Book Club Channel
21st Century Mystic: A Q&A with Carl McColman
Isn't this just navel-gazing?
Critics of mysticism accuse it of being narcissistic or somehow withdrawn from real life. Maybe that's true of some other forms of mysticism, but Christian mysticism is all about coming down from the mountain and serving the people who are in need. The emphasis is very simple: experience the love of God, and then give that love away by loving and serving others. That can even include agitating for social change. All the great mystics have also been very engaged in the world in which they lived. They saw their job as bringing Divine love into a world that is so desperately starved for such love.
You're writing from a Christian perspective. What about other faiths?
Mysticism is a universal word and so you can find a mystical element of pretty much any loving spiritual path. The Christian mystical path has its own unique charm and beauty, which is why I love to explore it in particular. But one characteristic you tend to see among mystics—of all faiths—is such a secure grounding in their own religious identity that they can relate creatively and non-defensively to practitioners of other faiths. Look at people like Rumi, or the Dalai Lama, or Thich Nhat Hanh.
Mystics do not turn their backs on their "home" faith, but they open their hearts to wisdom wherever they find it. We can see this in the lives and writings of great Christian mystics like Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, or Wayne Teasdale. The way I see it, mysticism gives us the best of both worlds: the nurturing depths of our own wisdom tradition (in my case, Christianity), and the insight and compassion to learn from all the other great traditions as well.
Can mysticism change the world?
I think so, but from the viewpoint of a mystic, the change comes not from mysticism, but from God. And for Christians, God is incarnate (embodied) in Jesus. Through Jesus, through God, we receive wholeness (which is what the word "salvation" originally meant), love, compassion, and the strength to work toward making the world a better place. If enough of us sign up for that, we really can change the world.