Experiential Knowing

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Experiential Knowing
Monday, July 15, 2019

When I use the word “mystical” I am referring to experiential knowing instead of just intellectual, textbook, or dogmatic knowing. A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity. Mystics get a whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing that most of us encounter in everyday life. In this, mystics tend to be closer to poets and artists than to linear thinkers. Obviously, there is a place for both, but since the European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there has been less and less appreciation of such seeing in wholes. The mystic was indeed considered an “eccentric” (off center), but maybe mystics are the most centered of all, which leads them to emphasizing love as the center, the goal, and the motivating energy of everything.

The word mystic is not a title of superiority. It’s rather that mystics see things differently. Mystics are nondual seers. They don’t think one side is totally right and the other side is totally wrong. They can see that each side has a part of the truth. When people on either side of any contentious issue cannot love one another, it means they don’t have the big message yet.

And what is the big message, the great good news? I try to explain it in my book The Universal Christ. There is a well-hidden Mystery that’s true everywhere, and only the sincere seekers find it. People may have different names for this Mystery, but I don’t think God minds what we call God as long as it helps us focus on our radical unity while honoring our differences. Mystics—and all mature spirituality—recognize that the dignity in people and created things is inherent, equally shared, and objective. “You were chosen in Christ from the beginning before the world began” (Ephesians 1:4). This dignity is not created by moral behavior or sacraments. It’s the universally shared image of God, already present (see Genesis 1:26-27). Humans are just the lucky ones who can bring this to consciousness. Sacraments just help us do that.

The full Christian story is saying that Jesus died and Christ “arose”—yes, still as Jesus, but now also as the Corporate Personality who includes and reveals all of creation in its full purpose and goal. Or, as the “Father of Orthodoxy,” St. Athanasius (296–373), wrote when the church had a more social, historical, and revolutionary sense of itself:

God was consistent in working through one [human] to reveal [Godself] everywhere, as well as through the other parts of . . . creation, so that nothing was left devoid of . . . Divinity and [God’s] self-knowledge . . . so that “the whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) [1]

The Eastern church called this process “divinization” (theosis); Christians in the West call it “incarnation” or “salvation.” The concept of divinization is founded on 2 Peter 1:4: “He has given us something very great and wonderful . . . you are able to share the divine nature!” This is Christianity’s core good news and transformative message.

References:
[1] Athanasius of Alexandria, De Incarnatione Verbi (On the Incarnation of the Word), 45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 1, 27-28; and

“The Universal Christ,” SuperSoul Sunday (June 2, 2019), Oprah Winfrey Network, http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/father-richard-rohr-the-universal-christ.

Image credit: The Third-Class Carriage (detail), Honoré Daumier, circa 1862–1864, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: [On an ordinary underground train journey in London], all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging—workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. —Caryll Houselander
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