If…

If right here and right now, you were a fully blossomed mystic — I mean of the same caliber as Julian of Norwich or John of the Cross — how would your life be different?

What would your day look like?

How would you be spending (or investing) your money?

How much time would you spend each day in prayer? In lectio divina? In works of mercy? In our postmodern/western equivalent to “chop wood, carry water” — i.e., cleaning the laundry and doing the dishes?

Would you be a member of the same church you are now? If you’re not currently a member of a church, would you seek one out? If you think you would be part of a different faith community than the one you’re in now, what would that look like? Meanwhile, how would your mystical consciousness change the way you think about and relate to faiths and wisdom traditions other than your own?

What about your interpersonal relationships? I don’t believe mysticism in itself changes our relationships, although it might add stress to dysfunctional or toxic connections. How would your immersion in the mystical life impact those you love? Would they be happy about this?

What about your messes: your addictions, your compulsions, your secrets? What would the mystical life impel you to do about them?

How would being a mystic impact your level of physical activity? Your overall health and commitment to keeping yourself healthy? How would it impact your diet? In other words, what would you have for breakfast? Dinner? Supper?

What about work? How would your professional life change? What would need to be different about who you are vocationally?

And how would the mystical path affect your creativity? What kind of creative work do you think mysticism would inspire in you? How would that be different from what you are now?

I’m asking you all these questions (and myself, too), for a very simple reason. I know I am nowhere near the level of consciousness of a Julian or a John. But I certainly admire them, and if it were God’s will to grant me the experience and strength of character to be a mystic like that, I hope that I would be worthy enough to receive such a gift. But I also don’t believe life is meant to be lived in the future: it’s for today, here, now. I know that I have no control over God’s gift of felt presence in my life; but I do have control over how I conduct my life in order to be disposed to receive God’s presence, in whatever form or degree God chooses to come to me.

To summarize: If I love the mystical tradition and admire the mystics, doesn’t, therefore, it make sense for me to live as if I were a mystic: starting today?

How we answer this question, it seems to be, will do much to shape our process of spiritual formation.

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  • John

    In order to live the life of the mystic there are always two conditions, that of the choice of the man and that of the will of God. therefore whilst we may long and want to be a mystic and have mystical experiences, this must always be at the behest of God. God does not owe us these experiences, nor does he offer them quid pro quo for our prayer, they are given freely, to be given freely in order to create in the plan of God. as such mystical experiecnes tends to come at a price, be careful what you wish for . to lovingly embrace the Cross, and follow that path to its triumph is all that is required of man. to he who is given, much is expected, when he is called to account. if given mysteical experiences, they are for purpose other than for selfish gain.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    John, I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written (although I would use more inclusive language). In fact, my post assumes everything you say as a given. With that in mind, I’d be curious to know how you — or anyone else reading this — would answer my question.

  • John

    You can only be where you are at, not where tomorrow’s mystical experiences may take you. in that today must be used to excel in awareness and understanding of the truth, drawing from the well of Christain Tradtion, learning from the scholastic mystics, where benefical, to use your all to live the christain life, and in the being and the doing, oneness in substnace can be, where Unity is. Mysticism is another term for close awareness of the presence of God, which is achieved in the single by the single in the plural, for One to be.

  • http://www.sybilarchibald.com/blog/ painterofblue

    These are interesting questions! I think I would say I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now. The lives of mystics show us that their paths included engaging with the obstacles in their lives from illnesses (like St. Francis) to administrative challenges (like Hildegarde of Bingen founding her own convent). Our contemporary challenges may look different, but it is engaging with our challenges that makes over lives mystical, not shifting our lives to run. By shifting our lives to fix something, we ensure God will bring it to us again in different form. By sitting with a challenge and embracing it we move closer to God.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Of course, that’s the ultimate answer (and I hinted as much with my allusion to chop wood, carry water). I also have to be honest and acknowledge that in so very many ways I fall short of who I would like to be. Which is why the Cistercian ideal of continual joyful penance speaks to me. Thankfully, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing so eloquently states it, “It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.” I take much comfort in that.

  • Peter

    “What did you do before you were enlightened?”
    “I used to chop wood and carry water.”
    “What do you do now that you have been enlightened?”
    “Well, I chop wood and carry water.”

    I’m sure you have heard this before!

    I too am impressed by these questions, and intend to give them some thought. In my less-than-reverent antinomian transcendentalist self, I could give them all a flippant answer and say, “These have nothing to do with my mysticism! It stands by itself, isolated from the rest of me!” But in my practical, real, incarnationist, integral, earth-friendly self I welcome these questions as a kind of “Tickle Test” designed to reveal the authenticity (or lack of it) of my mystical life–knowing that the mystical side of my life is inseparably joined with the rest of it, that all life is sacred.

    It is the split between the two parts that is in line to be healed, through true integrating mystical experience–a gift of God, as the commentators (above) have been emphasizing.

    I will do my best to apply your questions and report the answers back to you.

  • John

    in all of this, in learning and understanding gleaned by exercices etc, we must always remember that what we think profits ourselves, what we do profits both ourselves and our neighbours, the basis of christianity. we all must substantiate that which we have learned in the charitable giving of self, of time of talent etc, in theprinciples defined through the mystical experience. awareness of the presence of God, draws each to give in love. being and doing in the cohesive state.
    to fulfil the plan of God, for the glory of God, remains purpose specifc for all.

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  • John

    personal answers to your questions.
    Prayer time- i dont belive this should be too regimented. Although routine can aid development. Be aware of Lectio – this must be used correctly. All that you do and say should be offered in prayer as a start. Continue to devleop prayer life, do not expect to run before you can walk.
    Church- I do not find the Church interferes, the Church is there to provide the assistances etc needed to assist on the journey. Also the truth upheld by the Church is free from personal bias and so can be used as a bench mark to hold up personal thinking.
    Relationships- other than the time that may be required for prayer etc, this in truth delveops and deepens personal relationships, whilst not necessarily relating to mhystical experiences. having had such empathy enables great building of relatioships at depths greater that possible before. however sometimes it is a very lonley life. (The path of the shadow of the Cross must be followed in isolation)
    Secrets etc. the Mysical life does not embrace secrets, for in secrets negative can breed and develop, bringing a risk of loss of focus that is truly needed. there are no secrets with our Lord, and as such each must be taken in turn and dealt with. annialiation of the effect of the outer as described by John of the Cross, the only way to purge the Outer errant man, to enabel the raised man of being to be recognised.
    work- work must be performed to the best of ability pleasing to God, Irespective of profession. St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life can give you some ideas on how to live in the world and seek God.

    One final point- wear the full armour of God, it is the only way to protect yourself, on this path. there are many pitfalls along the way.

    Hope this is of help to you on your journey. God Bless.
    if i can be of any other help i will be glad to.

  • http://punctum-saliens.org Ken

    Very provocative questions. I often feel that life is too busy to be a mystic but then I read things like your “choppin’ broccoli” quote and there remains only standing up, sitting down … and I wonder what it is that I’m missing. It seems so simple that it seems impossible.

    Something else I’ve been wondering about lately: do you need a guru (or master or guide or …) to be a mystic? Is it possible to figure it out for yourself (with the help of reading, of course)? It seems that almost every mystic I’ve heard about either had a guru or had some direct revelation from God. Since the latter is not happening for me, I”m wondering if I’m wasting my time without seeking out a guru. But then I consider St. Paul who, some would say, was a mystic and I wonder whether that single, brief encounter with Jesus could account for it.

    I don’t know but would be interested in hearing what you think.

    Thanks for writing


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