“Here we are now, entertain us!”
It may work as the refrain of a rock anthem, capturing the postmodern spirit of a generation weaned on cable TV and video games. But if this sentiment describes the future of Christian mysticism, then I need a new topic to blog about.
Paul commended his readers to “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, New Jerusalem Bible) and for contemplatives, this means to enter into the same Godly consciousness that characterized Christ himself (never mind that some of the more recent translations of this verse replace “mind” with “attitude,” betraying the disenchanted, anti-transcendent, flatland assumptions of our age). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that entering into unitive consciousness is a breath-taking experience if there ever were one. But this doesn’t mean that mysticism is about experience. To say mysticism is about experience is like saying a car is about fossil fuels. Sure, you need gasoline to make the thing go, but the point is to get somewhere, not to just sit around and groove on the noise that the engine makes. Or to use another metaphor: The point behind morphine is to alleviate pain; people who take it just to get high are abusing it. In a similar vein, the point behind mystical consciousness is to become Christ in the world, loving and serving those who are victimized, imprisoned, naked, hungry, anxious, violent, terrified, ill, dying, impoverished, addicted, starving, elderly, vulnerable, weak, angry, oppressed, marginalized, self-involved, unrepentant, and otherwise wounded or broken. If we reduce mysticism to some sort of cool spiritual entertainment, then we will have become the religious equivalent of a junkie. Which means that instead of being Christ for others, we will be the ones to whom others will come as Christ…
Sorry to be so cranky about this. But I think that a lot of the hostility to mysticism that surges through the conservative corners of the church may have to do with the idolatry of experience that has infected our culture so thoroughly. Granted, you can’t have mysticism without having experience. But I’ll say it again: this doesn’t mean that mysticism is about experience. it is the means, not the end.