The Mystic Way or Bust (pt. 3)


I once had a mentor say that he disliked mysticism.

His comment was that it was wrong to say that we have unmitigated connection to the divine.  I have theories why he said this, but ultimately, I can’t help but ask, “How could it be that we don’t?”  If God is everywhere, and we say that Christ is deeply present everywhere, every moment, and everyone just sometimes “anonymously” (thank you, Karl Rahner), then why not?

Deep to the core of the Christian mystic tradition, which transcends and includes the different denominations, is the understanding of the inherent relationship of all creation.  There is no “us” other than “all of us.”  In fact, we are all one in Christ.  There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, old or young, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, Democrat or Republican, and so on and so on.  You get the picture.

And that is what brings me to my main point today…

Christian mysticism MUST lead to activism.

This is because Christianity is not an escapist religion but an embodied revolution.  Here is a picture of a recent rally in a major city on the east coast…

A peaceful demonstration in Philadelphia against racism and xenophobia.

We are one in Christ.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. from his letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What happens to one of us, happens to all of us.  This is the difficult truth to swallow.  It is hard to accept because as soon as we believe in it, we are bound by the unconditional call to action… and that very call is inescapable and incapable of being silenced.

Across the many books of Ken Wilber, he mentions how good spirituality cannot help put put people on a trajectory that transports them from ego-centric views of the world to a more “catholic” view, and by “catholic” I mean “concerned with everything.”

It should come as no surprise that during the time of the Reformation, there were not only protestant reformers but even catholic.  In the 1500s there was Martin Luther and John Calvin on one side, but on the other was St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Ignatius of Loyola who also advocated for ecclesiastical reform.  All three mentioned on the catholic side were mystics…  Hmm.  How interesting.

When one begins to see that not only is all of life connected, but that it is connected deeply on purpose, it is difficult to not see the world in systems of dynamic interaction.  The modern west has done a poor job of teaching that our actions affect people, not only next door, but next county, country or continent over.

The church mystics could not help but see the world around them and to profess its brokenness with remorse.  But it did not stop there, lest we call them cynics.  The mystics not only saw the breakdown of their day and age, but refused to give up hope that the chaotic turn of events would have the final say.

It is in this same sense that figures such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Joshua Heschel and more could hold onto hope.  This world is not to be dismissed or discarded, but to be seen as repairable and able to be mended by those bold enough to do the mending themselves.

This may be an old cliche critique, but it is fascinating to me that there seems to be a large contingency in the church who say “Only God can fix this situation…” or “What we need is Jesus to be a part of this…”  There are days when I hear similar statements to these and cannot help but think these individuals, though pious, may be resigning themselves to passivity and are thus excusing themselves from their God given calling to change the world and to drag heaven near.  Yes, God is needed in many situations but what about the reality that the church is meant to be the presence of God in the world in a very tangible way?  What about the call of the individual to be Christ-like and to be agents of redemptive revolution in the world?

Here is a famous prayer from St. Ignatius of Loyola,

Dearest Lord,
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing Your Will.

It is a powerful prayer, and perhaps rightly so.  Yet, if you notice, there is no request to be taken from the world, there is no asking to be let off the hook from making the world a better place.  Good spirituality should take us from being concerned only with ourselves, to being concerned with everyone we meet, even the generations that come after us.

In essence, Christian spirituality, when interpreted correctly, is not about evacuation from the world but about being present to the suffering of the world and being sent to those who are hurting the most.  After all, we only find our lives by losing them, we only find when we seek, and it may be that we are only healed when we heal.

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