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†