Hidden in Plain Sight

I received an email this morning from a Catholic who is interested in finding something deeper in faith, and has begun to explore a variety of topics, including Gnosticism and Edgar Cayce. This person wonders if the Vatican might have some secret information hidden away that could truly revolutionize what it means to be a Christian. Here is my reply:

There are many similarities in our journeys… I first became interested in Catholicism in 1979 and for a variety of reasons never formally entered the church until 2005. It’s been a long journey, and I continue to be nourished by this amazing, 2000 year old tradition.

Edgar Cayce, the Essenes, the Gnostics… been there, done that. I also spent a good chunk of my life exploring the Druids, shamanism, Goddess Spirituality and Wicca. Like the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, I can appreciate whatever is truly good & true & beautiful in all these things. But in my experience, none of the Gnostic or New Age spiritualities are as ultimately satisfying as true Christian mysticism, which I believe is 100% compatible with good old-fashioned Sunday morning church. Of course, many Christians (Catholic or otherwise) are not interested in mysticism, and some are even opposed to it, usually because they’ve been misinformed and think mysticism requires the blending of Christianity with a bunch of non-Christian ideas. Although in my experience most people who are interested in mysticism are open to learning from the deep wells of other faiths, in no way does mysticism require or demand such interfaith exploration. Meanwhile, even if 99% of regular church-going Christians will never become contemplatives, that doesn’t make church incompatible with true Christian contemplation and mysticism. On the contrary, I believe the Holy Spirit wants to raise up people whose eyes are luminous with Divine Love, right within the Body of Christ.

As for the Vatican hiding stuff from us, I really have no idea. Conspiracy theories are a lot of fun and interesting to speculate over. But at the end of the day, here’s what I believe: the best way to hide something is to hide it in plain sight. And this, I believe, is what the church has done with mysticism. It’s “hidden” not because anyone is trying to keep it from us, but rather, it remains hidden-in-plain-sight because the Holy Spirit is very shy and doesn’t want to force the mysteries on us until we’re ready for them. Many people gladly go through life without a care for the mysteries in the world. Such people are not bad, that’s just their path. But others are called to something deeper, and it really is available for them… but they have to go looking for it. Where to look? There is a life time’s worth of reading in the field of Christian mysticism. Meanwhile, mysticism is very practical and down to earth and offers us concrete advice on how to become holy, how to pray, how often to pray, how to form or participate in community, and how to ‘be’ Christ to others. Warning: the price is high, for we pay for it with our very lives. But then our lives are taken by God and transformed into something new and beautiful, with a core of deep serenity and silence.

Are you near a monastery? If so, I’d encourage you to go spend a day or two there. Not only because spending a few hours there in silence might help you to reflect on where your path is calling you, but also because most monasteries have a gift shop with a wonderful book department — where you will probably find a few books that might begin to help you discern just what it is that is “hidden in plain sight” that might be calling you “farther up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis put it, into the wild and untameable and totally transformational love of God.

Many blessings to you, and stay in touch!


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  1. Kevin P. McManus says:

    Carl – I found this essay helpful a few years ago:

    The Secret Path: A Catholic Response to the New Age
    Stratford Caldecott




  2. Carl,

    What you say is true, and I can testify to that as well. There are many secrets and great truths “hidden” from men regarding the real nature our world, but it is hidden not because of vast conspiracies or the efforts of ;en, it is hidden because no one looks for it. Truth is out in the open, but we seldom find it because of where it is.

    Truth is found in obedience to commands of God already plainly described in Scripture, which we seldom follow. Truth is found in peace of mind and calm of the heart, which we seldom practice. Truth is found in having generosity, in material and goods and in judgement, toward our fellow man in all things and listening to others, especially those we disagree with, all of which we consider unnecessary. Truth is found in liturature, written by the ancient Saints of mysticism and theology, which form the foundation of our spiritual collective sub-conscience, but we seldom read.

    Just one read of The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ, The Interior Castle, or The Way of Chuang-Tzu is usually enough to excite the spirit of a man to say “this is where I need to be”. Sadly, in our entertainment-based, instant gratification, consumer-based culture of dissatisfaction… few ever even get to see the first lights of the deep and wonderful mysteries of Christ and the Church.

  3. Dear friends,

    I wholeheartedly agree with all this!

    I have traveled myself a long spiritual journey. Baptized in the Catholic church as I child, I have gone through Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Charismatic movement and back to the Catholic Church. In between I was involved in esoteric stuff and i even had contacts with occultists.
    For a long time, I was rather fundamentalistic in my approach, but gradually I opened myself through reading about other traditions (Orthodoxy, Zen, Sufism, Advaita) and disciplines (psychology, philosophy, arts, archetypical symbolism, energetic work). There is so much going on in this world that it becomes very difficult to be open and at the same time ‘discern the spirits’.
    Since I struggle with chronic pain since 1996, I have also been through and read about regular and alternative therapies.
    Because of my background, I have been struggling a great deal with the big issue of kataphatic/devotional prayer versus apophatic/meditative prayer. I have friends who are fine simple-minded devotional rosary praying Christians, but for a long time I felt many of them tended to ‘spiritual bypass’ their own shadow and other psychological/emotional issues.
    I got more and more interested in the Christian esoteric/hermeticist and alchemist tradition. I have come to the conviction that the Western church of today has lost a great deal of crucial insights (meta-noia, kenosis, theosis, ascesis). In this respect I believe that movements like New Age a.o. are the unpaid bills of the Church. But the tradition of the Church is also broad and humanistic, while our postmodern church tends to be overly rationalistic and moralistic. Orthodoxy tmo however has not lost the essence because theology and spirituality/mysticism have not grown apart there as much as in the Catholic church.
    So, recently I have read some books on the esoteric/sophianic tradition:
    Inner Christianity
    A Different Christianity
    Putting on the Mind of Christ (tmo quite Wilberian)
    but also:
    http://shalomplace.com/res/psr-marion.pdf (discussion on the divinity of Christ)
    Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism
    I am not a gnostic, but St. Paul, Origines, Clemens of Alexandria a.o. did speak of a truly Christian gnosis.
    This book Inner Christianity is excellent and well-balanced on esotericism and mysticism.
    Esotericism is characterized by an interest in the different levels of consciousness and being. Mysticism is not quite so concerned with these intermediate states. It focuses on reaching God in the most direct and immediate way.
    Tmo gnosticism is in contrast all about ascending through different levels (the celestial hierarchies of Dionysius Areopagiticus) to God. This is not what esoterisism is teaching…
    Christian mysticism however has stronger ties to orthodoxy than esoteric Christianity or Gnosticism. I myself wish to stick by the early fathers and desert spirituality, especially Isaak of Niniveh. It is still not clear to my mind where esoteric Christianity has it’s origins: Palestinian or Hellenistic Judaism or…? And what the influence has been of Clemens of Alexandria and Origen, who as I said spoke of a truly Christian Gnosis.
    I think esotericism might be interesting, but is mostly far too elitarian (as in our time Traditionalist School or Perennialism?)
    The Beatitudes speak of being “pure in heart” not “pure in mind.” Pure in mind, the standard ambition of the Gnostic heretics & later of some Desert Fathers, is quite content to be disordered & neurotic in the affections, and just be so mentally strong as to fight the heart. But when one goes that route, the heart uses the body to rebel against the vanity of the mind. To oversimplify: the revolution in Christian spirituality in the 12th century, when St Bernard preached love as well as knowledge of God (see Bernard McGinn’s many historical studies), was all about recovering the authentic message of the Gospels and Paul on this topic. Francis took this teaching to its logical conclusion, moving out of the monastery into the world. But Eckhart (with all respect) & his crowd never accepted the teaching of love, and the message that has come down since the Counter-Reformation is mostly pretty confused. This is a perennial problem because certain personality types like to misread the gospel of love as a gospel of the idea of love, thus paying lipservice to the heart while remaining cerebral.
    Last week-end, I was on a pilgrimage to Liège ( http://www.geocities.com/Athens/3431/) and for the first time (my third year there) I was so impressed and touched by everything.. Many people tend to be cynical about popular devotion and simple things (as I did before) but God touched me. I loved the sacred Latin Mass and beautiful liturgy celebrated by the bishop there, the simple down to earth and Marian devotion of these people, the figure of John the Baptist (his feast day), the excellent homily on humility and poverty of spirit, and the messages of Marguerite…
    So I find the role of Mother Mary more and more crucial! Rosary prayer is not only a means towards contemplation but it is much more.
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html (chapter 8)

    I would recommend here 3 books:

    Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar (in fact everything is excellent by this great man); just compare it with many spiritual writings of today

    The Roots of Christian Mysticism

    Being Catholic


  4. “true Christian mysticism, which I believe is 100% compatible with good old-fashioned Sunday morning church.”

    Hi Carl,
    this phrase describes my way in the last 4 years. I deviate a lot from official dogma but don’t want to stop attending Sunday Mass. Sermons are inspiring sometimes disappointing at other times but still I go to church almost every Sunday. And my yoga classes fits perfectly into it.


  5. Kevin and other,

    All the articles by Stratford Caldecott are indeed very good! I haven been corresponding with him for a short tuime.


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