What mysticism is, and why we need it so badly in the church today
Wikipedia defines mysticism as “a constellation of practices, discourses, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation.” Then it goes on to say that “In modern times, ‘mysticism’ has acquired a more limited definition, but a broad application, as meaning the aim at the ‘union with the Absolute, the Infinite, or God’.”
A mystic is someone who engages in learning, practices, and traditions with the aim of experiencing union with God. (Some Christians might feel more comfortable using the term “communion with God.”)
Why we need mystics today
I believe that the world needs mystics. The church needs mystics, and the church needs to do more to guide and encourage people on the mystic path. Catherine De Hueck Doherty says “A mystic is simply a man or woman in love with God, and the Church is hungry for such people.”
The growth and development of mysticism in churches today is essential for two reasons:
(1) Mysticism is at the heart of how we experience God in any way other than as an external concept or idea. People are hungry for some kind of real connection to the Sacred, and many feel that their traditional Christian churches have gotten caught up in other things and are failing to help people make sense of — and enhance — their spiritual experience.
(2) Mysticism helps us tap into the power of Divine love that overflows into expressions of care and service to others. In that sense, it is the essential element that allows us to reach out and help others without judgment, condescension, or hesitancy and vacillation. It provides a solid foundation upon which we can build our service and “action” in the rest of our lives.
Carl McColman puts it this way: “Mystics are not only in love with God; they are also beacons of Divine love for everyone they meet — which includes not only other followers of Christ, but indeed all people.”
Beatrice Bruteau on how mysticism helps us to help others
In her introduction to the book “The Mystic Heart,” Dr Beatrice Bruteau writes the following about how mysticism creates the conditions where truly helpful service can happen:
Nothing is more practical for realizing our desire for a better world than mysticism. Better worlds have to be built on sure foundations; they must be able to withstand deep impediments to their development. What most of us now recognize as a “better” world is one in which we recognize that all people possess an incomparable value that we are morally obliged to respect. This respect originates in intelligence and feeling but eventually must be embodied in social, political, and economic terms.
Honoring the humanity of your fellow beings means that if they are hungry, ill, or oppressed, you must exert yourself to help them. Doing so is not generosity, it is essentially our duty, and failure to do so is culpable. But this view of moral obligation runs up against our inherited instincts of self protection, greediness, and desire to dominate others.
We can try, with various forms of legislation, to balance these two dynamisms, but they continue to conflict, causing tension and loss of energy. We are attempting to balance power from the outside. If we could rearrange energy from within — if we more often nurtured our companions and promoted their well-being, we would suffer much less. Rearranging energy from within is what mysticism does.
How does mysticism do this? Consider that domination, greed, cruelty, violence, and all our other ills arise from the sense of insufficient and insecure being. I need more power, more possessions, more respect and admiration. But it’s never enough; the fear always remains. It comes from every side: from other people; from economic circumstances; from ideas, customs, and beliefs systems; from the natural environment; from our own bodies and minds. All these others intimidate us, threaten us, make us anxious. We can’t control them. They are, to varying degrees, aliens. Our experience is: where I am “I,” they are “not-I.”
At least, this is our experience in so far as we are not mystics. But, fortunately, everyone is a mystic. At some deep level, we know that we are not mutually alienated from each other and that we do have sufficient being. Unfortunately, most of us have not raised that knowing to our explicit consciousness enough to transform our embodied life. When that knowledge does percolate up through the layers of our perceptions and behaviors, then our motives, feelings, and actions turn from withdrawal, suspicion, rejection, hostility, and domination to openness, trust, inclusion, nurturance, and communion. The practice of raising this knowledge is the process of becoming a mystic in experience as well as in potentiality.