Yesterday Google Alerts brought to my attention a new blog called Are There No More Idols? Is There No Place Left to Hide? The Time is Near! The inaugural post on this blog, by a woman named Diane, attacks Rob Bell because of his advocacy of mysticism.
Now normally when I come across an anti-mysticism blog I might spend a few minutes looking at it to see if there are any new arguments arising from that camp (I’ve yet to find anything beyond the standard anti-Catholic or anti-Eastern rhetoric, but I keep looking just in case). Typically I don’t bother to leave a comment, but because this particular blog was brand new, I felt led to voice my disagreement (I tried to be polite, although I did tell the blogger I thought her post “reveals how little you know about the authentic tradition of Christian mysticism” — guess I need to take a charm school refresher course).
Well, today she responded to my comment, not so much in terms of responding to anything I said but by expressing more of her thoughts about why she felt mysticism is un-Christian (and yes, she was more polite than I was). Even though we’re basically having a debate, I’m enjoying the opportunity to dialogue with someone whose views are radically unlike my own. If anyone would like to pitch in, please follow this link to see where the conversation is headed; or you can read my most recent comment on Diane’s blog, copied in full here:
Diane, thanks for being both honest and respectful in expressing your opinions and your response to my last comment. I hope that in the light of the Holy Spirit we both can learn from each other. Now, in response to your most recent post…
Carl…. think on this- mysticism is “works”. We are not saved by works. A mystic could boast about his direct connection to God. This is wrong, we are saved by Gods mercy and grace.
As the Letter of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.” I think it’s vitally important that we Christians recognize that, while works can never earn us salvation, they are an essential part of the life of faith. To the best of my knowledge, no mystic claims that his or her mystical experience earns or causes salvation. Part of the nature of true Christian mysticism is that it is a response to the grace of God in Christ. When I choose to devote time every morning to silent prayer in which I wordlessly adore the risen Christ, I do not do this to prove anything to God (or anyone else). It is simply an act of love.
Now, I am not a mystic. But if I am willing to do “works” as a way of responding to God’s love in my life, why would I criticize mystics, whose experience of the loving presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives is so much greater and more profound than my own?
As far as a mystic boasting, can you give me an example? I’ve never heard of a mystic bragging on his or her relationship with God. On the contrary, most mystics seem to be deeply and profoundly humbled by their experience of God’s loving presence in their lives, and they are clear that such experiences are given to them in order that they might be strengthened to be better servants of God (and of the Body of Christ). Here is what one mystic, the fourteenth century visionary Julian of Norwich, had to say about her mystical experiences, which she called “showings”:
“Receiving the showing doesn’t make me a good person, unless I love God better as a result. And to the degree that you, my reader, love God better than I do as a result of my showing, it has been more profitable to you than to me!” (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 9)
Is that bragging? Not hardly. On the contrary, it is truly humble recognition that the point of life — including the mystical life — is to love and glorify God.
Once a person is saved he is a new creature in Christ and worshiping God is done in spirit and in truth. This is very different than mysticism. I have been lead by the spirit of God speaking to me, I have had visions, I have had dreams, This may seem mystical but it is not, it is spiritual. It is NOTHING like the Catholic mystics, or eastern mysticism. There is little or no unity with the word of God (the Bible) with Catholic mysticism or eastern mysticism.
First of all, there is a huge, staggering difference between Catholic and eastern mysticism. So I really object to you lumping them together.
Catholic mysticism is deeply grounded in the Holy Bible. Some of the greatest mystics in history, like Gregory of Nyssa, Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine, and Origen were gifted preachers who regularly expounded in the scripture through sermons and educational writings. The earliest mystics drew their teachings from the Bible, particularly from the Psalms, the Song of Songs, Exodus, the Gospel of John, and the writings of Paul (especially Colossians and your own favorite, Ephesians!). Christian mysticism is fully grounded in scripture. In fact, in my blog I recently called the third chapter of Ephesians the “charter of Christian mysticism” since it so profoundly lays out the central teachings of mystical theology.
I think it’s a real mistake to confuse eastern spirituality, which is self-focussed and monistic, with Christian mysticism (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant — yes, there have been many wonderful Protestant mystics!) which is deeply Christ-centered and Trinitarian.
In fact it opposes the Bible and Jesus Christ. Spend some time reading the Bible and see what Paul and Jesus had to say on salvation and reconciliation and union to God.
I don’t mean to be rude, but in response to this final statement of yours, all I can say is, “Prove it. Provide a quotation to show how Christian mystics oppose the Bible. Show me an instance where Christian mystics have opposed Jesus Christ. Don’t quote me what someone who is hostile about mysticism says. Go direct to the source. Find an actual quote from a real mystic who says ‘I oppose the Bible’ or ‘I oppose Christ.’” Frankly, I know you’ll never find such a quote, because it doesn’t exist. Christian mystics love Jesus, love him dearly, and would never want to offend him or disappoint him in any way.
Now, I recognize that the sad divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism are vast and almost insurmountable. So I understand that you may object to some things that Catholic mystics say or believe because it is in opposition to your beliefs as a Protestant. I’m just asking you to recognize that disagreeing with Catholic mystics just because they are good Catholics does not amount to a valid criticism of mysticism. There is a difference between Catholicism and mysticism (like I said, there have been many Protestant mystics over the past 500 years, including George Fox, John Donne, George Herbert, Jonathan Edwards, A. W. Tozer, Dag Hammarskjold, and Howard Thurman, to name just a few). Maybe if you became more familiar with some of the Protestant mystics, you’d learn to see the beauty in Christian mysticism!
Diane, I am confident that you love the Lord and want to do your part as a Christian to live a life pleasing to Him. All I ask is that you recognize that the great Christian mystics throughout history share your faith, even if you might disagree with them on some finer points of theology.
Incidentally, Diane, just so you know: I am also cross-posting this comment on my own blog (which as you can imagine is a blog devoted to Christian mysticism) located at www.anamchara.com. I hope you’ll drop by and please feel free to leave a comment on anything I’ve written.
God bless you -