Theme:
Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Summary: Sunday, July 14-Friday, July 19, 2019

A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. (Sunday)

A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity. Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing. (Monday)

A Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself. (Tuesday)

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God. (Wednesday)

Saints embody goodness while mystics embody love. —Carl McColman (Thursday)

The mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic. —William McNamara (Friday)

 

Practice: A Prayer of Gratitude

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise. Mature prayer always breaks into gratitude. This week’s practice is a body prayer from Beverly Lanzetta. Adapt the movements to your body’s needs so that you’re comfortable. Focus simply on the feeling of gratitude and, as you are able, do the following as you read through the stanzas: bow, kneel, lie down, rise, put your hands over your heart, place your hands together, bow your head, and open your arms wide.

Holy Earth, Holy Cosmos,
I bow before you
With my whole being.

Holy Creatures, Holy Nature,
I kneel upon the earth
In honor and thanksgiving
Of your blessed bounty.

Holy Waters, Holy Mountains,
I lay my body on your temple
In gratefulness for nurturing
My tender soul.

Holy Passion, Holy Longing,
I rise up before you
A devotee of truth,
Following wherever you lead me.

Holy Silence, Holy Solitude,
I place my hands over my heart
Breathing in serenity,
Breathing out your peace.

Holy Sorrow, Holy Suffering,
I close my hands in prayer
May I bear every wound
With compassion and nonharm.

Holy Humility, Holy Emptiness,
I bow my head before you
I have become open,
For your All to shine in my soul.

Holy Freedom, Holy Rejoicing,
I open my heart to the world
Offering myself to this day,
In joyfulness and gratitude.

Amen. [1]

Reference:
[1] Beverly Lanzetta, “Canticle of Praise,” A Feast of Prayers (Blue Sapphire Books: forthcoming 2019). Used with permission. Dr. Beverly Lanzetta is a theologian, spiritual teacher, and the author of many groundbreaking books on emerging universal spirituality and new monasticism as well as a vowed monk of peace living in the world. For more information on Lanzetta and her work, visit her website beverlylanzetta.net.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, and Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CD, DVD, MP3 download

Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads Publishing Company: 2016)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009)

Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (Vintage Books: 1947, 1972)

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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Introduction to Christian Mysticism

The Mystical Heartbeat
Friday, July 19, 2019

Today I share again from Carl McColman’s book Christian Mystics:

The first Christian mystics appear in the Bible, figures like John the Evangelist and Paul of Tarsus. But mysticism didn’t end when the Bible was written. Great mystics appear in every century of Christian history. [1] By the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christianity became socially acceptable in the cities of the Roman Empire, remote wilderness locations like the deserts of Egypt and Palestine or the forests of Ireland became home to many saints and mystics.

Out of the deserts came the first monasteries, intentional communities of Christians who sought to give their entire lives to God. As this movement caught on throughout the Christian world, it became a natural home for great mystics and visionaries; and, indeed, nearly all of the great mystics between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries lived as monks or nuns. But with the dawn of the modern era—and the social changes such as the Renaissance and the Reformation in particular—monasteries became less central to Catholic Christianity and were largely rejected by the Protestant churches, so in recent centuries more mystics have emerged who did not live in a cloister.

By the twentieth century, several important figures, such as Evelyn Underhill [1875–1941] and Karl Rahner [1904–1984], began to insist that mysticism was not just a special quality for the “elite” Christians found in abbeys or convents, but rather everyone is meant to be an “everyday mystic.” Indeed, Rahner, widely recognized as one of the greatest of twentieth-century theologians, famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or . . . will not exist at all.” [2] . . .

Carmelite friar William McNamara [writes]: “the mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic.” [3] . . . In order for Christianity to survive, all Christians need to discover the mystical heartbeat that is already alive in the center of our tradition—and our souls. Put another way, mysticism is not something we achieve; it is something we receive. . . .

How do we find out what “special kind of mystic” we are called to be? Certainly the ultimate guide to union with God can only be God. . . . But God is assisted in this task by the wisdom and writings of the great mystics throughout history.

Not all mystics are writers, of course. But the ones who made the effort to record their life stories, their insights, their wisdom, their poetry and teachings, are the ones who have left behind “lessons,” so to speak, in the school for the love of God. . . .

Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us. . . .

References:
[1] See examples of mystics over the centuries: CAC Timeline of Non-Dual Thinkers and Mystics (Updated 2019).

[2] Karl Rahner, The Practice of Faith: A Handbook of Contemporary Spirituality, eds. Karl Lehman and Albert Raffelt (Crossroad: 1986), 22.

[3] William McNamara, Earthy Mysticism: Contemplation and the Life of Passionate Presence (Crossroad: 1983), ix.

Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads Publishing Company: 2016), xvii-xix.

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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Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Goodness of God
Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spiritual director and author Carl McColman explores the etymology of the word “mystic” and the difference between a saint and a mystic. Carl is a wise and holy man still among us.

The Greek root for mystic and mysticism is mueo, which means to shut or to close, as in shutting one’s mouth or closing one’s eyes. It comes from the pagan mystery religions. . . . The “shutting” or “closing” quality of mueo implied keeping the secrets or mysteries hidden, locked away in the heart or mind.

The writers of the New Testament adapted this language for Christian purposes. . . . Among Christians, the idea of mystery referred not so much to what is secret as to what is hidden. And topping the list of hidden things is God . . . : as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Truly, you are a God who hides” (Isaiah 45:15). Meanwhile, Jesus, the Son of God, represented the hidden things of God made manifest—and not only in Christ himself, but also in his followers, who were said to be part of his “body.” So, mystery in Christianity involves the hidden things of God made manifest, or revealed, in the hearts and minds and spirituality of those who love God and follow Christ.

In every generation, in every century of the Christian era, men and women have existed who have exemplified this spirituality of manifesting the presence of God, the wisdom and power of God, the love and mercy of God, in their own lives, in their hearts and minds. . . . [1]

While the idea of sainthood came to be associated with almost supernatural levels of goodness, mystics encountered and embodied the presence of God in profound and life-changing ways. And the mystics (at least the ones we know about) shared their encounters with God through poetry, confessional or autobiographical writing, philosophy, theology, and spiritual teaching. The language of the mystics is often deeply beautiful, expressing love of God, communion with God, even union with God (which sometimes got some mystics in trouble with the less spiritually inclined authorities in the Church).

Of course, many mystics have also been recognized as saints, and some authors suggest that it is impossible to be a saint without also being a mystic. But the two words have distinct meanings, at least in popular usage: a saint is someone who is good and holy, while a mystic is someone who knows God, and whose life has been transfigured by this divine presence. Put even more briefly, saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.

There’s plenty of overlap here. But this is one way to understand the distinction.

What makes someone a mystic is less about a top-down kind of approval and more about an organic, broad-based recognition on the part of the people whose lives have been touched. In other words . . . , mystics teach us how to find God, and a great mystic is someone who has been recognized as doing this particularly well. [I, Richard, would suggest that saints are supposedly perfect people, whereas mystics are visibly imperfect people who have been convicted by moments of very real divine union. If we knew the full story, most “saints” are really mystics!]

References:
[1] See some examples of mystics over the centuries: CAC Timeline of Non-Dual Thinkers and Mystics (Updated 2019).

Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads Publishing Company: 2016), xv-xvii. Learn more about Carl at https://www.carlmccolman.com/about/.

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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Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Our Response
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.

When you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. I call this the “Principle of Likeness.” From this frame you stop judging and start loving unconditionally, without asking whether someone is worthy or not. The breakthrough occurs at once, although the realization deepens and takes on greater conviction over time.

As I mentioned earlier this week, mystics are nondual people who see things in their wholeness and call forth the same unity in others, simply by being who they are. Wholeness (head, heart, and body, all present and positive) sees and calls forth wholeness in others.

Dualistic or divided people, however, live in a split and fragmented world. They cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them or others (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). They cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves. This lack of forgiveness takes the forms of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and humbly inside their own body. The fragmented mind sees parts, not wholes, and invariably it creates antagonism, fear, and resistance.

What you see is what you get. What you seek is also what you get. We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, not by demanding or forcing it on others.

Mystics are human like the rest of us, and none of us are perfect. We are inconsistent creatures with blind spots and cultural limitations. Outside of flashes of insight and unitive experience, mystics are products of their place in time. For example, they may have sexist, anti-Semitic, or other biases common for that period, as we see even in the much-idealized Desert Fathers. In spite of momentary glimpses of universal and unconditional grace, they may still be rooted in a retributive understanding of God. It takes more than a lifetime for us to grasp the Mystery that we experience during moments of deep presence and surrender. [1]

What mystics finally do, it seems to me, is heal in themselves the fragmentation that is evident in the world. Instead of hating, excluding, or dismissing it over there in others, they heal it in themselves. This healing is God’s Spirit working in us. Mystics see the whole—good, bad, ugly, and beautiful—in themselves and others, refusing to hate or ignore any of it. This allows them to have immense sympathy, empathy, and compassion and to work in service of the world’s healing. I am not sure if you can come to such empathy in any other way.

[1] This is true of all spiritual teachers. If you choose to read texts by some of the mystics, keep this in mind and filter their message through the lens of Love. If something does not seem true to an inclusive, loving God, consider how this may be a human limitation or projection—whether your own or the author’s. See some examples of mystics over the centuries: CAC Timeline of Non-Dual Thinkers and Mystics (Updated 2019).

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 159-161; and

Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things, disc 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

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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Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Christ Is Everywhere
Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The twentieth-century English mystic Caryll Houselander (19011954) describes how an ordinary underground train journey in London transformed into a vision that changed her life. I share Houselander’s description of this startling experience because it poignantly demonstrates what I call the Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it:

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. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too . . . all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.

I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ.

I had long been haunted by the Russian conception of the humiliated Christ, the lame Christ limping through Russia, begging His bread; the Christ who, all through the ages, might return to the earth and come even to sinners to win their compassion by His need. Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact . . . Christ in [humankind]. . . .

I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his [or her] sin, which is in reality [their] utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in [them]. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. . . .

Christ is everywhere; in Him every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life. . . . Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.

After a few days the “vision” faded. People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight for me each time I was face to face with another human being. Christ was hidden again; indeed, through the years to come I would have to seek for Him, and usually I would find Him in others—and still more in myself—only through a deliberate and blind act of faith. [1]

I (Richard) would say that my only real definition of a Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself.

References:
[1] Caryll Houselander, A Rocking-Horse Catholic (Sheed and Ward: 1955), 137-140.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 1-3.

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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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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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
Read Full Entry
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