Dominican friar, philosopher, scientist, bishop, saint
and Doctor of the Church
“The one who cleaves to God is indeed translated into the light, while the one who clings to the world is in the dark. So our supreme perfection in this life is to be so united to God that all our soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that we become one spirit with him, and remember nothing except God, aware of and recognizing nothing but God.”—Saint Albert the Great
Albert was born in Germany in 1206. His family home was a castle and he could afford the best education—even the new universities that were being opened throughout Europe. Albertus was interested in everything. He was fascinated by the relationship between faith and science. He studied astronomy and biology and loved logic and math. He pored over maps and hiked in the mountains to learn more about geography. He was the kind of student who challenged teachers to prepare lessons that satisfied his need to learn. When Albert graduated, he joined the Dominican order over his family’s objections.
This great student became an even greater teacher. He taught at the universities of Paris and Cologne. One of his most famous students was Thomas Aquinas, who was later canonized as a saint. We believe that Thomas’ study of philosophy with Albert helped prepare Thomas to write his famous theology books which are still studied today.
Albert also helped Thomas in another important way. Thomas was a large man and very shy. People called him a “dumb ox,” but Albert said that if Thomas was an ox, he was one whose bellow would be heard throughout the world. Albert helped Thomas to understand that God had given him the gift of intelligence he could use to help others know and love the Catholic faith. Albert built up Thomas’ self-confidence so that he could believe in his own talents.
The people of his time (priests, Church officials, professors, students, and even kings) gave Albert the nickname “the Great” (Magnus), a rare honor among the living. Albert was also referred to as a "doctor universalis," which refers to the extensive knowledge - today we would say encyclopedic, of this Dominican Friar; and “Doctor expertus” for the depth of his knowledge on single topics. An authority on the natural sciences, Albert carried out botanical, mineralogical, and metallurgical studies, becoming known for his systematic descriptions and alchemical experiments, such as the pure representation of arsenic. These achievements established him as one of the most important medieval natural scientists.
No other scholar of the 13th century surpassed Albert in the universality of interests, knowledge, and intellectual output. As a scientist, he strengthened the philosophical foundation of theology and advocated a philosophy independent of theology. As a theologian, he laid the foundations for reconciling Aristotelian philosophy with the Christian faith and illuminated pathways to God through self-awareness.
Albert was made a bishop in Germany, but he resigned after only a few years. He was an adviser to the pope but asked to return to science, to learning, and teaching. Albert died at the age of 74, leaving behind a treasury of 38 books and 70 treatises; about 22,000 printed pages, to help us better understand the world God created for us to care for and to use wisely.
Search “Albert the Great” on YouTube and enjoy one of his many books now in audio form.
The Saints of the church can teach and inspire us to seek a deeper relationship with God. Be inspired.
Learning and growing,
"Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." - Hebrews 6:14
Dear Creator Family,
I certainly don’t want to start with “fear” in a letter about Thanksgiving and stewardship, but that is, perhaps, a realistic place to begin. In a recent conversation with a colleague, the topic turned (as it does these days) to church attendance. Expressing trepidation and fatigue, my colleague coined a new word: “smallifying.” We shared a bit of a chuckle and also a deeper sorrow at the trends in parish life and participation. Each year, the harvest is smaller.
The trends in our Church are mirrored by churches across the Dioceses and the nation. That being said, though, it does little to change the way we feel. Confusion, trepidation, reticence, fear—all of these emotions have been shared with me in conversations like the one I spoke of. In the face of what we are now calling the “new normal,” how do we rise above and overcome these negative and bewildering thoughts?
As people of faith we are called, not to culture and the fears it fosters, but to the Heavenly realm where the peace of God sustains all. God is not curtailed or discouraged by the fleeting “chances and changes” of this world. God’s presence is eternal and changeless, and God invites us into God’s own changelessness through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Though it’s not always easy, we need not be wearied, but rather filled with joy as we praise God in Christ Jesus for all that we are and all that we have received!
Remember that the earliest stories of the Bible speak of God doing one of two things: multiplying or saving. God multiples our days; doubles our companions; prospers our labors; and numbers our loved ones as the stars. And then, whenever we’ve squandered or hoarded, neglected or idolized, forgotten the promise, or relinquished the birthright, God moves in salvific ways to preserve and protect. Why would it be any different for us?
We ask, what does the world hold in store for Creator? Instead, we can choose to proclaim, “Through whatever comes I will hold fast to my faith and proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor!” There’s a reason we are the Church of the Creator. We are God’s own creation, and we are loved and cared for regardless of worldly circumstances. The shadow of failure, fear, and destruction is obliterated by the blazing Light of Christ, and it is in that light we stand.
We do not know what will happen in the world next year but do know that we will overcome through the love of Christ. Our faith is not dictated by trends or manipulated by opinion; our faith is a gift from the God who is the same today, tomorrow, and forever more. In the face of that which confronts us we proclaim Christ Crucified! Christ Raised! Christ Ascended! Christ with US! We will not trade our faith for fear or compromise our Savior for appeasement.
As we enter the new year our plans have not changed. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and God’s witness of love and life to all who are in need or distress. We give of ourselves, not in response to the world—in hopeless resignation, but as proclamation to God: affirming and in thanksgiving for all that God has blessed us with.
We will be passing out Stewardship Cards this Sunday and will celebrate our new year’s commitment on the First Sunday in Advent, December 3rd at the 10:30 service. A financial commitment to our parish is the way we lay down fear and take an active role in prospering our parish to do what Christ has commanded and commissioned us for: to love and serve in His name. It’s also, literally and frankly speaking, how we operate at all. With the stated promises of its parishioners, a parish finance committee meets and lays out the possibilities for the coming year. It goes without saying that we have a fish- and loaf-multiplying God. It goes without saying that faith as small as a mustard seed moves mountains. But I say in that case, let us give freely and wholeheartedly and with the full expectation that God will multiply even the smallest pledge. If you prefer to make your pledge online, please CLICK HERE.
God’s presence is eternal and changeless, and God invites us into God’s own changelessness. It is from this place of love and promise that we reach out in God’s name. Let there be nothing small about our gratitude. Let there be nothing small in our giving. As you prayerfully consider your Stewardship commitment this year, remember what Jesus told us, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Steadfast in Christ,
What is peace? Where do we find it, and how can we achieve it? These are good questions, but in the asking, we find the answer: nowhere. The peace we are referring to, the peace we think we want, is not peace at all, but simply the absence of conflict. For people of faith, peace is not the absence of conflict, not in the Christian sense. Peace is the actual presence of the Holy, the presence of God in our midst. You see, Jesus doesn’t promise us the peace we understand—that is the lie. He promises us peace beyond our understanding—that is the gift.
Sadly, over time, as we grow to accept the “the lack of conflict is peace” lie, the whole of our lives must compensate. This compensation is an acceptance of something that is not, and the damage it causes spirals out far from the lie that bore it. Like mold or fungus growing in the dark slowly covering and corrupting as it consumes, the lie spreads and demands surrender of any opposing view. As a result, a slow dumbing down of all the words of Christ begins: first as skepticism and in the end, unbelief. Bred by disappointment, the inward disquietude produced by the lie, the words become meaningless. This infection of distrust and disbelief dominates our spiritual life and soon, without realizing it, we are saying to ourselves (and others) that the Gospel is all metaphor or that it simply does not apply to us.
The truth is that Jesus promised us miraculous gifts and they are ours for the taking, but we must be able to recognize them in order to receive them; to be able to read the directions in order to comprehend them; to be willing to follow in trust, not to forge ahead on our own. The “dumbing down” of Jesus—His life and His words—must be fought with everything we have, every fiber of our being.
To accept His peace, we must stop trying to dictate the manner in which we will receive it. The truth is, we want it on our terms and in a manner that pleases us with as little effort as possible, but that is not how God has chosen to give His gifts. If we put as much effort into our lives in Christ as we do into our avoidance techniques; if we expend as much energy in our search for greater depth in God as we do suppressing our emotions during those periods of “lack of conflict,” then we would have all that we so desire—and more, more than we can understand.
What to do? Whether you are faithfully waiting, teetering on the edge, or have fallen to that place of unbelief, “The first step in solving the problem is recognizing it exists” (Zig Zigler). Truly seeking the “Peace which passes all understanding” requires we allow God’s peace to be more than what you know, have read, or experienced. You must accept and embrace your fear and disappointment and acknowledge the lie for what it is. Once you have admitted the slow and subtle misdirection, the usurpation of your hope, and the misdirection of your effort, then you will be free and able to accept what God so freely gives.
C.S. Lewis was fond of saying that if we live a certain way, we will soon be the way we live. The lack of conflict is not peace, and peace is not an effort of will. Seeking to deepen our lives in Christ, living the peace of Christ in the midst of our lives, the days of settling will be a part of the disquieted past, and the rest of His words, no longer regarded as metaphor, will ring with divine truth—and peace.
In the Peace of Christ,
Each year at this time I write a “Where did Halloween come from?” piece in which I explain some of the ways and wherefores of the “dreaded night.” This year I offer you a wonderful and delightfully in-depth explanation of the holiday by Micaela Bahn. So well written and informative; enjoy!
'Twas the night before Halloween...
Okay fine, we've still got a few nights until Halloween, but we can still enjoy a good old, haunted story during the spookiest month of the year. After all, eerie ghost tales along with pumpkin patches, classic Halloween movies, and trick-or-treating complete with DIY Halloween costumes and candy are what make America's favorite haunted holiday beloved by young and old alike.
Though that has us wondering why we have these fun Halloween activities in the first place. Why do we carve pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns, bob for apples, and dress up before heading door-to-door on October 31? Is there a reason why bats, candy, and the colors black and orange are so significant to the date? Speaking of, are black cats really bad luck? And are there any other superstitions to be wary of during the holiday? After all, there is a Friday the 13th in October 2023!
The answer may lie in the real history of Halloween. After all, the holiday is a lot older than you may think! It dates way back to the Celts of ancient Europe. The costumes, fires, ghosts, and spooky stories are also a key part of that ancient history. In fact, it's trick-or-treating and neighborly get-togethers that are later additions! Here, you'll find the fascinating true story of how Halloween started and how it's evolved—including some eerily interesting Halloween facts. So, let's go back to the beginning...
The origins of Halloween date all the way back to the Celts of ancient Ireland, who celebrated the new year on November 1. That day marked the transition from the warm, fruitful summer months to the cold and dark winter, a period that was most often associated with death. So, on October 31, the night before the new year, they celebrated what was known as (cue the spooky voice) Samhain. It was a night when the boundary between the living world and the world of the dead became thin, and ghosts could return to walk the earth. Or so they believed.
These meddlesome ghosts damaged crops and caused trouble, but the blurred line to the spirit world also made it easier for Celtic priests to make predictions about the coming year.
Those same prophecy-speaking priests commemorated the night by building huge bonfires that became the hub for evening activities. People gathered around in costume to disguise themselves from ghosts, tried to tell each other's fortunes, enjoyed a big feast, and made lanterns out of gourds (sound familiar?). Here's another bit of info: those big bonfires attracted insects, which then attracted bats. That's why the flying critters are now associated with the holiday.
These pagan traditions continued until Christianity extended its influence into the Celtic lands, and the celebration became generally toned down. The name "Halloween" came from the Christian All Souls' Day celebration, also known as "All-hallows." And since All-hallows was on November 1, folks began to call Samhain "All Hallows Eve." That name was eventually shortened to Halloween.
Now, what about some of the other Halloween traditions we know and love? When it comes to bobbing for apples, we can possibly attribute their introduction to early Roman conquests and the Romans' own fall holiday which was symbolized by an apple. As for black cats, the idea of being spooked by the felines actually has roots in the Middle Ages. Back then, many believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into black cats. Then there's the traditional Halloween colors of black and orange. This theme once again dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. For the Celts, black symbolized the “death” of summer while orange represented the harvest season.
The Halloween that we know today is a result of the great American immigrant melting pot. At first, celebrations were pretty limited in colonial New England as the Puritans weren't on board with the holiday's pagan roots. Because of this, Halloween was more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. But as different European ethnic groups began to mix, a distinctly American version began with public events to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would gather at these "play parties" to share stories of the dead—also known as ghost stories—and enjoy some mischief-making. Still, it was not until a large wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants came over during the 19th century that the holiday became widely celebrated across the country. Historians estimate that by the early 20th century, Halloween was celebrated across North America by most everyone.
Wondering how trick-or-treating came about? Well, there's actually several theories about that. One idea is that the custom came from Ireland where young people once took part in a tradition called guising where they would dress in costume then sing, tell a joke, or perform another sort of “trick” before collecting a treat of fruit, nuts or coins. There's also the act of souling, which traces back to 15th-century Christians who would go door-to-door asking for treats or "soul cakes." They would take these pastries in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of those homeowners’ dead relatives. Later, American children took a note out of the European book and began going door-to-door asking for treats.
As the more serious, life-or-death parts of the Celtic traditions began to fade, new lighthearted variations emerged: Fortune-telling, for example, turned into bobbing for apples in which women could find out which suitor (the apple) she would eventually "bite into" (as in, marry 😂). Young Irish and Scottish kids helped bring about the tradition of costumes: The pranksters went from dressing up as priests to putting together scary creatures intended to spook the neighborhood.
As for carving pumpkins, the Irish had a custom of carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them near doorways and windows to frighten away wandering spirits. One of those spirits is known as “Stingy Jack,” a man who outsmarts the Devil and avoids Hell. Because of this, his soul cannot go to Heaven and he instead wanders the Earth. In trying to avoid Jack and his sinful dealings, the Irish idea of Jack-o'-lanterns came to be. In time, the Irish brought this tradition with them to America and found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make for even better Jack-o’-lanterns.
Eventually, the games, mischief-making, and hunt for sweets all melded together into trick-or-treating, and the whole thing became more about community than anything else. By the time the 20th century rolled around, it was an essentially secular holiday centered on neighborhood get-togethers and parties.
Today Americans still love Halloween and put modern twists on their celebrations. You can find the most haunted states and visit their haunted houses or a corn maze, or even order your state's most popular candy to leave at your door.
MICAELA BAHN. Micaela Bahn is a freelance writer and editor.
Dear Creator Family,
The weather is turning cold, and the grey days are upon us, but we have the fire of the Holy Spirit to warm us and the light of Christ shines through the haze.
It has been a long journey to replace our boiler. With price problems, injuries, build complications, and supply chain shortages, we are finally on the doorstep of actual work. The plan is for the boiler to be replaced in the next two weeks, barring any further problems. I know the Church has been growing steadily colder Sunday by Sunday, but the end (and the warmth) is in sight. Please pray for Bruce, who is doing the work, and pray for smooth sailing from here on out.
We have started a new program on Wednesday night: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis; and a new Bible Study on Thursday night: The Letter of James. Please look for the Zoom link in Creator Calling or on the Church website: creatorchurch.net.
It is hard to believe that we are just five weeks from Advent; time is moving so swiftly. Please pray for our parish and the many endeavors we are considering. Pray, also, for all our brothers and sisters as we move into the cold season.
Peace in Christ,
Christian Mysticism: Session 7
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
Settle yourself in solitude, and you will come upon God in yourself.
~St. Teresa of Avila
So, what is the point of all this? Was it worth your time to read, or was it a waste of time to consider? Was there something here to take away, or were you left with nothing?
How do you consider these questions? No; how you consider these questions is point, the value, the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in the field. How you consider all things is the door flung open. HOW is the abyss laid bare; it is the openness, the expanse, it is the pathway to union with Christ and peace beyond bounds.
What was/is the point? To let you know that you are not alone. The separation we feel, the disconnect we experience from one another, from spiritual cares, from God; this separation has been felt by everyone through every time. You are not alone; sinking yourself into the business of the day to fill the void and smother the desperation. You are not alone in your loneliness, your unknowable-ness; the one you know you truly want, is there with you.
St. Macarius the Egyptian wrote in his Fifty Spiritual Homilies,
For it is in the renewing of the mind, and the peace of the thoughts, and the love and heavenly passion for the Lord, that the new creation of Christians distinguishes them from all the men of the world. This was the purpose of the Lord’s coming, to vouchsafe these spiritual blessings to those who truly believe in Him. Homily X.4
We must start somewhere and the somewhere is within us. Once embraced, this avenue of the eternal stretches before us, welcoming and open, beckoning. I pray that you are on this journey, or if not, that you will feel inspired to seek it out.
So one who has found and has within him this heavenly treasure of the Spirit, effects thereby every righteousness of commandments and every accomplishment of virtues unblameably and purely, without forcing and with ease. Let us therefore beseech God, and seek and beg of Him, to bestow on us the treasure of His Spirit, and that thus we may be able to walk in all His commandments unblameably and purely, and to fulfil all the righteousness of the Spirit purely and perfectly, by means of the heavenly treasure, which is Christ. Homily XVIII.2
St. Catherine of Siena encourages us with prayer,
In your nature, eternal Godhead, I shall come to know my nature. And what is my nature, boundless love? It is fire, because you are nothing but a fire of love. And you have given humankind a share in this nature, for by the fire of love you created us. And so with all other people and every created thing; you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people! What nature has your God given you? His very own nature! Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity, my sweet love! You, light, give us light. You, wisdom, give us wisdom. You, supreme strength, strengthen us. Today, eternal God, let our cloud be dissipated so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth in truth, with a free and simple heart. God, come to our assistance! Lord, make haste to help us!
Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon God in yourself.
Christian Mysticism: Session 6
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
“Next week, we will review the steps thus far, answer a few questions I have received, and peer into a different kind of darkness.”
Steps? What steps?
We live a linear life, placing one foot in front of the other. Our sense of the world is based on time, and time is relentlessly predictable. It is no wonder we are so often at odds with ourselves; our time is disrupted. Our time -- what a strange thing to say and a sadder thing to live.
Still, we must call it something, as we are linear, but we do not have to be oppressed by it. When we claim ownership of time, even as a turn of phrase, we corrupt our understanding of God’s presence and our enlightenment. God honors us by acting in the time that God owns. God calls us in God’s time out of time, to live in God’s presence.
There are methods and ways of relinquishing ourselves to God in time (OK, let’s call them steps), but the end of our pursuit must be reflected in the journey. God honors us by freeing us from time. Our awareness of God—God’s gift of God’s self, becomes a timeless reality in time.
Q: “Is Christian Mysticism all about personal experience?”
A: As with everything we do, experience is involved. The experience of the mystic is a spiritual closeness to God that transcends what we would call typical. From the study of Scripture through the prayer process, an ever-increasing awareness of God becomes normal. God is no longer “out there” or “sometimes;” God is present in everything always. This is not because God is actually in everything (that would be panentheism), but because the mystic is now aware of God and recognizes God everywhere.
Q: “Is there a simple method I can follow to become a Christian Mystic?”
A: There are many methods through which you can grow in spiritual depth and awareness. The starting point of every method is simple prayer. From there you can follow any one of many spiritual masters who outline prayer practices you can use. That is as simple as it gets, but that is only speaking about what you DO, not how you live within the doing.
Outside of the self (spiritual self), you can follow a method that will aid you by focusing your attention through structure and repetition. The method is intended to become a habit of devotion and an intimate space of peace and harmony with God. Achieving peace and harmony is no small task, however, and requires an act of will beyond simple practice.
The real work must/needs to take place within you. If you persevere through the struggle with your own thoughts and feelings, God will make God’s-self known to you. It is not your will that makes this happen, but thy will be done. While this sounds simple, in truth it is not (except the method part). There are many stages within the methods, within you, that must be dealt with.
Q: “How will I know I am doing it right?”
A: It boils down to the “doing it right” part has nothing to do with method or practice or habit. “Doing it right” rests in your willingness to relinquish yourself to God. When you can enter into prayer with an open heart, mind, and spirit, humbly placing yourself before God, you will no longer ask this question.
Q: “How long will it take?”
A: I suppose at this point I must make sure you understand what “it” is. If you are thinking “it” is a mystical union with God, I would have to ask you what you think that means. If by “it” you mean simply knowing that you are changing and moving toward God in a qualitative way, then I can answer: It will take a moment, a lifetime, a whisper, a grain of sand, a kiss, a book; it will take the amount of time it takes the light to reach your eye and the waves of the sea to pound the beach. It will take the time it takes for all things to come together and come to an end. It will take God’s time and your time and when time no longer matters it will be that time.
A Different Kind of Darkness
“Not all that glitters is gold” or is it?
There are as many ways of expressing suffering as there are people. Each of us suffers in our own way by attributing special value to different aspects of our lives. Emotional, physical, spiritual--there is no end to the possibilities, to the mixtures of life that we suffer from. Our suffering is often referred to as darkness, as in, “It was a really dark time for me…”
On the mystical path, there is a trial, referred to by St. John of the Cross as the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I will not spend time on that here, as it is much beyond our current measure, but St. John opened the door for us to understand an aspect of our lives that is already a mystical experience.
Darkness, this/that “dark time,” is a place of suffering, long-standing or excruciatingly short, from which we cry to God for release and repose. Unanswered suffering can have the cumulative effect of wearing down our faith. I have often heard, “Why did God let me suffer?” a question most often asked precisely at the time when the answer can’t be heard.
Darkness, in all its forms, is allowed by God because this is the world we live in, the world we make. Even people of faith go through the darkness, the suffering times of life feeling alone and distant from God. In fact, that feeling is a second darkness, and too tragically often, the most devastating one.
We enter the darkness and God allows it, so God can find us. Suffering is a crucible that burns away the shallow and transitory of our lives, but it is also a gift through which we find and are found.
Saint Faustina of the Divine Mercy Devotion, wrote in her diary of suffering:
“Oh, if only the suffering soul knew how it is loved by God, it would die of joy and excess of happiness! Someday, we will know the value of suffering, but then we will no longer be able to suffer. The present moment is ours” (963).
The experience of God we seek, and find too hard to receive, is already present to us in our suffering. This “Dark Night” of distance from God is, in reality, where we can be filled and healed. If you hold onto the suffering, past or present, as your burden to carry, you always will. You must embrace the suffering, and peer through darkness to the light that shines within; Jesus is there.
In response, to Saint Faustina, the Lord spoke and said, “My daughter, suffering will be a sign to you that I am with you” (669).
Embracing the darkness,
Christian Mysticism: Session 5
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
She said, “I tried, and it didn’t work.” He replied, “...and it never will.”
History is littered with story and legend extolling the pursuit of peace. World-breaking conflicts and personal crusades grip our imagination as we cheer on the hoped-for conclusion: peace. Everyone wants peace. Yes, I know even as you read this, there are some whose minds go to the witness of madmen and despots. However, the tragic and distorted lives of the notorious only serve to reinforce my statement. Even the insane and delusional want peace; they are simply incapable of the revelation of self.
True peace, as an end of human effort, is an impossibility in this world. True peace is only possible through the relationship with Christ. To accept the peace we so desperately want and that is promised to us, we need to acknowledge and embrace the Darkness.
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
“Because of our God's deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
As a child, protected by my parents, the darkness that terrified me was physical and it concealed the thing under my bed. As a young adult that fear subsided but was not gone. Instead, it was supplemented by another form of itself: the thing under the bed was now the thing out there or down there…in the dark. Darkness could also conceal violence, but with the proper tools it was easily overcome: just turn on the light. That simple remedy, the flick of a switch, was like a cleansing release and it brought hope and even courage. In the light I felt safe and in control and I thought no more of darkness or the thing that lay in wait.
Being afraid of the dark is common to all cultures and peoples. It is a fear of being harmed, of being helpless, of being prey. It would be wonderful if I could say that when I became an adult I was “cured” of my fear and of the thing that lurks in the shadows, but that is not true. All people are aware of God and afraid of the thing. God is present to all his children, though many reject his presence. The deep interior awareness of God’s call is possible because God knows we need Him, and God makes it possible for us to be aware. But that awareness is not limited to God and rejecting God does not shut down the awareness. The darkness holds more than the absence of light: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. (Ephesians 6:12)
Most of us don’t stop in the darkness; we rush through it to the light. Those who do stop, don’t linger and the few who stop and search for the thing, are sure to find it. Darkness is a physical reality in which physical dangers are present and darkness is a spiritual reality in which spiritual dangers lurk. We use darkness as a metaphor in our lives: darkness of thought, of emotion, and of knowing. The reality and dangers of darkness plagues and pursues us. We know it. God knows it, too. This is why Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12) Jesus acknowledges that we live on the edge of darkness and that we are frequently overtaken by it. He knows that we live in fear, a deep droning fear brought on by the uncertainty of the dark and of the thing that lives there. As adults, we learn to ignore the darkness as best we can, and to pretend the thing does not exist. But we can’t. God is the only solution, the only light that can pierce the darkness and illumine the Way.
Growth in spiritual depth sharpens our awareness: God comes closer, Jesus is felt, and fear is arrested. The darkness in our lives does not go away. The thing never stops its pursuit. It is always with us. Thanks be to God that we are not left to face this alone: as we are assured that “ In him(Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) I cannot emphasize enough the change that is experienced when we are no longer afraid. When the fear we have learned to ignore is embraced and given over to Christ, there is a freedom never-before experienced.
The invitation to walk in the spirit, to experience living in mystical union with Christ, is not meant to simply be an academic or intellectual pursuit. True spiritual union with God (deification) requires conscious devotion and, once undertaken, changes everything! St. Francis DeSales wrote,
…so devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which takes away all bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of presumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to profit alike by honor and contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness with an even mind, and fills one’s heart with a wondrous sweetness. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch 2)
Jesus calls us to the light through the darkness: embrace the darkness. If you deny the thing in the darkness and ignore the fear by the dim light of platitude and excuse, you will not be able to accept Christ’s true light and true love. True devotion means truly opening yourself to God. You must open those doors you have bolted shut to let Christ’s light shine in that darkness. The healing illumination of your heart and spirit will change your effort into peace. Devotion is no longer an act you undertake because you want to, but the communion with God you need to have. It becomes not a means to an end, but truly a journey of discovery and new life.
Next week, we will review the steps thus far, answer a few questions I have received, and peer into a different kind of darkness.
“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)
In His Light,
The Way of Knowing God in the Darkness
Deification (Greek theosis): process by which a Christian becomes more like God.
…as they gathered around the sage, old, blind man he began to speak, “the life you are living is a lie! Look to the heavens; you say there are stars, the sun, the moon, you are wrong. I know this for I have looked as well and have seen nothing, you must see as I see and know this as well.” The crowd dispersed having wasted their time.
So, where do we start as we try to untangle the blind man’s ravings? All Christian experiences, mystic or not, begin in scripture. That is not to say that a person can’t have an experience of God without first reading the Bible; rather that the experience they are having finds its root there.
In Genesis 1:27 we are told that God created us male and female in God’s own likeness. In community, thinking, creative beings are capable of amazing things. Possibility and power were grafted into us as a mirror of God’s own self. Perhaps the greatest, and least thought-of power we possess, is the ability to make (or re-make) the world in our own image. All this was and is ours, for we were intended to assist God in the furthering of creation. We, like God, are caregivers and lovers, participating in the protection and flourishing of life.
Even as we possess these abilities today, we rarely use them as they were intended. Having broken away from God (Genesis 3), enticed by power, and seeking the self instead of the other, we are preoccupied and distracted by fear and loathing. God continues to call to us, and we do hear though many times—most of the time—we can’t hear that sweet, still silence. Still, we know that we are being called and we are afraid of what that means and we are ashamed of the misuse of the power God has given us. The tragic results are broken relationships, seeping regret, and disquietude.
From Genesis 1 through Genesis 7 the physical and spiritual trajectory of humankind is mapped: from being created as the image of God in joyful communion to broken trust, murder, the perversion of nature, and worldwide destruction. The rest of the Old Testament is an ongoing account of war, famine, destruction, deception, slavery, and death. But, through it all, in every age and time, there is hope. Through the biblical witness, God is calling, leading, at times even pleading for healing and renewal. Throughout time, God has called us, not by our power, but by God’s. God is always the initiator, leading through spirit and presence, always affirming that our wholeness lies in union with the divine (Deification). Ultimately God points the way to the consummation of all things in a New Heaven and New Earth, where there will be reconciliation and wholeness—in God.
Human power, the usurped power God has given us, is never why God chooses us. God chooses out of love and seeks weakness and humility in those who are made in God’s image. To show us exactly what that looks like, what we are meant to be, God becomes one of us, the perfect image of God’s self, God reflected in us as we are reflected in God.
Born in a humble state, Jesus, the Imago Dei, (image of God) reveals love, hope, caring, joy, peace, and relationship as the path to wholeness. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3a) as he is both the author of life and the teacher of what it means to live. By love, in love, through love, Jesus—God incarnate—leads and witnesses God’s self to us, not through power and oppression or fear and selfishness, but by self-giving (Genesis 1).
So, in short, the pattern of scripture (and our lives) is: wholeness, rebellion, brokenness, self-justification, fear and resignation, potential awareness and wholeness, rebellion, brokenness, . . . In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-10) Jesus clearly teaches what we must do to break this cycle and begin growing in his likeness (completely human). Seeking God in all things as the answer to all things we will be filled—enlightened.
Enlightenment: spiritual awareness of God’s presence and purpose and of God’s pre-creation devotion to communion with us.
As Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, he told him to be “born again;” to be born of the spirit. The only route to enlightenment is through Christ. As Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and that way through him is by being born again by the Spirit. Jesus did not speak these and other words of instruction idly or frivolously; what he said he meant and what he proposed is possible. Sadly, most often these words of Jesus are taken to mean simple discipleship, believing, and following the Lord, but they mean so much more. How can it be that we can be transformed into the likeness of Christ simply by saying we are Christians and deciding to do good things? Surely, God will honor those who take this first step and stop, but God intended us for much more.
Jesus commanded us to “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What a cruel and ridiculous thing to say if were not possible; but it is possible, of course it is. To achieve this, St. Peter witnessed that indeed we need to be “…born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). St. Paul admonishes us that unless we gird ourselves in the Holy Spirit we can’t progress. In order to grow in the likeness of Christ we must be protected from ourselves and the forces around us:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:10-12, 18)
Jesus commands us to be perfect as God intended us to be and has shown us and given us the method by which we embark on this journey. To achieve the command of God to be like the Son; we must move beyond our self-effort to improve and give ourselves over to be improved by God. Not by our effort, but by our humility is the way to theosis.
The blind, old man said, “I know this for I have looked as well and have seen nothing, you must see as I see and know this as well.”
The first step in this journey is to see ourselves and the world differently.
Next week, we begin.
On the path of enlightenment,
What Christian Mysticism is NOT
Let's start off by separating our topic from “modern” mysticism and “spirituality.” When I was growing up, I remember a lot of movies with bits about mystics and shamans, séances, and mediums. In almost all cases, except horror movies (thank you Boris Karloff), the depictions were of gullible people and greedy charlatans. Today, we are still beset by mediums and clairvoyants talking to our dearly departed (for a substantial fee) and predicting love, radical success, trial, and triumph--even death (you're welcome, $cha-ching). Even the church isn’t immune to these dramatists preying on the fears and hopes of others. Mega-church pastors have made millions off the trust and hope of desperate people. Brian Hiatt of Mother Jones News wrote, “The kinds of things that have been commonplace in carnivals and communes are now center stage in the church. The principles of sociopsychological manipulation that have been used by stage hypnotists are now being used by pastors.” Unfortunately, these modern perversions taint legitimate world Christian Mysticism.
Still further, we all have been exposed to people who are “spiritual” and claim a “special relationship” with the “divine” through their own effort, goodness, and awareness. These people have no need for the church or God but relay their own power and special status. In every conversation I have had with a spiritualist, I have been told (either explicitly or implied) that they are more enlightened than the people who are still attending an actual church. In mixed conversations, I have witnessed their effort to lead astray those who are going to church with promises of joy from the ‘unfettered freedom’ they experience. In our undertaking, we must first rid ourselves of any mental or emotional connection/reaction with these images.
To be fair, there are forms of mysticism which witness to a genuine search for enlightenment. The “Mystic’s” goal is obtaining enlightenment through which they can experience union with the divine. The mystic’s experiences are self-motivated following a myriad of traditions/instructions to achieve the desired union. Union with the divine transforms the mystic, infusing their mind, body, and soul with divine power. The mystic becomes divine and lives as a portal through which wisdom and divine emanations can be experienced. The goal and end of this mysticism is self-enlightenment.
What Christian Mysticism IS
Christian Mysticism is seeking communion with God through Jesus Christ. This search leads the seeker through layers of self-awareness guided by the Holy Spirit with the witness of Holy Scripture. The Christian’s goal is to draw closer to God because that is God’s plan and, in all things, follows the witness of scripture. Christian Mysticism describes the seeker as, “one steeped in Holy Writ.” There are many wonderful writings by far-advanced masters who have trod this path, but the Bible will always be the primary source. And that is just what we will be exploring together in this series.
Step One: Self Awareness
There are many ways that we come to “self-awareness.” The Christian Mystic begins with the realization that his or her seeking is not self-motivated but is the response to God’s call. Like all our lives, Christian self-awareness as a conscious act of our existence, is rooted in relationships. In the same way, a married couple acts throughout the day considering their partnership with the other like going to the grocery store and buying food or making plans for the night, so it is with the Christian Mystic in the consideration of God. Self-awareness means being aware of God in all things because God is present in all things. Self-awareness is being aware when we are not aware of God, and being aware that we are not aware of God will change our awareness.
Starting with a foundation of proper devotion and focus makes moving toward communion with God possible. Next week we will look at the witness of Scripture and see how our spiritual journey is mapped out for us from the very beginning. Starting with the intention of God (pre-biblical witness), through the pattern of creation in Genesis, we will see the image of our own spiritual journey. Moving through the scripture to the New Testament, Jesus' words will explode as we become aware of the greater depth of meaning. See you here!
Father Bill Burk†