Pseudo Dionysius, Meister Eckart, Margerite Porete, Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Julian of Norwich, Hugh of St Victor, Hildegard of Bingen, Beatrice of Nazareth, Gregory Palamas, Macarius of Egypt …
There are so many more names I could list; a few you may know, most you would not. These, and the many more, are regarded as Christian Mystics.
Christian Mysticism is a little-spoken-of and highly misunderstood path of spiritual enlightenment. It is a mode or experience more than an intellectual endeavor, though the mind is obviously called upon to grasp and understand the experience of God. Christian Mysticism is concerned with the direct experience of God and the transformative presence of Divine love. It is a way of encountering God outside of the “normal” methods of devotion. It is something we experience more than something we learn and is expressed in terms such as union, unknowing, way-less-ness, Theoria, uncreated, phronema, hesychast, and theosis. It is focused on union with God and the cultivation of a deeper awareness of God’s presence in and through everything especially prayer, meditation, contemplation, reflection, and sometimes visions. Christian mysticism has a long and rich history, spanning from the early Church Fathers and Mothers to modern times.
In my last series, Reflection, Contemplation, and Prayer: A Triad of Spiritual Awareness, I spoke about methods of devotion; that is, ways (methods) by which we can ascend. I say ascension in the sense that, through certain methods we can learn the habit of encountering God and, from that place of encountering, ascend. It is, in itself, a paradox that the methods require spiritual ascension through which ascension is achieved. Practicing our methods, we move beyond the method itself which is filled with us--our minds and hearts—to an empty place above and beyond filled with God. As I say this, I am aware that this may be the first time many of you have heard this seemingly tangled proposition, but I am hoping to help with that.
For the next several weeks I will open the door to Christian Mysticism. We will only scratch the surface, but even the surface has depth rarely plumed. I pray that you will accompany me on this short journey into a part of Christian devotion and discernment that has the power of divine enlightenment.
Part One: Preparation and Overcoming Fear
This short study already seems more like a riddle than an answer. It is normal that, when faced with a seemingly complex issue or a so called “sophisticated” process, our first reaction is to leave, move on, or check out. We fear that we will be unable to understand what is being said and, not wanting to be proven right, we do not engage. How sad it is that through time brilliant minds and astute observations have gone unknown and unheard by this fear.
Christian Mysticism, though there are strange words and rare combinations of words, is about revelation—divine love. This is an opportunity to stretch our spirit towards God in ways we have never thought of. New words and word uses help us to separate Christian Mysticism from what we already know and do and from other forms of “spirituality” that lead not up, but sideways.
Christian Mysticism is about Jesus. It is about the Father. It is about the Holy Spirit. It is about the depth we seek in prayer now ascended to Divine presence and transformative to our daily life.
“Transformative to our daily life” –that alone is a scary concept! We are mostly comfortable with who we are—more so as we get older and seek simpler forms of life. We all take pride in our strengths, our ability to manage or lead or create or whatever. To be told that this will be transformative to our daily life is in a way threatening to who we know ourselves to be.
So, the first thing to do is to deny that perspective and the stagnation it produces. God is calling you into a deeper ascendance (more on that later) that will empower and revitalize you. You can’t be threatened that you’ll be revealed as less than you are, or you’ll be overcome by complexity. You can’t be threatened because it is Jesus who walks with you and the Holy Spirit who comforts as the Father calls out to you. God will not let you fall or falter when the entirety of your effort is to lay in his arms. In God’s arms there is no place for excuses or fear; in God’s arms there is only love.
Prayer of Readiness
In your prayers, ask God to set you free. Ask God to open your mind to God’s self in new and exciting ways. Ask God to be made known to you in the “in-between moments,” your gentle pauses and the rhythm of your breath. In your prayers, look with your mind’s eye for the likeness of Jesus as you ask the Father for revelation. Now, feel. There is no fear or trepidation, only love and possibility.
Next week, we begin.
Father Bill Burk†