“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics,” said Charles Péguy. From a Christian perspective, this not only makes sense, but it is a good thing. The vertical axis of the Cross represents “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,” while the horizontal arm represents its corollary, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (see Matthew 22:37-39). Just as you can’t have a proper cross without both its vertical and horizontal lines, so you cannot live the gospel fully without paying attention to issues related to mysticism (loving God) and to politics (loving neighbor as yourself).
But what happens when you mix politics and mysticism? Like just about anything, there is a dark side and a light side to this equation. The dark side, of course, is represented by such “mystical” political movements as Nazism and Fascism, where devotion to a single leader (or to the state) trumps all other concerns, and makes possible even such atrocities as the holocaust. Of course, such totalitarian regimes are built on an ersatz mysticism, but merely dismissing it as false is not a sufficient response to such evil. We need to recognize that mysticism wedded to the wrong sort of values is a dangerous thing indeed, and everyone has an obligation to oppose such systematic forms of abuse and domination.
But mysticism anchored in the “right” sort of values — in other words, values such as love, honesty, integrity, compassion, justice, care for the poorest and weakest members of society, vigilance against racism, sexism, homophobia and other institutionalized forms of oppression, concern for ecological well-being — leads to an entirely different kind of politics. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Christ, and so a mystical politics is a politics of peace and conflict resolution. Contemplation is itself a political act, for it is an act dedicated to peacemaking — making peace within each contemplative’s own inner turmoil. But “if you want peace, work for justice,” or so the old slogan goes, and just as on an individual level contemplation requires a commitment to holiness, so on a social (political) level, contemplatives foster peace through a recognition that only values oriented toward fostering or sustaining relationships based on “social holiness” (justice) can, ultimately, resolve conflict, establish peace, and create the space for a truly contemplative culture to flourish.
I’ll stop here. I’m aware that differing political philosophies diverge quickly over this question of just how to foster peace and justice. It’s not my purpose to take sides in ongoing partisan debate. Rather, when trying to weigh the tone and the value of the words our politicians offer us, I always look at this question: how does a particular proposal serve the common good — not just my own interests, but the interests of all? Does a particular policy or platform support my quest, both personally or socially, to love my neighbors as myself — and in so doing, to strengthen my love for God? When I can answer “yes,” then I have found a political position worth upholding.