The brilliant Jesuit priest and theologian Karl Rahner said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” I couldn’t agree more! I think evangelical Christians as a whole often have a dogmatic definition of what is “normal” and certainly have an aversion to anything labeled “mystical.”
The assumption is that the term “Christian Mysticism” is an oxymoron. Maybe the problem is our understanding of what is normal and what is mystical. Normalcy is the state of the usual, the expected, the predictable. Paraphrasing an evolutionary biologist, JBS Haldane’s, statement about the strangeness of the universe: “God is not only stranger than we think but stranger than we can think.”
Normalcy is sought by those that seek for safety within the parameters set by religion because they tend to have a greater fear of being deceived than a faith to receive revelation. The fear of drifting too far from the reservation has been the “thought police’s” way of keeping their congregants safe from what they perceive to be heresy.
Years ago, I became concerned that I might be wandering too far from my tradition and was encouraged by the words of Jesus that became my litmus for truth. When He was asked what is the greatest commandment, His response was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” If the revelation we receive causes us to love God more, ourselves more and others more, it is truth.
The concept of mysticism has been made to be “misty” and relegated to a distant and ambiguous realm. When in truth the word implies a knowledge that is experiential instead of book knowledge or secondhand knowledge. The often heard statement, “I was always taught,” may mean that we have allowed the thinking of others to restrict our own.
Organized religion tends to discourage us from taking the mystical path by telling us exclusively to trust only the authority of scripture and tradition. The prophets and poets that gave us the Bible were mystics. Their revelation was rooted in the tradition of their fathers as well as epiphany. The stunning thing about biblical revelation is that God is far different than we thought and certainly much better than we feared.
Possibly the two biggest lies of religion are separation and distance from God. God is not up there or out there beyond the range of the Hubble telescope. He’s hiding in plain sight! The way of the mystic is an invitation – not just to see – but to perceive. I think we live in far more manifestation than we realize, not realizing we are often blind to the things we are blind to. In other words, what we are sure we see clearly keeps us from seeing what is most clearly there.
Francis of Assisi taught that the finite manifests the infinite, and the physical is the doorway to the spiritual. Heaven includes Earth if you only take them for the clear doorways that they are. So awareness and perception are truly everything to having mystical experiences.
God’s original language was creation before man began to describe what he thought God was like.
“The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” Romans 1:20-21 MSG.
It has become almost impossible to be fully present in a culture that has been overstimulated by technology. F.O.M.O. (the fear of missing out) has made us unconscious that what we focus on determines what we miss. Being fully present and living in awareness enables us to perceive that God is speaking to us through the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
The history of Christian mysticism includes a broad array of colorful and quite eccentric characters who can teach us about Christianity and its connection to mysticism. Christian mysticism can become unrealistic when you place too much emphasis on having surreal spiritual experiences like cosmic consciousness or secret visions.
Mysticism is experiential, but Christian mysticism is firmly rooted in the love of God, a love that brings transformation and growth. We must remember Christian mysticism is never an end in itself and is not intended to replace the value of scripture.
The point of mysticism is not to dazzle the mind with ecstatic wonders or ethereal feelings, but to foster genuine change for the purpose of becoming more like Christ. Mystical experiences make us more empathetic, more forgiving, more committed to serving others and bringing more of heaven to earth. The mystical experiences that await us are just a small part of the overall package.
Moses had to turn to see a bush that was burning and was told by God to take off his shoes for the ground he was standing on was holy. Like Moses, we have to turn – not just to see – but to perceive. Francis of Assisi taught, there are not sacred and profane things, places and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places and moments, and it is we who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it.
Follow Randall on Twitter
Image via Drew Patrick Miller