The Conversation Continues…

Well, Diane of the ARE THERE NO MORE IDOLS? blog has left a detailed comment in response to my post from last week, A Conversation about Mysticism. Even though I disagree with much of what she writes, I’m glad she’s willing to keep the conversation going. Rather than leaving it buried within the comments section of a week-old post, I thought I’d reproduce her comment in full, along with my response, here. Readers of my blog may be unaccustomed to seeing me write in a way that uses the language of evangelical Christianity; as a Catholic, my voice is typically more “Catholic” than “Protestant” in tone. But in this post, I think it is important that I speak in the same “spiritual dialect” as the person to whom I am speaking.

Carl,
Hello, my blogger friend! You are very interesting.

Thanks, Diane. I’m glad you’ve taken the time to post your views, and I hope that my response will engender a positive dialogue in the hope that Christ may be glorified through our conversation.

I’m beginning to think you love mystics more than you love God.

I suppose you’re saying you think that for me, mysticism might be a form of idolatry. I certainly hope and pray that you are wrong! I do believe anything can become an idol — even including the Bible, or dogma, or a favored ideology. It is my prayer that my love for the mystics and the mystical life always be to the greater glory of God, and I trust that the Holy Spirit will convict me should I fall into error.

God says that if you love Him you will obey Him. God offers only one way to have access to Him and that is through Jesus Christ.

Pretty standard Christian thinking, here. Even a suspiciously liberal Catholic like myself can accept these two sentences at face value. But I start to disagree with you beginning with your very next statement:

A mystic has no mediator so therefore there is no real connection to God.

This is a broad, provocative, and entirely unverified statement. I might also point out that this (and all your other broad/unverified statements) has no scriptural basis whatsoever. My experience of studying the great Christian mystics has shown me that, in fact, the mystics are deeply devoted to Christ and that their relationship with God is fully grounded in Him. In fact, what makes a “Christian” mystic (as opposed to other kinds of mystics) is precisely the personal relationship with Jesus. Diane, based on this statement alone, I think that you simply don’t understand Christian mysticism, or else you’ve never really been exposed to the writings of the great mystics to begin with.

Incidentally, for the rest of this post I am going to speak specifically about Christian mysticism. Diane, I suspect that you are the type of Christian who regards all non-Christian religion to be deluded if not demonic. I disagree with you (as a Christian I believe God uses anything that does not actively oppose Him, for His glory), but that’s not the argument I think we’re having here. You dismiss all forms of mysticism, and I want you to understand the difference between Christian and non-Christian mysticism. So, from here on out, I will be evaluating all your statements in terms of how well (or poorly) they apply to specifically Christian forms of mystical spirituality.

Anything they think they are getting from God is either their imagination or a demonic influence.

Can you prove this? Of course you can’t. It’s just your opinion. I beg to differ. Christian mystics tend to be highly suspicious of their own experiences; they submit their experiences to the wise council of elders in the faith who are able to help them “test the spirits.” A great example here is Teresa of Avila. She, along with many other mystics, understood that a “mystical experience” could be from God, or from an unfriendly spirit, or simply a matter of imagination or hallucination. True Christian mystics go through a rigorous process of discernment but still find themselves encountering the real, supernatural, transforming presence of God. And the fruits of their lives can help us today to discern just how authentic their experiences really were.

A mystic longs for significance and they feel that their union with God gives them this “specialness”. Oh, they don’t admit that of course because they have a false humility. They really believe they are the “special children of God to whom God reveals knowledge to and that other people are just not spiritual enough or haven’t evolved enough.”

More unverifiable statements. It seems to me you are being really judgmental here about a topic of which you know next to nothing. Julian of Norwich is just one example of a mystic who insisted that her supernatural experiences did not make her “special” or even good — she said the visions themselves were only good if they could help people to love God better. Quite different from the unfair caricature you are depicting.

You said you only responded to my blog because it was new. But, I wonder what I said that struck a chord with you to the degree that you felt you must put me in my place (posting on your blog for all to see “the ignorant mommy” talking about mysticism).

Sorry if I came across as trying to “put you in your place.” If I recall correctly, my original post was mainly an attempt to point out to you that not all devout Christians see mysticism as a bad thing. Frankly, if you don’t want to study the mystics as a tool to help you in your walk with Christ, that’s fine. As I’ve said before, mysticism is not about salvation. Rather, it’s about sanctification — in other words, trying to live a holy life in grateful response to God’s saving action. But if you find mysticism uninteresting or even distasteful, I believe that in God’s great liberty you are free to reject it. All I ask is that you refrain from judging those Christians who, like myself, do embrace mysticism. Matthew 7:1-4 certainly applies here.

I wonder how long I will have your attention…

Well, in all honesty: I work full-time, I have a family, and am currently writing a book, so I can’t promise to be a dialogue partner with you forever. But I’m happy to answer any questions or help you learn more about the splendid tradition of Christian mysticism. However, if you just want to judge me or insist that I must think the same way as you do in order to be “saved,” then I suspect our conversation will not last much longer. There’s no point in flogging a dead horse, after all. I believe that we can agree to disagree and God will still love both of us.

The only real way to peace with God is by faith in Jesus, my friend (Romans 5). A mystic has little peace.

Another bold and unverifiable statement. How many mystics have you interviewed to determine they lack peace!?!? Have you read The Cloud of Unknowing? Julians’ Revelations of Divine Love? The writings of Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross? Based on what I’ve read and seen (and experienced, in my own prayer life), I am convinced that mysticism is a supremely beautiful, good and true means for bringing the peace of Christ into our lives.

They are constantly scraping and searching for something, anything mystical or exciting from God. They long for the experience rather than for God. I should know, I was deceived and have personal experience with “Christian” mysticism.

Here I think it’s pretty obvious that you are confusing something other than Christian mysticism with the real thing. Perhaps your own experience was with an ersatz form of “Christian mysticism” rather than the real thing. If so, that would go a long way to explaining your hostility. But just as a person who has been abused by a legalistic church needs to discover the true liberty in Christ, I’m hoping you won’t allow your bad experience with pseudo-mysticism to prejudice you against the true beauty of authentic, orthodox Christian mysticism. Incidentally, I’ve certainly met plenty of mystical seekers who are “constantly scraping and searching” but in my experience they identify themselves as new agers or neopagans — in other words, they are not Christian mystics. As I said, I think it’s important for you and I to keep our conversation focussed on Christian mysticism, for now. I acknowledge that we probably have very different opinions about how Christians should approach non-Christian spirituality, but that’s an entirely different conversation. For now, I must go on record as saying that I believe much of your hostility to Christian mysticism arises from how you confuse Christian and non-Christian spiritualities.

I believe we (you and I) need to define what a mystic is. If one would call a believer who through faith in Jesus Christ receives the indwelling Holy Spirit and then walks in the light and truth of His leading (being led, convicted, taught, and comforted by the Holy Spirit) a mystic, then all born again believers in Jesus Christ would be mystics.

Amen, sister!

Yes, it is sort of mystical, but that in no way is the mysticism of, say, the desert fathers. They believed they could gain righteousness by being isolated and silent. They believed they would become the spiritual elite after having had many years of this desert practice. After becoming elite, they believed they could then share the “knowledge” they had gained while in the desert with the common folk.

I don’t know where you’re getting your ideas, but none of the several books I’ve read on the desert fathers and mothers come anywhere close to what you’re describing. The desert fathers and mothers had no interest in being a spiritual “elite,” but rather they abandoned the cities of the Roman Empire because they believed living in such environments was harmful to the soul. Most of them had a profound, abiding sense of their own sinfulness: I don’t recall a single story about a desert father or mother speaking about being righteous! As for the sharing of knowledge, the stories typically show the desert fathers and mothers being very reluctant to speak of their experience, but were usually talked into it by students eager to learn from their wisdom. An entirely different picture from what you are describing.

Neither of these examples are the mysticism promoted by Ken Wilber who worships false gods and is simply a deceived man.

Ken Wilber is not a Christian mystic. To the best of my knowledge, he would not even describe himself as a Christian, period. Whether or not he is deceived or worships false gods is another conversation for another day. For now, I want to limit the discussion to the merits of Christian mysticism, which means talking about Wilber is about as irrelevant as talking about Nietzche.

A faithful believer accepts God’s terms for communication with Him. They are truly humble and wait on God to lead, reveal, and edify. They do not sit around like spoiled children and demand that God reveal the secrets of Himself (secrets = occult) or “special” knowledge of Himself (knowledge = gnosticism) because of THEIR will. These people are looking for secret knowledge of God not already revealed to all believers through God’s Word. It is through Jesus Christ that people can have all of the spiritual blessings available.

Once again, this paragraph demonstrates how you’re confusing mysticism with other things: specifically, occultism and gnosticism. There are specific differences between these types of spirituality that any good introductory book on Christian mysticism will spell out in clear detail. The fact that you are making such an elementary error suggests to me that you have not even bothered to read beginner’s books on Christian mysticism. I really wish you would refrain from making sweeping, judgmental comments about mysticism, at least until after you’ve studied the topic a bit!

Carl, what are you missing that is causing you to spend your life on mysticism? These mystics do not have what you are looking for. You can only find what you are looking for through faith in Jesus and after that in obedience to His Holy Spirit. Examine your heart and see if there be any wicked way in it and repent and have faith (Romans 8). I believe that the only reason you are entertaining my writing is because the Lord Jesus Christ is softening your heart and trying to get through all the mystics in His way in order to draw you to Himself. Carl, turn away from the mystics. You don’t need them for a life of contentment, faith, hope, love, and joy in Jesus Christ.

Thank you. I appreciate your concern. You may be interested in knowing that I made a conscious decision to accept Christ as my savior on February 6, 1977, and have subsequently publicly reaffirmed that commitment on three separate occasions: March 1, 1986; March 14, 1993; and most recently on March 26, 2005. In fact, my most recent affirmation (in March 2005) came after a long period in which I was separated from the Christian community and did not consider myself to be a Christian; and God used the mystics to draw me back to Himself. My love for the mystics is an outgrowth of my love for Christ; I would hardly describe the mystics as being “in His way” — but of course, the mystics really are “in” His “way” — His way, His truth, and His life.

Diane, I don’t know who has talked you into being so hostile to the mystics, or what book(s) you might have read to develop your frankly uninformed set of negative opinions. But whoever it was that poisoned your heart against the mystics has lied to you. The Christian mystics are not Christ’s enemies. They are among his greatest, most devoted, most committed followers. We do well to follow their example.

I care, your blogger friend Diane.

Thank you — and God bless you!

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  • http://www.themercysite.milestonenet.co.uk MikeF

    If I ever need it, I hope someone is as wise and as kind with me!

  • Peter

    I would like to comment, but there’s not much to say, since Carl has covered everything so well with generosity and kindness and yet a passion for the truth–and since I don’t really want to butt in to anyone else’s argument!

    Let me just say that there is plenty of evidence here to support Diane’s view that there are deceiving spirits at work in the world and in the Church–namely, the false view she holds of the faith and authenticity of some of the dearest friends of Jesus in history. It is unfortunate that simply painting someone with the accusatory label of “mystic” is enough to cut off her interest in investigating whether the truth is in them. This reminds me of the label “heretic,” which served the same diabolical function a few hundred years ago….

    May God deliver us from our tendency to jump at conclusions, judge prematurely, slap labels on others without making the effort to consider prayerfully what they may have to say and wait on the Holy Spirit for His gifts of discernment to have the chance to work through us. Jesus promised to send us His Spirit to guide us into all truth! May we learn by His Spirit to discern where Jesus is alive and at work in those who are seeking His truth in the world, both in history and in our day. May the reality of the Body of Christ overwhelm us with its reality and depth and breadth, and may our lives be transformed by wonder at the greatness of His plan to redeem us unto Himself.

    Blessings to all,
    Peter

  • irishanglican

    Amen to both Carl and Peter. We all need to keep the text of 1 John 5:21 before us: “Little children, keep YOURSELVES from idols.” The issue is always the human heart! As does the wisdom lit. also speak: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Prov.4:23)

    When the heart is full of Christ, we will be ready to hear and know the true doctrine of Christ! (Col.3:15-16)

    Fr. Robert

  • judith collier

    Diane is scary and she doesn’t even know it. I know a few Christians like her and I do my best to stay away from them. Only their experience and their heart count as genuine Christianity. They have the Lord
    (Christ) and that’s that.

  • irishanglican

    You are right Judith, thank God he will somehow see Christ in us, if we love Him even feebly but with reality.

    Fr.R.


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