystics as infinitely beyond all manifest things, yet nonetheless immanent within the finiteness of all things.  In this way, “Self” refers to the whole of the One and All just as “self” does to the whole of the individual human.  For me, the capitalized “Self” is thus practically synonymous with “God.”

The self-concept

It also seems useful to clarify that there is a significant difference between the way I use the terms self and self-concept.  The most significant point I want to make here is that the self-concept is only one’s more or less specific sense of who one is as an individual human being. By analogy, the self-concept is to the self as a video about your body is to mirror_and_maskyour actual body; one is only a limited representation or reflection of the other.  Furthermore, such a representation is always more about how an actual thing was sometime in the past than what it presently is.  This distinction is important because when someone speaks in terms of myself, me, or I, one is very often actually referring to the self-concept rather than the self, which is to say one is speaking about particular perceptions of the self by certain aspects of the self.  In fact, we so rarely speak of the whole self that we frequently make it a point to highlight that we are doing so by emphasizing the word “whole.”

A fundamental self-deception 

This conflation of the self with the self-concept is evidence that most of us live in a pervasive state of self-deception and confusion about our being!  In this confusion, habitually thinking and speaking of the self-concept as if it is the whole self, we construct and maintain an illusion that serves as a kind of barrier between our present awareness and the broader range of truths about our being.  To some extent, this barrier exists out of simple ignorance, but we can also maintain it because we semi-consciously sense the need to protect the self-concept from realities or potentialities within the self that we regard as unacceptable in some way.  Freud’s theory of the ego defense mechanisms is based upon his recognition of this dynamic.

The mystery of the self

When we meditate carefully on the self, it becomes clear that we lack complete awareness of it. The many autonomous functions of our organs are themselves sufficient evidence that there are parts and processes within the self of which we are rarely if ever aware. Further and perhaps even more powerful evidence is found in the mental dimension, where intuition, the storage of memories, and the unpredictable and often puzzling content of our dreams reveal the existence of what psychologists refer to as the unconscious mind. So it is that, even when we understand the distinction between the self and the self-concept, we cannot think, speak, or write about the self with complete knowledge and understanding.

We are often unaware of the mystery of the self, perhaps even blissfully unaware, but it is ultimately an inescapable fact.  Sometimes it seems to loom around us, filled with foreboding uncertainties.illuminor It is as if we stand upon the edge of a cliff in complete darkness, where any movement at all might send us falling to our doom. Yet, as we touched upon in the previous section, the doom that we fear is in actuality often only the loss of our cherished illusions. Entering into the mystery of the self is therefore essential to liberation from some of the falseness and limitations of our self-concepts.  It is the path of freedom in realizing and actualizing more of our unfathomable potentials, for out of this mystery emerges the amazing light of creativity we express in our love of play, romance, philosophy, art, science, and spirituality.

The mystical potentials of the self

According to those who have penetrated most deeply into the mystery of the self, one of its potentials is the realization of mystical union. At first, one may make the rational observation that simply in its mysteriousness the human self is like all of reality, for there is some degree of mystery in everything. Likewise, whatever it is we mean by the word “God,” we must acknowledge that it is significantly interwoven with our sense of the most profound mysteries.  In this regard, we can gain a special appreciation for what it means to have been created in the image of God; being mysterious to us is something that both the self and God have in common. Pondering this commonality leads many of us to consider that there might be more to all of this than a parallel of two different mysteries. It is natural for us to wonder if self and God might actually intersect within the single mysterious category of all that is beyond complete apprehension by our sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Indeed, those who have experienced mystical realization insist that such an intersection is real, that it is the deepest crux and universally shared point of reality within the circle of all creation; it is the spiritual heart of the Cosmic Self and all the individual selves It begets. It is here that we discover the unity of self-love, love of others, and love of God, the very oneness of Love Itself manifesting in all Its many forms. The mystic way of the heart is thus the contemplative path of practicing devoted attentiveness and responsiveness to this Heart within all hearts.

way-of-the-heart

 Agape

May 072014
 

St. Isaac of Stella wrote:

Love incited by something external
Is like a small lamp
Whose flame is fed with oil,
Or like a stream fed by rains,
Where flows stop when the rains cease.
But love whose object is God is like
A fountain gushing forth
From the earth.
Its flow never ceases,
For He Himself is the source of this love
And also its food,
Which never grows scarce.

It’s been several years ago now, but after meditation on those words, and a moment of contemplative stillness, I wrote the following poem:

Deep within the well of this heart,
sliding down in the silent darkness,
sinking into the caverns of spirit,
I found You, Beloved One,
the hidden waters,
a mighty rushing in the stillness.

There at Your edge,
where I might have plunged
and fulfilled the fantasy
of a supreme union,
I found instead
the fear of oblivion in You,
and upon this halting
I piled remorse and shame
for my self-judged unworthiness.

Still I dipped a begging hand
into Your ceaseless current,
washed the tear-stained dust
from this mask of sadness
and sipped a drop of Your cool purity.

Such sweet wine You are,
Beloved One,
for this single taste
bestowed an unimagined sobriety,
a joyous awakening to the memory
that this resistance to Your fullness
is among the greatest gifts from You.

In these depths,
all things left within me
that had seemed to interfere
with my dream of perfection
were revealed as channels
for a unique upwelling
of Your goodness.

You created me to be Your lover,
my Beloved.
By Your will we are two
who are nonetheless one.
Never let this be undone
so long as there are others in this world
who thirst for You.

There are many things we could draw out of these two poems, but today my focus is drawn from the very first line of St. Isaac’s work.  So long as we think of God as something or someone entirely separate from and outside of ourselves, external, I believe we are missing a vital point of St. Isaac’s mystical statement.  For those of us who have been  in traditional religious institutions, a great deal of our spiritual thoughts, sentiments, and practices have indeed been incited by something external.  Our attempts to love the Great Mystery we call God can often be almost entirely directed by doctrines and authorities urging us to relate to God as anything but present within our own souls and those of others.   So it is that many of us are led into the recurring misery of feeling that God is separate and distant from us, unresponsive to our prayers and devotions, and that we must therefore be far too corrupt to merit God’s thirst-quenching love.  Yet, it is possible to break free of this psychospiritual tyranny and rediscover the presence of God as Love within us.  But it would be an incomplete understanding of St. Isaac to think this means we should turn all of our attention within, giving our time and energy only to that inward experience.  To accept that the Kingdom of God is already within us begs the further realization that it is within everyone else and all of creation, just as Jesus taught.  In that realization, our love for things external to us, certainly including other people, is directly connected with cherishing and serving God, or Love itself.  Finally, my poem ends with a kind of Christian Bodhisattva vow, a commitment to not make the spiritual life about trying to escape from the world’s suffering, but rather to accept the fact of our presence in this world, and to answer the call to transform that presence for the good of all.

Agape

Jul 232013
 

A Non-Dualist Foundation

Those familiar with my previous writings know that I am most drawn to a non-dual perspective as the starting point for my theological and moral thoughts. Non-dualism is not anti-dualist in the sense that it attempts to ignore duality or entirely escape from it. Rather, it holds that duality is itself subsumed by a greater reality, that of interconnectedness, oneness, unity. In order to address the subject of this blog post from that greater perspective, let’s begin by considering how it can be consistent with scripture. While I am very cautious about taking any scripture at face value, there are some that I gravitate to as strong hints, if not simple and direct statements, of non-dualism expressed in theistic terms.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:1-13

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the Kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’Matthew 25:40, 45

[Jesus prayed] “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”John 17:20-23

For in Him we live and move and have our being.Acts 17:28a

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:4-6

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, beginning and end,’ saith the Lord, ‘who is, and who was, and who is coming — the Almighty.’ Revelation 1:8

So, as I now understand such passages, while we perceive a world of dualistic oppositions – like light and darkness, peace and evil, spirit and flesh, or life and death – all of it is nonetheless united in God’s oneness. I don’t want to engage in mere prooftexting, so I acknowledge other passages that appear to declare something is rejected by God, or not of God.  Still, I think such statements are clearly made from the perspective of dualism, and thus speak to how something seems to oppose the things we prefer to identify with God, such as light, peace, and life. Furthermore, I suspect that even the most inspired writers of scripture could move back and forth between these two perspectives just as we do today.   In any case, the common scripturally based theological assertion is that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and so nothing within the realm of duality can be outside God’s mind, power, and presence.

Non-dualism is right there in the midst of ordinary Christian theology, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.  The Logos, the Kingdom, and the King are always here, in everything. We just fail to realize it because we are so captivated by our dualistic perspectives, and so desperately trying to achieve an either/or type of certainty through the judgments we make. In making such judgments, no matter how well intended they are, we nonetheless mentally cut something off from the whole, and thus we reinforce the illusion of separation from God and each other in some way. In short, we have made our own dualistic reasoning and concepts into a false god to which we bow rather than embrace the Mysterious One and All.

Realizing Unity

We are all already united with God because God is both in and around all. All of our experiences must therefore be experiences of God, which might seem to challenge the notion of a mystical path, a way of seeking union with God. What seeking is necessary?! It’s already happening! One response to this challenge is that what we are actually seeking is not a union with God that has yet to happen, but greater realization of the unity that already exists, always has, and always will.By ‘realization,’ I mean to experience something with awareness and understanding, and to express such awareness and understanding through our actions. For example, people who have fallen in love know that sometimes it isn’t realized until after the fact. Suddenly, there is simply the awakening of “Oh! I’m in love!”, followed by changes in behavior intended to more fully act upon it, to experience and express a more complete manifestation of its possibilities. Each of these elements – experience, awareness, understanding, and expression – is necessary to make something more fully real in our lives, to real-ize it rather than leave our consciousness of it within the realm of speculations, hopes, and potentialities. Thus, the actual aim of mysticism is neither to make union with God happen nor to wait for union to happen (although we often fall back on wording of either sort), but to let go of the illusion of separation and more fully realize the ever-present fact of unity.

Practicing Unity

How might we go about letting go of that illusion and realizing unity? There are many possible varieties of unitive experience. Let us again refer to the analogy of lovers. Think of all the ways lovers can experience and express their connection with each other; it can be sensed with the body, felt with the emotions, understood with the mind, and deeply intuited in silence. When lovers look upon each other, there is union in sight. When they hear each other, there is union in sound. Likewise, there is union in touch, smell, and taste. When they share attraction and affection, there is union in emotion. When their thoughts are focused on each other, and especially in those moments when they know each other’s thoughts, there is union in mind. And, of course, the most complete realization of their union occurs when they are consciously experiencing and expressing all of it. We may realize union with God in much the same way, with all our heart, soul, and mind.

As the scriptures teach, God is over all, in all, and through all, and so we are constantly surrounded and interpenetrated by opportunities to realize union with God. Thus, a practice with significant transformative potential is to regard all of existence, including oneself, as a work of art in which God is at once the inspiration, the artist, the medium, the tools, the actions, the product, and the audience. Everything we experience is a combination of divine forces formed in limited and particular expressions of God’s infinite potential for creation.

Jesus said, “It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there.”Thomas 77

Feel the warmth of the sun, and recognize that it is but an infinitesimal speck of God’s power. Gaze upon a fluttering leaf, and there is God’s hand waving to all within sight. Listen to thunder roll, and hear God drumming for all with ears to hear. Smell the decay of death, and so inhale God’s slow sigh. Feel the mysterious rise of tears when listening to a hymn, and feel the unspeakable beauty of God. Discern the mathematics of a circle, and there is a thought from the infinity of God’s mind.Feel closeness of spirit in the company of others with like minds, and sense God’s arms reaching for you and through you toward others. Enfold yourself with a lover, and welcome communion with God. Experience the pain of grief, and there is God letting the present flow into the past.  Empty yourself completely into stillness and silence, and there is God’s unfathomable fullness beyond space and time, ever annihilating and renewing all within the field of space and time.

That last sentence refers to the most valued practice in contemplative Christianity, and to what may be called the mystical experience, which is to say the quintessential or most transcendent mystical experience.  Prior to this event, all the anthropomorphic metaphors we project onto God, even in an attempt to more fully unite with God, continue to raise the veils of dualism and thus some degree of the illusion of separation. The great mystics, like St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, the Blessed Jan van Ruysbroek, and many others, have tried to point beyond these veils toward a realization of union that is free of all doubt, all hope, and all speculation. Robert Forman calls it the Pure Consciousness Event. Yet, as these other mystics do in their own ways, Forman also notes that we re-emerge from the complete unity of the Pure Consciousness Event. We always come back into duality to some degree, but sometimes with an awareness, a “memory” if you will, and a greater realization of the unity that subsumes duality and expresses itself through duality. Forman refers to this development as the Dualistic Mystical State, a concept similar to that of the unitive state or unitive way in traditional Christian theology.

Prior to the Pure Consciousness Event, we can approximate the Dualistic Mystical State through the practice of regarding all other forms of experience as limited encounters with God. Such a practice can help us prepare for the ultimate experience, and might even facilitate it. It is certainly a valid attempt to more fully realize the union with God that we intuit, hypothesize, hope for, or sense in some way, but do not yet actually know. But, once the mystical experience has come there is no more need to “regard” other experiences as connections with God, for then we know it just as surely as a lucid dreamer recognizes a dream for what it is while it is actually happening.

Practicing Unity is Love

Whether regarding all of existence as in and of God, or knowing it is so and being engaged in further realizing it, we are loving God more fully. We are opening our souls, our minds, our hearts, and our arms and hands to welcome the Divine in the light and the darkness, in peace and evil, in the flesh (incarnate) and the spirit, in life and death. In this context, we may find even greater depth in Jesus’ teaching to love everyone, even our enemies. While an enemy might be another human being, in any given moment it might also be an idea, a desire in one’s own soul, a machine, or a natural event such as a flood. To love even these enemies is the unconditional love that isn’t caught in dualistic oppositions with hate, fear, or apathy. It is a transcendent love that acknowledges and accepts everything and all just as it is, appreciates the inextricable interconnectedness of everything and all, and rejoices and participates in the never ending transformation and renewal of everything and all.

His disciples said to him, “When will you be visible to us, and when shall we behold you?”

He said, “When you strip naked without being ashamed, and take your garments and put them under your feet like little children and tread upon them, then you will see the child of the Living, and you will not be afraid.”Thomas 37

Even if only for one brief and yet eternal moment, let’s strip off the layers of dualistic clothing on consciousness to directly know the One that is Its own Father, Mother, and Child, and thus more fully realize That which is living, dying, and being reborn in, around, and through all of us and everything else in every moment.

Maranatha

Agape

May 142013
 

Recently, a friend took me to task for making the comment that mysticism doesn’t have much to do with angels and demons. Her surprise and head-scratching are understandable, especially since I have so often stated my agreement with the Apostle Paul that God is the One in which we live and move and have our being, and that every experience is thus an experience of God if we would only realize it as such. So, in this blog post I’d like to clarify my own understanding of the term ‘mysticism’, and also comment on its relevance, or lack thereof, to other things of spiritual mystery.

The Essence of Mysticism

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘mysticism’ means:

1: the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
2: the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)

In popular use, the word ‘mysticism’ often loses these more specific meanings, and this is reflected by a broader point in the definition of ‘mystical’:

1 a: having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence

The latter definition actually fits well with the etymology of ‘mysticism,’ which has the same root as our word ‘mystery’, the Greek mys, which means to conceal. Our word, ‘mystic,’ apparently traces back to the Greek mystikos, denoting an initiate of a mystery religion, a sect with secret ceremonies that facilitated powerful spiritual experiences and/or taught esoteric doctrines about life and the Cosmos.

For all of the reasons stated above, people often use ‘mysticism’ or ‘mystical’ as a blanket term that may include all sorts of ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of a religious or spiritual nature, and especially anything of a mysterious or seemingly supernatural or paranormal nature. Some of these things – like angels, demons, exorcism, faith-healing, blessings, visions, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and various kinds of miracles – have their places in Christian tradition and even Church doctrine, but, strictly speaking, they aren’t necessary parts of mysticism as it has developed among theologians, monastics, and others who devoted their lives to penetrating the Christian mysteries.

In early Church history, mysticism included three mutually supportive areas of focus: (1) the contemplative practice of being present to, and even consciously one with, God’s presence; (2) meditation upon the concealed or secret meanings of scripture; and (3) the liturgical celebration of the mysteries of the Trinity, which reaches its summit in the Eucharist. While it was understood that each of these three areas supported the others, through the centuries it also became increasingly apparent that the essence of mysticism was most directly engaged through contemplative practice. Without it, the other two areas increasingly descend toward hollow doctrinal conformity and superstitions about scripture and the sacraments.

This insight about the centrality of contemplation to mysticism is reflected in the primary entries for the word ‘mysticism’ in most contemporary dictionaries, like the two given above. Consider the significance of the following words from those definitions:

  • union
  • direct communion
  • direct knowledge
  • subjective experience

These words are about the oneness with God that mystics believe, and some may actually know, is possible to experience or realize directly, which is to say in an unmediated way. This particular understanding of the essence of mysticism is reflected in the earliest writings of Christian theology.

…in the diligent exercise of mystical contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with IT that transcends all being and all knowledge. Mystical Theology, Pseudo-Dionysus (5th-6th Century)

And before that, St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions (4th Century):

If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced; and the phantoms of earth and waters and air were silenced; and the poles were silent as well; indeed, if the very soul grew silent to herself, and went beyond herself by not thinking of herself; if fancies and imaginary revelations were silenced; if every tongue and every sign and every transient thing–for actually if any man could hear them, all these would say, ‘We did not create ourselves, but were created by Him who abides forever’–and if, having uttered this, they too should be silent, having stirred our ears to hear Him who created them; and if then He alone spoke, not through them but by Himself, that we might hear His word, not in fleshly tongue or angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a parable, but might hear Him–Him for whose sake we love these things–if we could hear Him without these, as we two now strained ourselves to do, we then with rapid thought might touch on that Eternal Wisdom which abides over all. And if this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and envelop its beholder in these inward joys that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after–would not this be the reality of the saying, ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’?

I’d like to offer an analogy that I hope can effectively illustrate part of what St. Augustine is saying about this experience or state, and thereby shed some light on Christian mysticism as distinct from other kinds of spirituality.

Imagine a great puppeteer, one who is legendary for both making and performing with puppets. You decide you’d like to learn more about this great artist, and so you go to one of the puppet shows. The puppeteer is so talented that the puppets seem to be actually alive, with their own movements and voices, their own distinct wills, thoughts, and feelings. The show is so fantastic that you keep coming back to see it and others, spellbound by the mastery shining through them. During the shows you are very taken by what you see and hear, and eventually you even forget that you are watching puppets, let alone remember that they are being animated by a puppeteer.

And then one day, during an intermission in one of the shows, you suddenly recall why you started coming to the shows – to learn more about the puppeteer. You shake your head and laugh, reminding yourself that everything you are seeing is being created by someone you can’t directly see. As entertaining and beautiful as the show itself is, you begin to feel a growing sense of wonder, of admiration and gratitude, of love, for the unseen genius behind the scenes who has made you think and feel so many things. You feel a desire to meet the puppeteer personally, to shake hands, to speak face to face, so you can share your admiration and learn more about the puppeteer. Of course, you know that the puppets and the show are revelations of the puppeteer’s intelligence, skill, love, and spirit, and thus you are indirectly in communication with the puppeteer, but the indirectness of it, the incompleteness of it, the inadequacy of it, becomes increasingly obvious. You know that whatever your appreciation for the show is now, it will be enriched many times over, in both depth and breadth, if you can know the puppeteer intimately. You know you will never again be nearly as satisfied with simply sitting in the audience and watching the show. You are smitten.

Asking around, you learn that most people in the audience have never seen the puppeteer. Some of them say it never occurred to them to try because they’re just here for the show. There are other people who doubt that there is any puppeteer, and instead believe they are watching machines that run on their own. Others say they’ve caught a glimpse of the puppeteer, and you listen patiently as they describe what they think the puppeteer is like based on their fleeting impressions, obviously filling in large blanks with things others have said and from their own imaginations. It occurs to you that they have made their own mental puppet of the puppeteer! Some claim to know the puppeteer personally, but when you ask how you can meet the puppeteer, most only tell you to keep going to the show and watching the puppets. Some say the only way to know the puppeteer is for oneself to try being a puppeteer. One or two quietly admit they have actually seen and spoken with the puppeteer, and they say that the only way to do so is to go sit by the locked backstage door, waiting patiently until the puppeteer emerges after the show. They say there is no way to know how long the wait will be; the puppeteer might come out right away, but sometimes the puppeteer seems to never come out. When you ask them what the puppeteer is like, they simply smile, sigh, shake their heads, and perhaps utter an enigmatic word or two. Something about them earns your trust, and perhaps it is because you see in them the same love for the puppeteer that you feel growing in your own heart. You resolve to do as they have done, giving yourself to this love for as long as it takes.

Mysticism is such a love affair with God. Yes, the mystic loves the works of the Creator, and deeply loves the immanent presence of the Creator’s Spirit and Logos in those works, but also feels that this love of the Creator’s works remains unfulfilled until the Creator is known directly. As the Blessed Jan van Ruysbroeck says in The Sparkling Stone (14th Century):

The spirit forever continues to burn in itself, for its love is eternal; and it feels itself ever more and more to be burnt up in love, for it is drawn and transformed into the Unity of God, where the spirit burns in love. If it observes itself, it finds a distinction and an otherness between itself and God; but where it is burnt up it is undifferentiated and without distinction, and therefore it feels nothing but unity; for the flame of the Love of God consumes and devours all that it can enfold in its Self.

These terms ‘undifferentiated’ and ‘without distinction’ aren’t just the kind of romantic prose about union that we often apply to our strongest feelings for other people. They can and should be taken literally, and if they are then it becomes apparent that there is only one kind of experience that qualifies as totally mystical, no matter how many different ways humans might arrive at it. In utter and complete oneness there is no other to behold or to be beheld by. Anything else, no matter how revelatory, inspiring, or transformative, is not the mystical experience spoken of by the great mystics. So, while mysterious things – like the secret meanings of scripture, the magic of the liturgy, miracles, or demons and angels – might lead someone into mysticism, into the contemplative pursuit of the One behind those veils, he or she should also realize that such concerns are not the essence of mysticism and must, at some point, be released, even if only momentarily.

In stronger words than my own, Ruysbroeck concludes:

…all those are deceived who fancy themselves to be contemplative, and yet inordinately love, practice, or possess, some creaturely thing; or who fancy that they enjoy God before they are empty of images, or that they rest before they enjoy. All such are deceived; for we must make ourselves fit for God with an open heart, with a peaceful conscience, with naked contemplation, without hypocrisy, in sincerity and truth.

While these statements might sound like doctrine, something we should simply accept in submission to religious authority, I don’t read them that way. It isn’t merely an arbitrary decree of theologically or institutionally acceptable concepts to point out that there is a natural and logical order in such things, one that has been repeatedly discovered and taught by the mystics of different eras and also in religions other than Christianity; the cup must be empty before it can be filled.

Beyond Mysticism?

Another friend, who states he doesn’t consider himself either a mystic or a contemplative, asks if there might be something beyond mysticism. In one respect, I can answer yes. The direct realization of oneness with God can come without identifying oneself as a mystic, or holding any philosophy, or practicing any methods that might be called ‘mysticism.’ There are plenty of cases of full-blown mystical experience occurring in the absence of any special desire or effort. In such cases, one’s consciousness suddenly and directly shifts into a state stripped bare of all words, images, feelings, and any trace of a me-God duality. This can happen ‘beyond’ mysticism because mysticism is, after all, a human thing, and God is not constrained to act within the bounds of human things. However, once such a moment has occurred, if a memory of it persists and the person understands its significance, then, technically speaking, that person is a mystic and has, ironically, gone beyond non-mysticism.

Here are two reasons I can answer no, there isn’t anything beyond mysticism: First, it’s clearly circular to say so, but there is no pursuit beyond mysticism because there is nothing to pursue beyond the deepest mystery of God. Mysticism reaches as beyond as anything can! Second, once the aim of mysticism, which is knowing our oneness with God, has been directly realized and is no longer just a matter of concepts, beliefs, or feelings, then everything after that can, potentially, also be realized as direct contact with God in some particular way, rather than being assumed, hoped, or hypothesized as such.

For me, that last observation suggests that the more meaningful questions are about what lies beyond the mystical experience itself, where ‘beyond’ points to what comes afterward. In Christianity, like other religions, our lore is filled with stories of the miraculous works of people who have received the ultimate touch of the Absolute and identification with the Ground of Being. These stories therefore heavily shape our expectations about what it means to be a mystic, and reinforce the common misperception that such mysterious things are essential to mysticism. They can even lead people to question the validity of their own mystical experience or that of someone else. Yet, as Jack Kornfield addresses in his book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, most of us will continue living with many if not most of the ordinary limitations of human existence, even if we have an extraordinary awareness of the nature of this existence. In other words, the gift of the mystical state does not necessarily bring with it any other spiritual gifts, let alone totally transform us into saintly miracle workers and glorious battlers of demons. We must instead commit ourselves to opening our hearts and minds in a lifelong process of unfolding the depths of wisdom the mystical experience holds for our own unique and very human lives.

Finally, I also believe there is something beyond mysticism in terms of importance, and that is love in general. While it could be argued that mysticism is the ultimate response to the Great Commandment to love, and to Jesus’ admonition to seek first the Kingdom of God, I would counter with another of his admonitions: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Mysticism isn’t for everyone, and its followers are not automatically ‘superior’ Christians or human beings, just as those who do not pursue the mystical path are not therefore necessarily ‘inferior’ Christians or human beings. In this light, mysticism can be understood as one among many ways of loving.

Agape

Jan 312013
 

One of the most common mystical insights shared among spiritual people of all times and traditions, and increasingly among physicists, is that our notion of separateness is an illusion, and that we are all one.  This post offers related quotes for our reflection.  More importantly, it poses some questions to ponder deeply.  Readers are welcome to share responses below.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!  …  As you have done unto the least of these, so have you done to me. … As you have not done to them, so have you not done to me. Jesus of Nazareth

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. … ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Paul the Apostle

Our soul is so fully united to God of His own Goodness that absolutely nothing comes between God and our soul.  …  It is more worshipful to behold God in all than in any special thing. Julian of Norwich

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.  Black Elk

The God who existed before any religion counts on you to make the oneness of the human family known and celebrated. Desmond Tutu

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. Thomas Merton

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.   Albert Einstein

We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness. … Human beings are not separate from each other or Nature. We are totally interrelated and our actions have consequences to all. What we do to others we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there. Yasutani Roshi

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate “other.” You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is. Eckhart Tolle

All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything. Swami Vivekananda

Wisdom is nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life. Herman Hesse

 

Questions

  • In what ways does the idea that separateness is an illusion appeal to you or make sense to you?
  • In what ways does this idea seem unbelievable or make you uncomfortable?
  • If you somehow came to a compelling belief in the truth of this idea, or perhaps even a direct realization or revelation of oneness, how might it change you, your relationships, your theology and ideas about sin and salvation, your politics, and other aspects of your life?

Agape

Oct 122012
 

While I and many others have a lot to say about Christian mysticism, it’s worth considering how using ‘mysticism’ as a modifier for ‘Christian’ is somewhat redundant.  In other words, it can be argued that Christianity is already mystical by nature, and that all Christians are therefore mystics, especially if they understand this aspect of our religion.  The purpose of this post is to make a case that Christianity is indeed a mystical religion, and discuss what value there may be in continuing to use terms like ‘Christian mysticism.’

For the purposes of this post, let’s begin with Merriam-Webster for a conventional understanding of  ‘mysticism,’ ‘mystical,’ and ‘mystic.’

Mysticism:
1: the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
2: the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)

Mystical:
1 a : having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence <the mystical food of the sacrament>
b : involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality <the mystical experience of the Inner Light>

Mystic:
1: a follower of a mystical way of life
2: an advocate of a theory of mysticism

Notice these key words:

  • union
  • direct communion
  • direct knowledge
  • subjective communion

These words speak to a connectedness with God, a oneness with God that mystics believe, and some may actually know, is possible to experience or realize.  Technically speaking, it follows that to use ‘mysticism,’ ‘mystical’ or ‘mystic’ as a modifier for ‘Christian’ could imply that Christianity itself isn’t inherently mystical, and that some of us have added mysticism to it.  So we should ask if that is the case or not.

Does Christianity already include mysticism? Let’s begin to answer that question by reviewing some relevant scriptures.

Jesus Declares the Kingdom of God is Within

“Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He replied to them by saying, the kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed or with visible display, nor will people say, Look! Here [it is]! or, See, [it is] there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you].” (Luke 17:20-21 AMP)

The Prayer of Jesus for His Followers to Know They are One with God

My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (John 17:20-23)

St. Paul on Our Interconnection with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit

While in Athens, Paul argued for the closeness of God by quoting the Cretan philosopher Epimenides:

…he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  (Acts 17:27-28)

Speaking to the Corinthians, Paul made these statements:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? … For it is said, ‘But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.’ … Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:15, 17, 19a)

St. John on Love as Union with God

No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us. His love is made complete in us.  We know that we belong to him and he belongs to us. He has given us his Holy Spirit. …  So we know that God loves us. We depend on it.  God is love. Anyone who leads a life of love shows that he is joined to God. And God is joined to him.  (1 John 4:12-13, 16)

There are many more scriptural references we could draw on, but these words attributed to Jesus, St. Paul, and St. John are enough to suggest that, at the very least, it is possible to personally know union with God, even if only under certain circumstances.  It is also understandable why some of us find in them the further revelation that we are already one with God, though we may not be aware of it.  From these passages, it is obvious that mysticism as previously defined is an inherent part of Christianity, unless we take their words as nothing more than the loosest form of metaphor. (But be careful, for if we take it as nothing more than flowery prose, then we have poor grounds to take Jesus more literally when he says, “I and my Father are one,” a statement central to his prayer for his followers.)  All Christians, if by the term we mean those who consider themselves adherents to the theology of Jesus and his Apostles, are therefore mystics as defined by Merriam-Webster, whether we recognize ourselves as such or not.

Given this conclusion, what value is there in using terms like ‘Christian mysticism’ ‘mystical Christianity’ or ‘Christian mystic’?   We begin to answer that by acknowledging the simple fact that not everyone uses or understands the meaning of ‘mysticism’ offered above, and neither do all recognize that Christianity fits that definition. Likewise, many of us have personally experienced varieties of Christian spirituality that hinge more upon emphasizing the distance between God and humanity rather than upon our communion with God.  To overtly use these terms is therefore to emphasize one’s own commitment to intentionally engage in and/or draw attention to this aspect of Christianity.

Finally, I want to suggest that a technical redundancy is the least of all risks in using these terms.  One of the bigger risks is reinforcing a perception that mysticism is an innovation within Christianity, a departure from the “faith of our fathers,” if not some entirely foreign and heretical appendage grafted onto our religion.  Therefore, whenever we speak of mysticism in Christianity, I think we have a duty to help others understand that we are talking about something lived and taught by Jesus and his Apostles, something they prayed that all their followers would come to know.  Another risk is building up spiritual pride through the notion that, in applying these terms to oneself, one is somehow identifying oneself as a ‘better’ Christian, or, God forbid, even a ‘true’ Christian.  It is for this reason that some of us choose not to apply them to ourselves.   While that might be the wisest option for some, I don’t believe it should be a rule for all, anymore than I believe we should avoid calling ourselves Christians because we might be prideful in doing so.  I think Jesus’ teachings about sharing the Good News and letting our lights shine are instructive in this context. Even so, these same teachings remind us that our loving actions are the best testimony and fruits we have to share with others, and that any words we might use without them are no more than noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.  Any mysticism that doesn’t eventually yield such fruit is, at best, a distraction.

Agape