When Jesus spoke of how God sends the sun and the rain to the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), he spoke of how God’s love is shared universally among all people. All people. What does this mean for mysticism? Here’s a few random thoughts: each and every one of us, at all times, in all places, is fully immersed in the luminous, radiant, dazzling love of God. This means that each and every one of us has immediate access to all the love and bliss we could ever hope for. Naturally, for many of us, seemingly insurmountable obstacles exist, from bodily pain, to emotional suffering, to real or perceived injustices or abuses or oppression that crush in on us and limit, or seem to limit, our potential, our freedom, and our ability to be and feel love.
We are trammeled by sin (both individual and corporate), by despair, by anger and fear, by the limitations inherent in being mortal, physical creatures. Yet despite all these towering disadvantages, the splendor of Divine Love still breaks through, to all of us, in big and little ways, each and every day. The vast majority of these breakthroughs we simply ignore — our ego, false self, survival mind, whatever you want to call it, censors the vast spaciousness of God-infused bliss and banishes it deep out of the realm of ordinary conscious awareness. Thus, when we do sometimes get a glimpse of it, despite the false self’s wiles, the false self tricks us into thinking it is just a play of the imagination, some sort of neat psychological process, a momentary burst of endorphins. And none of these interpretations are false, but neither are any of them complete or adequate. For God showers God’s love in and through us by very means of a playful imagination, an optimal psyche, an endorphin-drenched body. But these vessels by which Divine Love comes to us are only a tiny part of the overall picture.
The mystic — the contemplative — is not anyone who has had extraordinary experiences so much as is merely someone who experiences just how ordinary the extraordinary is.
There are so many possible ways in which a contemplative can subvert his or her own experience. One way is to be tricked into thinking such experience, such consciousness, makes one “special,” as if a mystic experience somehow sets us apart from everyone else. Another trick is to interpret mystical experience as somehow exempting us from having to be in communion and community with others: whether this means no longer bothering to live a holy life, or no longer bothering to engage in works of mercy or a life of compassionate service, or assuming that mystical wisdom is so far superior to the received wisdom of tradition that, therefore, mysticism renders religion obsolete.
All these errors are variations on a theme: that conscious experience of the love and light of God somehow renders us exempt from the mundane work of truly loving one another. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, perhaps one reason why contemplatives often experience a dance between the splendor of God’s presence and the limitless abyss of the experience of Divine absence: the cloud of unknowing, the dark night of the soul — just might be because the Divine wisdom recognizes that in the abyss, not only do we learn to love God beyond the vicissitudes of our experience, but we also learn to love each other better as well.
And it seems to be a miracle of mysticism: not only that God’s dazzling presence continues to break through the limitations that (seem to) imprison us all, but also that somehow, contemplative experience transforms us, despite the many ways we can misinterpret it, or try to turn it to our own, egoic advantage. We fall down, repeatedly. And God is always there, silently calling us to get back up again.