How Mysticism is like Poetry

Christian critics of mysticism attack it because they say that it is “unscriptural,” that is to say, it’s supposedly not in the Bible. My only guess about how this piece of logic was born stems from the fact that the word mysticism itself never appears in the Bible. “Mystery,” from which mysticism is derived, does appear, but that’s not enough to satisfy the critics.

But students of mysticism recognize that the Bible is drenched in mysticism. How, then, do the critics miss it? I think it has to do with the literal/propositional mindset that Christianity has been trammeled by, at least through modernity if not before.

Frankly, saying that mysticism isn’t in the Bible is like saying poetry isn’t in the Bible. After all, the word “poetry” never appears in the Bible (the New Jerusalem Bible does use the word “poetry” at one point in the Psalms, but it’s a translation of a word that most other versions render as “parable”). Nowhere in the Bible is there any kind of declaration to the effect of “God likes poetry” or “Poetry is a nice way to express devotion.” So from a strictly literal/propositional perspective, the Bible never endorses poetry as a means of worshiping God (and for some Christians, if it isn’t endorsed by the Bible, that means it’s not permitted).

But we all know this is nonsense. The Bible is filled with poetry: from the wisdom literature to the Psalms, from hymns like the Magnificat or the Benedictus that have been folded into larger prose writings (see Luke 1:46-55 and 1:68-79 for those two particular poems), to the high literature of prose-poems like I Corinthians 13 or Colossians 1. The Bible never talks about itself as a book of poetry, but anyone with any sense of literature can see it for what it is.

The same goes with mysticism. The Bible never talks about itself as a book of mysticism, but once a person begins to understand that mysticism concerns heightened consciousness, visionary encounters with God or angels, the experience of God’s love or presence in life, and the quest for holiness as a way to do honor to the Divine love so freely given us… well, again, the Bible is filled with it. From beginning to end.

So I wish the critics of mysticism would just lighten up a bit.

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  1. Beautifully put, Carl… And so darn right too!



  2. zoecarnate says:

    Wow…I never thought of it that way before. But you’re right, of course.

  3. I read recently that the Bible is one-third poetry. I’d say it’s at least one-half mysticism (if not more). Even the dry, seemingly straight-forward parts, like the lists of laws in the book of Leviticus, can be interpreted mystically by Kabbalists (sp?) and others “who have ears to hear and eyes to see.”

    Can I have your permission to share this post with the Coffee Mystics group on Facebook?

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