Just for Anchoress readers:

Picking up on something Fr. James Martin wrote in a chapter on Friendship With God, in his latest book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything; A Spirituality for Real Life, I asked Fr. Jim:

You talk about tuning into the various ways God can actively communicate with us in “real time,” -emotions, insights, memories, physical feelings – what you seem to be describing is a kind of “everyday” and casual mysticism. Catholics tend to be very careful when it comes to mysticism, unwilling to pronounce what may be flights of imagination as anything more. And yet what you are describing is a state of quiet awareness that ponders in a mystical way. Are you saying that supernaturalism needn’t be dramatic to be a real and effective experience of a growing intimacy with God, in the workaday world, and that -to paraphrase the Orange Juice commercial- it’s not just for saints and beata’s, anymore?

Fr. Jim responded:

What a great question! Let me unpack that one a bit. First of all, I think that anyone can become aware of God’s presence in the day by simply paying attention. One of the techniques I speak about in my book is St. Ignatius Loyola’s “examination of conscience,” a brief review of the day, when you recall when you felt God’s presence. Now, we can be aware of God’s presence as it’s happening or in retrospect (often it’s easier in retrospect, when we’re less distracted).

But either way, as you say, we can experience God’s presence through a variety of modes–deep emotions that move us to compassion or pity, surprising memories that heal or console us, insights that solve a difficult problem in our lives–as well as more “traditional” ways, say, while reading Scripture or during the Mass. The inner life is an essential path to God, and God can of course use all of our interior “movements,” as St. Ignatius would say, to communicate with us. As St. Augustine said, God is “intimior intimio meo,” – nearer to me than I am to myself. In fact, St. Ignatius initial conversion happened through another important movement: desire. In his case a desire to be like the saints. And in his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius counsels using even one’s imagination as a path to God.

So God is powerfully at work inside us, where, after all God dwells, as in a temple.

Mysticism, I think, is a much more intense experience of God’s love. Say, a time when you feel unmistakably “filled up” or “overwhelmed” with God’s presence, or perhaps “lifted up” or “raised up.” Or perhaps you get a special, rare, and sometimes difficult-to-describe glimpse into what St. John of the Cross called “I know not what.” But even that kind of mysticism is not reserved for the saints. In The Jesuit Guide, I talk of many “mystical” moments that everyday believers may have–but they may not have identified it as such. Why? Because often those intense experiences are dismissed as “something else.” “Oh, I was just being emotional,” people say.

In short, there is the everyday experience of God, which we can all become aware of; and special “mystical” moments that happen less frequently–but that happen to all of us at various points in our lives. The key is paying attention and recognizing that they are, in fact, coming from God.

So yes, as you say, mysticism is not just for the saints. And to paraphrase the orange juice commercial, a day without prayer is like day without sunshine!

A bit of sunshine in Lent; a welcome concept!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Sharon Graham

    Perfect comments for me today.Thank you.

  • Peregrine John

    I’m not a High brother – not even Catholic. I am, in fact, about as Low as one gets, at the core, though I both appreciate and understand the comforts and benefits of my more ritually-inclined siblings in Christ. But while we have different approaches, Father Jim and I seem to agree on most of the important things, and some of those things make a lot of people (Catholic, Protestant or whatever) very uncomfortable. The Enlightenment left some weird detritus.

    Here’s the thing: Christianity is a “mystery religion” in the nonspecific definition of the phrase: We believe, and know to be true, things which make patently no sense to the outsider. Things like the virgin birth and the triune godhead are just the beginning. We may (correctly, I believe) regard self-generated emotionalism as dangerous to our credibility, theology and ability to avoid deception and other snares. Being “unwilling to pronounce what may be flights of imagination as anything more” is merely good sense. We (generally) also acknowledge the Spirit’s activity in our lives and our ability to actually experience it. It seems to me that embracing the reality of supernatural experiences while having no truck with things masquerading as same is a wise move on several points. We see reality, and the larger reality.

    In other words, we are all, by nature of God’s interaction with us, mystics.

  • http://disastroushousewife.blogspot.com/ Deborah

    I really needed to read this today. Having had a grave lapse of faith and recently coming back to the Church, I find myself constantly analysing these moments Father speaks of. I have a frustrating internal dialogue.

    “Oh my gosh, that has to be God putting that idea into my head”

    “Don’t be stupid Deb, it’s just an idea and a pretty ridiculous one at that.”

    “But don’t you think it’s strange that it popped into my head at such an apt moment?”

    “Just a coincidence”

    “Yeah, you’re probably right…. but what if….”

    It’s constantly like that. I guess it’s just something I’m going to have to struggle with. I’ll definitely be investing in this book though, it sounds like something I need to read and Father Jim seems like a gentle and devout soul. Thanks for the tip.

  • Joseph Calderone

    Thank you, quite thoughtful.
    This led me to remember a journal entry I made in 1998.
    To quote, “To write while in communion with God is hard. For instance, you cannot put God on hold while you reach for pen and paper. To move your thoughts from God back to the “here and now” to rustle up some writing stuff is at the very least difficult, if not impossible.
    Why are thoughts from God so fleeting? It’s as if a war is going on inside your brain to remember, no forget, remember, forget… On and on it goes.”

  • Jeff

    What a wonderful article – Fr Jim thank you for sharing your insight….my Pastor and I where discussing this very aspect earlier this week – as we discussed the passing of my mother and the opportunity that I was given to minister her in her final days and hours.

  • Manny L.

    Wonderful blog entry, wonderful responses. It’s no wonder why I keep coming back here.

    Thank you Anchoress, Father, and all the commentors.

  • http://winthir Marita

    Lots of “Sunshine” to all readers!

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    Communication comes in all kinds of forms, from verbal to non-verbal. One does not need to be speaking in our ears with words to be communicating with us, he can do the same merely by holding our hand, or even just by being in the same room with us. The love that radiates from such an other can be palpable.

    As for those times when we do hear a voice in our head — it is true that probably 99.9 percent of the time it is just our own imagination, that still leaves every now and then when it could very well be God Himself, even if He does seem to sound like us. And even when that voice is coming directly from us, that does not mean that it is not coming indirectly from Him, if, for example, His grace has helped us form our conscience. After all, He inspires as much as He speaks to us.

  • Russ

    There are times when I wish He would use a 2×4 or a clue bat to get my attention.

  • http://mayfairplace.blogspot.com Dana

    Our lives are so crammed with to do lists, when completed can be satisfying. But, we rarely grab hold of the opportunity to stop, breathe, reflect, process and give thanks. To do this means to get out of our heads and move into our hearts which takes effort and courage. We choose to keep moving, moving, moving…..trapped in a life unexamined. Its only when we get off that “to do” treadmill can we learn to see, hear, feel, and touch the glory of God’s miracles and presence from our hearts.
    Emotions are frightening little creatures who have the capacity to creep up on you and push you into a place of vulnerability. We tend to avoid that place don’t we? Like looking in the mirror for the first time in a long time, all you see are the ugly bits…the failings, the scars, the pock marks. It’s only when we can remain still longer that the beauty begins to shine. It is only when we surrender to our emotions, accepting ourselves as we are, that we can be open to God’s invitation to grow with His guidance.
    I am very interested in Fr. Martin’s book. Your post, and his thoughts remind me very much of Fr. Anthony de Mello’s work and what he had to say about prayer.
    I have been a quiet reader of your blog since Christmas, and have gleaned much from what you have shared. Thank you.

  • J. Bob

    Two of the “signs” I have found to indicate it is much more then imagination is:

    It must be sudden & completely unexpected.

    It must be different, something I would not have thought of

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor


    Please keep praying for my spiritual imaginary friendly cells so they truly learn when and/if God is truly speaking to U>S (usual sinner).

    God Bless,


  • Sharon Graham

    J Bob,
    I agree with your post .That is an excellent description.

  • dave roth

    Shades of St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei!

  • Jillison

    Oh, how this post made me smile – my Lent has been a breathtaking journey into closer communion and communication with His Majesty. One book I must recommend on this subject is “Fire Within” by Thomas Dubay. I found this by accident (with a wink, I believe, from the Holy Spirit) just prior to Lent and it has profoundly changed, well EVERYTHING. It’s almost-but-not-quite a primer on contemplative prayer and mysticism and a timely reminder that this sort of thing isn’t just for the saints.