One thing I love about the mystics is just how weird they are.
Obviously, there are mystics who see visions, who hear voices, who smell beautiful aromas that no one else can smell, that sort of thing.
There are also stories out there of mystics who levitate, who survived for who-knows-how-long eating nothing but the daily eucharistic Host, and whose bodies remained incorrupt after dying.
I don’t know how true any of these stories are — but you gotta admit, they’re weird!
Even if we pull back from the supernatural or extraordinary stories associated with the mystics, there’s still plenty of weirdness around the edges.
Margery Kempe used to go to Mass, sit in the back of the church, and proceed to cry (as in sob and wail) so loudly that it would interfered with the liturgy (and annoy the priest to no end).
Thomas Merton stood on a street corner and fell in love with everyone he saw. Just like that.
And don’t get me started on St. Simon Stylites, who spent how many years living on the top of a pillar?!?
For that matter, why is it that various mystics have opted to live as hermits, live in the desert, become monks and nuns, move into the poorest neighbors just to be of service to others, or seclude themselves in small rooms where they devoted their lives to prayer and meditation?
Mystics come in all shapes and sizes. Not all of them are oddballs, eccentrics, visionaries, or super-introverts. But some of them are.
And I love that about the mystics. In fact, here are three reasons why I love how weird the mystics are…
- Mystics remind us that there are many different ways to follow Christ. C. S. Lewis once said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.” True wisdom there. When we become the people God created us to be, we become more distinctive, more unique, more singular in our identity and expression. If that means some of us get weird, well, so be it.
- Mystics invite us to consider what it means to live 100% for God. Forrest Gump said “Genius has its limits, but stupid goes on forever,” but when it comes to the spiritual life, that dynamic gets inverted: the more we live just for ourselves, the more limited our lives eventually become; but when we give our lives with trust and joy to God, the horizon just keeps expanding. Let’s face it: anyone who gives their lives 100% to something gets viewed as “weird” by our culture. So whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, a Beatlemaniac, or just obsessed with good cheese, others will think you odd. Me? I’d rather be odd for God!
- Maybe the mystics seem weird because they’re the only ones who aren’t weird! In a society where everyone is crazy, the sane person appears to be crazy to everyone else. Ours is a cynical and oh-s0-hip culture, and so we don’t want to admit that we hunger for love, that we long for a sense of meaning and purpose, and that we hope there is something bigger to life than what meets the eye. But most of us would never admit any of this — we learned when we were about eight years old that the cool kids make fun of the dreamers. But the mystics dare to say, “Hey, we aren’t the dreamers — we’re the ones who are awake. Don’t you want to wake up too?”
It’s fun that hipster communities like Austin TX or Asheville NC are associated with bumperstickers that say “Keep Austin Weird” or “Keep Asheville Weird.” I love places like that — because for them, “weird” usually means a large concentration of artists, musicians, and other creatives.
Evelyn Underhill suggested that the next closest thing to a mystic is an artist (or a poet, or a musician…). So just as artists invite us to be “weird” with creativity, the mystics, those Godly-weirdoes, invite all of us to find our own creative weirdness, deep in the heart of God.
What are we waiting for? Let’s go!!!