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Everyday Mysticism
Everyday Mysticism

Sidewalk Spirituality

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Richard Rohr identifies mysticism as a way of knowing accessible to all: 

While most Christians consider themselves disciples of Jesus and try to follow his teachings, a smaller number move toward practical acts of service or solidarity. But I’m afraid even fewer Christians have the courage to go on the much deeper mystical path. The most unfortunate thing about the concept of mysticism is that the word itself has become mystified—relegated to a “misty” and distant realm that implies it is only available to a very few. For me, the word “mysticism” simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, in contrast to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge, or even church knowledge.  

Much of organized religion, without meaning to, has actually discouraged us from taking the mystical path by telling us almost exclusively to trust outer authority, Scripture, various kinds of experts, or tradition (what I call the “containers”), instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience itself (which is the “content”). In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves. Roman Catholics were told to trust the church hierarchy implicitly, while mainline Protestants were often warned that inner experience was dangerous, unscriptural, or even unnecessary.  

Both were ways of discouraging actual experience of God and often created passive (and passive aggressive) people and, more sadly, a lot of people who concluded there was no God to be experienced. We were taught to mistrust our own souls—and thus the Holy Spirit! Contrast that with Jesus’ common phrase, “Go in peace, your faith has made you whole” (see Matthew 8:13; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:19). He said this to people who had made no dogmatic affirmations, did not think he was “God,” and often did not belong to the “correct” group! They were people who affirmed, with open hearts, the grace of their own hungry experience—in that moment—and that God could care about it! 

Pentecostals and charismatics are significant modern-era exceptions to this avoidance of experience; I believe their “baptism in the Spirit” is a true and valid example of initial mystical encounter. 

Richard praises the Franciscan approach to mysticism:  

In my experience, Franciscan mysticism is a trustworthy and simple path precisely because it refuses to be “mystified” by, or beholden to, doctrinal abstractions, moralism, or false asceticism (although some Franciscans have gone this route). The Franciscan way is truly a sidewalk spirituality for the streets of the world, a path highly possible and attractive for all would-be seekers. It doesn’t insist every person must be celibate, isolated from others, highly educated, or in any way superior to our neighbors. In fact, those kinds of paths might well get in the way of the experience itself. A celibate monk or nun may have a totally dualistic mind and live a tortured inner life—and thus torture others too. Everyday workers and caregivers with mystical hearts and minds can enlighten other individuals, their families, and all they touch, without talking “religiously” at all.  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 1–2, 4.  

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. During the course of every day, mystical moments are available to us, like sharing a moment with a grasshopper. 

Story from Our Community:  

My exodus journey began when I left the Catholic priesthood. I continued through therapy groups, terrifying dreams, ruined relationships, atheism, Buddhist retreats… the death of my wife, then a return through an encounter with Christian mystics. Finally, I have come to recognize the Christ mystery for the first time! —Peter M. 

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