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Interspiritual Mysticism

Interspiritual Mystics

Living Mysticism
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mysticism is a special consciousness of the presence of God that by definition exceeds description and results in a transformation of the subject who receives it. —Bernard McGinn [1]

It’s not enough to have wonderful theories about God. Authentic mystical encounter radically changes us and our way of living—our politics, relationships, economics. Otherwise so-called mysticism is just metaphysical rumination. Beverly Lanzetta, a contemporary theologian and monk within universal spirituality, shares the practical implications of mysticism:

We may imagine mysticism or contemplation to be the privilege of monks and mystics, saints and prophets, and of the cloistered and the devout. But, to this I add: you are made both of and for contemplation. It is the secret longing of your being. And because this is so, each and every one of you contains the seed consciousness and the archetypal reality of its hidden ways. . . . It is in the wilderness of your heart that you discover a reality beyond every religious form.

In the world’s religions, mysticism is variously described as an experience of Divine Presence that is accessible to us in the fully actualized depths of consciousness itself. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life and the infused presence of Mystery in one’s inner depth. In fact, mysticism is defined more truly as the intrinsic capacity of each self to touch and be touched by the Source—to know the Source through certitude too deep for words or images. This touching is the mystical heart of the monk, and every aspect of his or her journey is directed toward this inner discovery.

And then living its truth.

Mysticism also refers to a universal and unifying view of the world. One of the quintessential insights of the mystics through the centuries is that the entire cosmos is intersubjective—all beings are embedded in webs of relationship that are interconnected, interdependent, and constantly being co-created and reinvented. Today, mystical awareness expands to incorporate our relationships, and also our collective religious and spiritual inheritance, the whole of humanity, creation, and the cosmos. It extends to the suffering of the planet, wounding of the soul, and violence caused by religious superiority, national self-interest, poverty, homelessness, starvation, and war. The theme of oneness is so common in mystical literature that I consider it to be a fundamental attribute of consciousness.

Mysticism, however, is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. Further—in contemporary thought—mysticism is in service of and the means by which we discover the unification of spirit and matter, male and female, intuition and reason, mercy and justice. It is not a goal to be reached at the endpoint of the religious life. Rather, mystical perception is the starting point, the power that un-forms and then reforms knowledge, love, and perception.

References:
[1] Bernard McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, 1200–1350 (Crossroad: 1998), 26.

Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018), 49-50.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta
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Interspiritual Mystics

Feast of the Transfiguration
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima

Dom Bede Griffiths (1906–1993) was born in Britain and lived the latter decades of his life in India. Some of our Living School students have been deeply moved by studying his work which sought to make connections between Christianity and Hinduism. It has not diminished but rather expanded their faith. Robert Ellsberg describes Griffiths’ journey to God through both Western and Eastern spirituality:

In his old age [Griffiths] looked every bit the part of an Indian holy man—with long beard, flowing white hair, and saffron robe. But while he felt equally at home in the [Hindu] Vedas and Upanishads as in the Christian Scriptures, he remained thoroughly rooted in the church. He had come to the point where all religions, indeed all creation, spoke to him of Christ. . . . [A theme I explore in my book The Universal Christ.]

After his graduation [from Oxford] . . . Griffiths began to explore the world of faith, stimulated at first through his reading of Dante, St. Augustine, and the Bible. . . . Eventually he visited Prinknash Priory, a Benedictine monastery, where he believed he had found his true home. . . . Upon receiving the robe of a novice he took the name Bede and went on to spend the next twenty years in conventional monastic life.

In 1955, however, . . . an invitation arrived to help establish a Benedictine monastery in southern India, and Griffiths impulsively volunteered. Some instinct had made him believe that in India he would discover what he called “the other half of my soul.” . . .

What struck Griffiths [about India], apart from the staggering poverty, was the profoundly religious atmosphere—what he later called “a sense of the sacred”—that seemed to permeate the air. He had come in some sense as a missionary. . . . But he soon came to believe that the secularized West had much to learn from India. Increasingly, his mission was to witness to the “marriage of East and West”—attempting to facilitate an encounter between Western rationality and the intuitive spirituality that remained so much a part of the Indian soul. . . .

In Kerala Griffiths helped to establish a monastic ashram—a community faithful to the monastic tradition, while adapting its form to Indian culture. . . . He experimented with yoga, meditation, and other Indian spiritual disciplines. He also immersed himself in the study of Vedanta and the Hindu religious classics. His study confirmed his faith that Christ represented the fulfillment of the religious quest. But just as the church had discerned the mystery of Christ hidden in the religious history of Israel, so it was possible and necessary to discover the face of Christ hidden within all the religions of the world. . . . This was Griffiths’s life project and his passion.

At the same time, Griffiths believed, the Hindu world had much to teach the West. India had preserved a religious depth, an appreciation for interiority, that was so often effaced in Western culture. A true dialogue between East and West would help seekers in both cultures to travel “upstream,” [to what Cynthia Bourgeault calls the “headwaters” of the world’s religions—RR] to find their way to a deeper dimension of reality in which all religious paths might ultimately converge.

Reference:
Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 1998), 549-550.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta
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Interspiritual Mystics

Transformative Spirituality
Monday, August 5, 2019

Catholic monk and mystic Wayne Teasdale (1945–2004) recognized the wisdom in many religious traditions and helped to cultivate respect and understanding between faiths. Though I did not know him personally, Teasdale had an early, long-standing relationship with a community of Franciscans in Massachusetts. He worked tirelessly until his death (at the too-young age of fifty-nine) to promote deep conversations among the mystics of the world religions. I am grateful for his efforts.

Each great religion has a similar origin: the spiritual awakening of its founders to God, the divine, the absolute, the spirit, Tao, boundless awareness. We find it in the experience of the rishis in India; the Buddha in his experience of enlightenment; in Moses, the patriarchs, the prophets, and other holy souls of the biblical tradition. It is no less present in Jesus’ inner realization of his relationship with his Father, who is also our Father. And it is clear in the Prophet Mohammed’s revelation experience of Allah through the mediation of the Archangel Gabriel.

Everything stems from mysticism, or primary religious experience, whether it be revelation or a personal mystical state of consciousness. . . . We need religion, yet we need direct contact with the divine, or ultimate mystery, even more. Religions are valuable carriers of the tradition within a community, but they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the spirit, which breathes where it will.

For example, most Christian churches barely mention the mystical life, keeping the focus of prayer on the level of worship and devotion. The same is true in much of the Jewish and Islamic traditions, the Kabbalah and Sufism being exceptions. The religious life of the faithful is decidedly on the corporate, devotional level, while the contemplative and mystical are neglected.

By allowing inward change, while at the same time simplifying our external life, spirituality serves as our greatest single resource for changing our centuries-old trajectory of violence and division. Spirituality is profoundly transformative when it inspires in us the attitude of surrender to the mystery in which “we live, and move, and have our being,” as the New Testament reminds us [Acts 17:28]. . . . People’s hearts must change before structures can change. This change is the basis of genuine reform and renewal.

We need to understand, to really grasp at an elemental level, that the definitive revolution is the spiritual awakening of humankind. This revolution will be the task of the Interspiritual Age. The necessary shifts in consciousness require a new approach to spirituality that transcends past religious cultures of fragmentation and isolation. . . .

In this . . . age of interspirituality, all forms of spirituality are accessible to us, allowing creative crossover and borrowing among members of the world’s religions. . . . We don’t need to enter monasteries to become mystics or to cultivate our spirituality: We are all mystics! The mystic heart is the deepest part of who or what we really are. We need only to realize and activate that essential part of our being. . . .

We require a spirituality that promotes the unity of the human family. . . . At the same time, this interspiritual approach must not submerge our differences. . . . The truth itself is big enough to include our diversity of views. They are all based on authentic inner experience, and so are all valid.

Reference:
Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library: 1999), 11-12.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta
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Interspiritual Mysticism

Foundation of Respect
Sunday, August 4, 2019

At their most mature levels, religions have a common goal: union with all beings and with God. Unfortunately, many religions and Christian denominations have over-emphasized differences and claimed that their particular brand is superior to others. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion but to reveal God’s presence in all of us. The Christian name for the universal incarnation is Christ, but it is known by innumerable other names.

Leaders of the Catholic Church have acknowledged the perennial and pervasive nature of truth. For example, the Second Vatican Council teaches that all peoples comprise a single community and share the same origin, “for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal: God.” [1] The declaration goes on to praise indigenous religions, Hinduism, and Buddhism as they “reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [people],” and states “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” [2]

Continuing our exploration of mystics, I want to share some insights from several Christians who have found deep wisdom in other faiths that affirms truth in Christian texts and tradition. Today’s meditation is a bit longer than usual to lay some ground work.

Dr. Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) was a pioneer in integrating science, mathematics, philosophy, and religions, especially Hinduism and Christianity. While she may not be a household name, her ideas have deeply influenced CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault. Though Bruteau lived what some might consider a quiet life, her mind was busy expanding the world’s ideas of consciousness and evolution. She believed that mysticism was foundational to transforming the world. I offer you this very clear and compelling passage from Bruteau:

A “better” world is one in which we recognize that all people possess an incomparable value that we are morally obliged to respect . . . in social, political, and economic terms. Honoring the humanity of your fellow beings means that if they are hungry, ill, or oppressed, you must exert yourself to help them. . . . But this . . . runs up against our inherited instincts of self-protection, greediness, and desire to dominate others. . . . If we could rearrange energy from within—if we more often nurtured our companions and promoted their well-being, we would suffer much less. Rearranging energy from within is what mysticism does.

How does mysticism do this? Consider that domination, greed, cruelty, violence, and all our other ills arise from a sense of insufficient and insecure being. I need more power, more possessions, more respect and admiration. But it’s never enough; the fear always remains. It comes from every side: from other people; from economic circumstances; from ideas, customs, and belief systems; from the natural environment; from our own bodies and minds. All these others intimidate us, threaten us, make us anxious. We can’t control them. They are, to varying degrees, aliens. Our experience is: where I am “I,” they are “not-I.”

At least this is our experience insofar as we are not mystics. But, fortunately, everyone is a mystic. At some deep level, we know that we are not mutually alienated from each other and that we do have sufficient being. . . . The practice of raising this knowledge is the process of becoming a mystic in experience as well as in potentiality. . . .

There are exercises for cultivating this transition in every culture and tradition. We can learn from any or all of them. . . .

In talking with one another, sharing experiences, teaching and encouraging one another . . . we are helping each other know that we are deeply related, that we are all precious and deserving, that the universe is our home, that we can feel safe on the deepest level of our being. In this mutual support, the sense of oneness that is the hallmark of the mystic is increasing. . . .

Mutual respect is the only possible foundation for a free, just, equal, and responsible society, and mystical experience is the ultimate ground for that respect. With freedom from the need to promote oneself—or one’s nation, tradition, or religion—by devaluing others comes a great release of energy. What had been invested in protection is now available for caring for and rejoicing in others. [3]

References:
[1] Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate (In Our Time): Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” (October 28, 1965), 1. Full text at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Beatrice Bruteau in her preface to Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library: 1999, 2001), xvii-xix.

Image credit: Sacred Heart (detail), Odilon Redon, 1910, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mysticism . . . is not merely a shift in perception or how one knows. It is not disembodied or relegated to rarefied states of being. Instead, mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta
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