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Center for Action and Contemplation
Everyday Mysticism
Everyday Mysticism

The Mystics Who Surround Us  

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Dr. Barbara Holmes continues to share her experiences with everyday mysticism. 

What was it like growing up as an ordinary mystic? Dreams and visions were shared, discussed, and interpreted. Ancestors and elders communicated with us from the life after life. They issued warnings, blessings, and updates. It took a while for me to realize that what I considered normal was considered weird by everybody else.  

Despite this history and my acquaintance with biblical mystery, I tried to subdue the mysticism in me as I entered the academic world. I remember creating the longest, most boring PowerPoint ever on the subject of mysticism when I first started teaching. I used words like “noetic” and “ineffable.” Of course, my students went into an academic stupor, and I wondered why they didn’t get it. Instead, I should have wondered why I was hiding in plain sight. The students already knew that something was different about my process and background, and they sought me out to tell me their stories.…

I know about everyday mystics because they were in my house, in my family, at the corner store, and hugging me at church.… They mediated the realms of life and the life after life. They were amazing, and they were a little bit scary, too.  

The everyday mystics I grew up with had knapsacks full of spiritual gifts. They could conjure in the kitchen, offer blessed assurance, and braid hair. An aunt or a grandma could shake the dirt from a bunch of beets and transform it into a dish that took you to heaven, even when you don’t like beets. The elders knew how to cure you of your ailments…. The mystics I knew could get a prayer through. They could birth babies and they could bring you messages from the other side. 

Holmes looks for the Divine Presence in all of life.  

I hear mystery in drumming, in singing bowls, rattles, and in basic hymns, but that’s not the only place mysticism is found. Sacred texts of all faiths contain stories of wondrous happenings. In the Christian tradition we have virgin births, burning bushes not consumed, waters parting, healing, and prophetic leadership. Yet some Christians are nervous as to whether miracles are tied to faith! Miracles and mysteries can be extraordinary. They can be experienced by the entire community or as a vision or a dream for an individual. Today, we are not looking for colossal mysteries like the parting of the seas. We just want to tap into, or at least recognize, everyday mysticism. Our ancestors hosted this type of mysticism for ages, and we didn’t lose our connection to those many sources of wisdom until more recent generations when we decided that scientific verification and proof would be the only criteria by which we decide between reality and delusion. But we can make better decisions now. We can acknowledge the continued value of science as we explore our worlds and while we continue our dance with the mysteries of life.  

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Everyday Mysticism: An Online Gathering with Dr. Barbara Holmes, Center for Action and Contemplation, October 18, 2023, online teaching. Recording unavailable.  

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:  

For me, to be in awe, is the most powerful moment when I am equally at peace and yet completely overwhelmed by God’s beauty and love. In that moment, I almost feel pained in my desire and need to share it with someone else. It seems as though it is too much joy to hold inside—it spills over. It is in these moments that I feel most connected to God and to the whole world. Awe is the breath of life penetrating my very being and going back to God. —Louise F. 

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