Until You Give it Away

I believe that mysticism is a lot like love. Consider these similarities:It's a free gift from God that we can neither earn nor deserve, yet God is eager to give it to us just the same. In this gift, all God is giving us is, well, God. In receiving the gift, it's the best feeling in the world ā€” but it's more than just a feeling; indeed, it is a mistake to try to reduce this gift to a mere feeling. Expanding on the above: this gift heightens our consciousness (both in temporary and l … [Read more...]

Four elements of mysticism

When I teach a class on mysticism (like I'm currently doing through the Emory University Center for Lifelong Learning), I point out to my students that mysticism involves more than just a pure experience of God, or union, or transcendence, or whatever. First of all, it also involves the struggle to put that pure experience into words ā€” a struggle I alluded to in my first sentence here. Does mysticism involve God, or some other spirit, or the "higher self" or merely an altered state of c … [Read more...]

Still Small Voice

Last night I had dinner with my friend Cliff who is coordinating an adult education program at his church. Currently they're studying theophanies (encounters with God) in the Bible. Cliff wants to follow this up with a series on the mystics; hence his picking my brain over chips and salsa at a noisy Mexican restaurant.We talked about the mystics who have had their own particular theophanies: Augustine in the garden; Julian of Norwich during her life-threatening illness; Thomas Merton on the … [Read more...]

Quote for the Day

You have reached a point where your further growth in perfection demands that you do not feed your mind with meditations on the multiple aspects of your being. In the past, these pious meditations helped you to understand something of God. They fed your interior affection with a sweet and delightful attraction for him and spiritual things, and filled your mind with a certain spiritual wisdom. But now it is important that you seriously concentrate on the effort to abide continually in the deep … [Read more...]

What is Mysticism?

I've been a student of mysticism ever since first reading Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism: The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness back in 1979, right after I graduated from high school. Nearly three decades have gone by and I'm no closer than ever to being able to define mysticism.Sure, I know all the basic definitions: it is the experience of union with God. It's a form of spirituality grounded in ecstatic and altered states of consciousness. It's the interior, personal, and even … [Read more...]

Matthew 14:25

Matthew 14:25 says, "In the fourth watch of the night he came towards them, walking on the sea."Jesus, walking on the water.It occurred to me this morning that this single verse holds the key to the three basic types of faith: magical, rational, and mystical.The magical person reads Matthew 14:25 and says, "This proves that Jesus was the Son of God." The rational person reads this verse and says, "This proves that the Gospel is just a myth." The mystical person reads it and says, "This … [Read more...]

Mystics and Contemplatives

The ever-perceptive Phil Foster asks in a recent comment on this blog: Is there a difference between a mystic and a contemplative type? Iā€™m certainly the latter but not the former. Phil, I think your second sentence in this quotation goes a long way toward answering the question. A "mystic" as I see it, is one who has been ushered into the mysteries ā€” and it is God who does the ushering. So, while on one level we are all mystics (as William McNamara puts it in his book Earthy Mysticism, "A mys … [Read more...]