Sunday, January 22, 2012

What Is Christian Mysticism?


Fr. Dale Matson

          “The business and method of mysticism is love.” (Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, p.85, 1930).
            There are many definitions for mysticism but my operational term is restricted to Christian mysticism. There are other paths that are wider but the parameters provided by Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Christian church provide secure guard rails for the spiritual pilgrim. Mysticism is a perilous road to travel and I do not encourage people to take this journey if it is the mystical experiences and not God that they are seeking. It is to those who have an insatiable hunger for God and have had several mystical experiences that I encourage on this path of self-discovery. Actually it is in Christ that we learn who we truly are. In Him our personality is not annihilated; in Him our personality is brought to fruition.   The ultimate aim of the Christian mystic is union with Christ. This is also the hope and end for any Christian pilgrim. In Him we know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12). We are saved by God’s grace through faith in His son Jesus Christ. On earth we are incorporated into a mystical union with His body the church through the sacrament of baptism. There is salvation in no other and there is no other name given in heaven or on earth whereby we may be saved (Acts 4:12). “There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5) These are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith.
            I also believe it would be useful to include Bernard McGinn’s definition to round out our understanding of mysticism.  Christian mysticism would be "that part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of a direct and transformative presence of God.” (The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism). The key word here would be “presence” of God. Perhaps it is a less intimate word than “union” but may be a better descriptor of most mystical experiences.
            Finally, I would like to stress the reactive aspect to mysticism (see Adolf Deissmann, The Selly Oak Lectures ,p. 245, 1923). It is God acting and the mystic reacting. St. Paul was not seeking Christ when he was knocked off his horse. Both St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross advised against trusting private revelations and encouraged others not to seek them. Within the church itself, I believe the Word of God, the sacraments and loving service to others is the best avenue for those seeking a closer relationship to God, for ultimately, mystical experiences are really a byproduct of a life devoted to God.  It is ultimately God’s decision if, when, how and why He will bless anyone with a mystical experience. This is because He is gracious but more important than this; He is sovereign. If we could determine the time and place of a miracle, then we ourselves would be God. To even believe that through some effort on our part we will obtain anything from God is to exchange the precious faith God has given us for magic. In humility, patience and submission to His will we seek Him and Him alone.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. (Matt. 6:33). 
           
           

5 comments:

John Kuykendall said...

Thank you for making everyone aware of Christian Mysticism. I also believe that the more we are aware of God working in and through everything, especially within ourselves, the more God’s presence can replace prior limitations and dis-harmonies with good.

The Underground Pewster said...

Agreed, the peril in part lays in ignoring your paragraph on the reactive aspect of mysticism.

Dale Matson said...

The Underground Pewster,
Thanks for stopping by and your comment. "Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth upon depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. this truth fades out however or escapes at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be the veriest nonsense." William James, "Varieties of Religious Experience". You couldn't make it happen with drugs in his time (proactively) and you can't make it happen with LSD and crystal meth now.

Author Eric Nielsen said...

As a mystic I beg your pardon when I say that the only danger in seeking God is to do so the wrong way. St. John and others were telling those interested in reaching God to be careful that what you think is the real thing is only mental conversation taking place in your own mind. For those that are serious about reaching this place they first must know that they cannot have God as the goal, while they are using meditation or a centering prayer. If your blog visitors would like to learn more may I suggest visiting:
http://www.EricRobertNielsen.com/holy-spirit

Dale Matson said...

Dear Eric,
I see that you advertise yourself as a "Mystic and Mediation Expert" Since I am not an expert,it is with trepidation and humility that I question the accuracy of your comments. As a Christian, I seek God through His Son Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to God the Father any other way. Every other way is the "wrong way"."St. John and others were telling those interested in reaching God to be careful that what you think is the real thing is only mental conversation taking place in your own mind." By this, I assume you are referring to St. John of the Cross and not the Apostle John. St. John of the Cross cautioned those who have mystical experiences to be automatically suspicious about the authenticity of those experiences."For those that are serious about reaching this place they first must know that they cannot have God as the goal, while they are using meditation or a centering prayer." I am not certain what you mean by "this place" but Union with God is the primary focus of all Christian Mystics.