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The Rhineland Mystics
The Rhineland Mystics

Spark of the Divine

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Rhineland Mystics

Spark of the Divine
Friday, August 7, 2020

Matthew Fox has studied, written, and taught on theology and the mystics for decades. In one of his books on Meister Eckhart, Fox writes:

In the soul, Eckhart maintains, there is “something like a spark of divine nature, a divine light, a ray, an imprinted picture of the divine nature.” [1] . . . But we have to make contact with this divine spark by emptying ourselves or letting go. And then we will know the unity that already exists. [2]

Indian-born teacher Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) puts it in similar terms:

Life’s real and highest goal . . . [is] to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts. . . . When we realize this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life. [3]

Meister Eckhart was frequently criticized by his contemporaries (and still is by some people today) because his language was far too unitive. We like our distinctions! We don’t want to hear that we have the same soul as our enemies, not our personal ones and certainly not our cultural or global ones! We want to hate them, don’t we? And far too often our religion seemingly gives us permission to do so. But mystics don’t hate anyone. They simply can’t. They pray, as Jesus does on the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The mystic knows the other person doesn’t know. It’s not malice as much as ignorance and unawareness. And, of course, it’s a burden to know; it’s a responsibility to know, because once we know that God has inhabited all that God has created, then all of our distinctions are silly. They are just ways to create self-importance and superiority for ourselves and put down someone else. We’ve played this game since grade school!

Mysticism begins when we start to make room for a completely new experience of God as immanent, present here and now, with and within all of us. God isn’t only transcendent, “out there,” and separate from me. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote that God is “more intimate to me than I am to myself.” [4] St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) said, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [5] Like all mystics, they overcame the gap, and we can too. When God is no longer out there or over there, we have begun the mystical journey. It’s not simply that we have a new relationship with God. It’s as though we have a whole new God!

That’s what Meister Eckhart meant when he said, “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.” [6] That’s not sacrilege; that’s a beautifully humble prayer because we know that our present notion of God is never all God is. As Augustine boldly stated, “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus” (“If we comprehend it, it is not God”). [7] Our present experience is never enough, but it is gratefully where we begin, and these mystics teach us that we grow with each experience of God.

[1] Meister Eckhart, Vir meus servus tuus, Sermon on 2 Kings 4:1ff. See Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, commentaries by Matthew Fox (Inner Traditions: 1980, 2000), 108.

[2] Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation, 109.

[3] Eknath Easwaran, Original Goodness: A Commentary on the Beatitudes (Nilgiri Press: 1989, 1996), 9.

[4] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, III, 6, 11. Original text is “Tu autem eras interior intimo meo.”

[5] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Original text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.”

[6] Meister Eckhart, Beati pauperes spiritu, Sermon on Matthew 5:3. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed. Maurice O’C. Walshe (Crossroad: 2009), 422.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 117, ch. 3, 5, on John 1:1.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things, disc 5 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), DVD, CD, MP3 download; and

unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

Image credit: Motherhood Through the Spirit and Water (detail), c. 1165; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Speak out, Hildegard says. And when you do, when you recognize that inner voice as the voice of God and say what it has taught you, the sickness in your heart will melt away. The fatigue you have lived with for so long that you did not even notice how weary you were will lift. Your voice will ring out with such clarity and beauty that you will not be able to stop singing. To speak your truth, Hildegard teaches us, is to praise God. —Mirabai Starr
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