Mysticism Precedes Politics — Center for Action and Contemplation
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Mysticism Precedes Politics

Public Virtue

Mysticism Precedes Politics
Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Reverend Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former head of the Reformed Church in America, reminds us that Jesus is the model of public virtue for all Christians. When deciding how we want to act in the public sphere, we are first called to begin with our personal experience of God’s overflowing love for all the world.

“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” [1] So wrote Charles Péguy (1873–1914), a French poet and writer who lived in solidarity with workers and peasants and became deeply influenced by Catholic faith in the last years of his life. This provocative quote identifies the foundational starting point for how faith and politics should relate.

Usually, however, we get it backward. Our temptation is to begin with politics and then try to figure out how religion can fit in. We start with the accepted parameters of political debate and, whether we find ourselves on the left or the right, we use religion to justify and bolster our existing commitments. . . .

But what if we make the inward journey our starting point? What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. We are no longer guided or constrained by what we think is politically possible, but are compelled by what we know is most real. At the heart of all creation, the mutual love within the Trinity overflows to embrace all of life. We are invited to participate in the transforming power of this love. There we discover the ground of our being, centering all our life and action.

This was revealed most fully in Jesus, as God’s Son. His love for enemies, his non-violent response to evil, his embrace of the marginalized, his condemnation of self-serving religious hypocrites, his compassion for the poor, his disregard for boundaries of social exclusion, his advocacy for the economically oppressed, and his certainty that God’s reign was breaking into the world all flowed from his complete, mutual participation in the Father’s love. Jesus didn’t merely show the way; he lived completely in the presence and power of God’s redeeming, transforming life.

This didn’t fit any conventional political alternative in Palestine at the time. Jesus wasn’t a Zealot, seeking the violent overthrow of an oppressive empire, although he welcomed a Zealot as his disciple, resisted and undermined the authority of political rulers, and was crucified as “King of the Jews.” He refused to identify with religious authorities who were willing to compromise their spiritual convictions to foster their collusion with imperial political power. Yet, the “politics of Jesus” presented a clear agenda for radical social and economic transformation in his time, as in ours.

All of this was rooted, however, in the incarnate participation of Jesus in the love of the Trinity. His life embodied what God’s love intends for the world and demonstrated the Spirit’s power to transform, heal, and make whole what is broken. . . .  His mysticism preceded and then accompanied his politics.

References:
[1] Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse (Cahiers de la Quinzaine: 1910), 27. Original text: “Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique.”

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “From Mysticism to Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 15, 16, 17.

Image credit:  Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsly, 1913, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson
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