This is part 2 of what might be an ongoing series on my definition and understanding of Christian mysticism. If you have not gotten a chance to read the earlier article, simply click here to be redirected to it!
In the past few weeks I have had the privilege of spending time around delightful people in various places. Of course, good memories were made either while doing construction work, impromptu roundtable discussions, 3 hour hammock conversations and around bonfires till late into the night (or early in the morning, depending on how you see it).
As a 5 on the enneagram, I am quickly tired by the conventional answers. Ideas excite me, and especially ones that are unique yet precise. In church culture, not unlike other places, there are also conventional answers that can fall short of the complexity/nuance/mystery/reverence that a thoughtful question demands.
However, about a week and a half ago I was asked to comment on my understanding or definition of Christian mysticism. The question caught me a little off guard, which was a good thing, because in the moment my answers were from the overflow of what I already hope to live. But the question has not left me, and I have felt compelled to write further on this topic. (Not just for you the reader, but even for myself.)
I believe that Christian mysticism has gotten a bad wrap. It has often been conflated to being that of some sort of “New Age” movement, and that the adjective “Christian” may be dismissed. Again, I believe that Christian mysticism has gotten a bad wrap. And so, here is my attempt to better define what I would consider is a sorely needed approach in today’s day and age.
For me, to be a Christian mystic means to me to be a Christian. It is to remember that Christianity was always a mystic religion, and it is merely we who have forgotten that fact.
Continuing on, Christian mysticism is an approach that seeks…
- to constantly ask if your religion is becoming your idol or if your religion is pointing you to God.
- to not only see God as high and mighty, but deeply within all things and intimately vulnerable.
- to maintain that love, sacrifice and suffering can teach us more about God than dogmatics.
- to be deeply romanced by every place, every moment, every person.
- to heal the broken sacredness around you and within you.
- to see deeply and even to see beyond the facade or masks of a person or a moment.
- to help create the Kingdom of God through increasing the amount of Good, Beauty, Truth and Love in the world.
- to learn how to hold two or more truths in paradox at the same moment.
- to see all people on a journey, to seek out those further on and to be patient with other just starting out.
- to find absolute freedom in the virtues of Christ.
- to serve others with humility and deep love.
- to be energized by the deep rivers of God, and therefore be a calming presence in the world.
- to remember that learning is not the only way to know God, but that to love is the deeper way to know God.
In a very profound way, I want to articulate that I do not think that Christian mysticism is a new denomination. Rather, it is (hopefully) a mature way of approaching the denomination to which you belong.
Ignatius of Loyola was Catholic. John Wesley was Methodist. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Lutheran. Howard Thurman was Baptist. Having a mystic approach to the faith is not owned by only one denomination, and that is because it is the trunk of the family tree that is Christianity. Mysticism is in our roots.
There were many other deep Christian mystics in Church history than I have listed here. There are many who are not even recorded in history books, and there very well are some in your home congregation. They may be learned or not, it doesn’t matter. This is because there have been many theologians that were not mystics, but there was never a mystic who was not also a theologian (at least, informally). You see, whoever wrote The Cloud of Unknowing (an early Church text on mysticism) taught us that to love God is a deeper way to know God than formal academic study. Theology has often forgotten how to create reverence, awe, and wonder in its students, and this has been unfortunate. In contrast, a faith that seeks deep, profound and meaningful experiences with God at every moment will excite people to further study.
But hold on, this is the best part…
Real recognize real.
There are some among us who have had their “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley would say. There are some among us who have been up to “the third heaven” like the apostle Paul. There are some among us who have stood at the mouths of caves and heard God “on a whisper” like Elijah.
If you look closely enough, you can see who is letting their religion point them to God rather than making their religion their idol, their source of identity or worth. And, if you let your Christianity point you to God yourself, well, real recognize real.
I believe that the true Christian mystic is constantly asking a few questions, either consciously or not… They are,
“How is Christ present to me in this moment, in this place, in this person?”
“Am I looking deep enough to see God like in the burning bush?”
“Is my heart stabbed by the things for which God’s heart is already bleeding?”
So, take a week or two. Write those questions on your refrigerator or in your journal. Take a dry erase marker and write it on your bathroom mirror. Reflect on these questions, and you may just find yourself becoming a mystic.
Ultimately, being a Christian mystic means that you are constantly open to the unfolding of your own soul. This means that you are never seeking to close in on yourself, but always to be expanding, developing, growing, stretching, reaching out to God and neighbor. I say this because if you ask me, the Christian faith was always about romancing God as He romances you and to allow that love affair to cause your own soul to blossom.
(Yes, there will be a part 3. It will be on the connection between Christian mysticism and activism.)