Incarnational Mysticism

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Incarnational Mysticism
Sunday, July 14, 2019

Years ago, someone asked if I could sum up all my teachings in two words. My response was “incarnational mysticism.” The first word, “incarnational,” is Christianity’s specialty and should always be our essential theme. We believe God became embodied. The early Fathers of the Church professed that God, by taking on human flesh, said yes to all that was physical, material, and earthly. Unfortunately, much of Christianity lost this full understanding.

Many Christians are scared of the word “mysticism.” But a mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. Mysticism is more represented in John’s Gospel than in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which give us the basic story line of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. So many readers are not moved by or attracted to John’s Gospel because they were never taught the mystical mind.

In the early 1960s, Karl Rahner (1904–1984), a German Jesuit who strongly influenced the Second Vatican Council, stated that if Western Christianity does not discover its mystical foundations and roots, we might as well close the church doors. I believe he was right. Without a contemplative mind, Christianity can’t offer broad seeing, real alternative consciousness, or a new kind of humanity. Jesus was the first clear nondual mystic in the West, in my opinion. We just were not prepared for his way of knowing and loving.

Alan Watts (1915–1973), a British philosopher, put it this way: “From the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way . . . as Jesus himself.” [1]

Watts also wrote: “The truth that religion, to be of any use, must be mystical has always been denied by the seemingly large number of people, including theologians, who do not know what mysticism is. . . . Its essence is the consciousness of union with God.” [2] Basically, to experience non-separateness, or nonduality from anything, particularly with God, one must move to the mystical mind. Any other mind—or heart—is utterly inadequate to the task.

Until people have had some mystical, inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand religious beliefs beyond the level of formula. At most, such moral ideals and doctrinal affirmations are only a source of deeper anxiety because we don’t have the power to follow any of Jesus’ major teachings about forgiveness, love of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power, a simple lifestyle, and so on, except in and through radical union with God. Further, doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, and the significance of the Indwelling Spirit have little active power. They are just “believed” at the rational level, but never experienced.

References:
[1] Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (Vintage Books: 1947, 1972), xix.

[2] Ibid., 5-6.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 81.

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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