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).