A reader named Kathy writes:
I have had so many mystical experiences in my life that I have few to share with… I’ve searched in the Christian churches for places to feel understood, where I can worship my love of Christ, and fellowship… but always feel alone. I am a mother and a wife, and am looking for fellowship with others who have a mystical orientation with Christianity.. where do I go? Where shall I find that sense of community? Any thoughts would be most appreciated.
Alas, I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don’t. Probably the best first step to take would be to find a wise and caring spiritual director — a person who can attend to you and your relationship with God, offering encouragement, advice, and the occasional kick-in-the-posterior, all in service of helping you to grow in your relationship with God. Such a person (spiritual directors are also known as spiritual guides, spiritual mentors, soul friends, or spiritual companions) can often be found through a local monastery or spirituality center affiliated with a church. You can also contact Spiritual Directors International for suggestions on finding a spiritual companion near you. (SDI is an interfaith organization, and their website reflects this; but if you want to find a specifically Christian spiritual companion, you can do so through their network).
Next would be to find a venue where you can foster your spiritual practice. Mysticism and contemplative spirituality, in order to mature, has to be anchored at a level deeper than mere experience. It needs to be about the slow and unglamorous work of transformation in Christ. This is where a daily practice of sacred reading, prayer, meditation and contemplation become essential. To find support in such a daily practice, your best bet is either a monastery where a lay associates community might be found (if you’re not Catholic, that’s generally not a problem, since many monastic lay associate groups are ecumenical in nature), or else a small group, usually associated with a church, devoted to meeting regularly to practice silent prayer in community. One resource for finding such a small group is Contemplative Outreach. Visit their website to see if they have a group near you; or check your local listings to see if there is a monastery nearby.
You asked specifically about a church, and here I am recommending finding a spiritual companion (an individual) and a small group. This is because, at least since the reformation and probably long before that, parish churches have not really been in the business of fostering contemplatives, and so most churches (Catholic or Protestant) really lack the resources to help those who may be called to a profound life of prayer. I do believe that involvement in your local parish is important, but primarily because we learn values such as humility, compassion, and care for our neighbors in such a setting! These values are critical to the contemplative life, but we may have to turn elsewhere for more direct support on our interior journey. Furthermore, one of the dangers of the contemplative life is getting “lost” in our inner experience, and parish life can help to keep us more grounded — being asked to help with a church cleaning day or the local soup kitchen is just the kind of healthy spiritual work that can keep contemplatives mindful that Christianity is an entirely down-to-earth kind of faith.
I hope these thoughts (and links) will prove helpful in your journey to find support and community. May God bless you richly!