Again and again I am struck by how much confusion there is about the meaning of mysticism, and the nature of Christian mysticism. To try to explain Christian mysticism as simply and clearly as possible, I’d like to consider a word found in Matthew 13:11, which I present here in several different English translations:
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” (New American Standard Version)
He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (King James Version)
He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” (New American Bible)
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (New International Version)
In answer, he said, ‘Because to you is granted to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not granted.’ (New Jerusalem Bible)
He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (New Revised Standard Version)
The Greek word that is translated as “mystery” or “secret” in this verse is musterion; which means “a mystery or secret doctrine.” This in turn is derived from mueo, related to another word meaning “to shut the mouth;” mueo means “to initiate into the mysteries,” hence “to instruct” or “to have learned the secret.” (For all you reference geeks, I’m using the Greek dictionary from the Accordance Bible software). This is a lovely example of Jesus using the language of proto-mysticism (in this case, to suggest to his followers that the reason he speaks in parables is to protect the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and to reveal them only to those who know him). In Christian understanding, then, Jesus is the initiator into the mysteries of God. We who receive Jesus, who recognize that he loves us and therefore seek to love him and follow him in return, are “initiates” into the mystery.
And what is the mystery of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ? Simply, that Jesus is one with God (John 10:30), and furthermore, that he abides in those who abide in him (John 15:4). In the words of Paul, we are the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27) and we have the Mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). The second letter of Peter notes that we are partakers of the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4).
Do the math, my friends. Christ is one with God and we are called into “oneness” with Christ (I put it in quotation marks because Christianity always insists that a distinction exists between God and creation, but aside from that foundational distinction, the language of the mystery is pretty clear). In other words, mysticism — Christian mysticism, the kind that has its roots in the New Testament — celebrates the relationship and communion between God and God’s beloveds: in other words, you and me.
Every now and then somebody comes to my website and announces that the Bible “forbids mysticism.” When I press them on this, they pull out some verses from the Hebrew Scriptures that condemn occult activities such as spiritualism or mediumship. Sigh. It would be nice if folks could do their basic homework on the history of mysticism and its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian theology (and in the teachings of the New Testament) before they go around making sweeping statements that are based not on sound scholarship, but on popular misconceptions. Just because some people confuse mysticism with occultism doesn’t mean it’s so. Indeed, occultism (the quest for so-called paranormal knowledge) and mysticism (disposing oneself to the mystery of God through silence and contemplation) are significantly different things.