Fifty years ago Karl Rahner, S. J., wrote that “The Christian of the future will be a mystic. Or he will be nothing at all.”
The future Rahner spoke of is here. It is now. And it is also the moment when many Christians sense that Rahner is correct. They sense that something is missing in their spiritual lives, that there is a need for greater depth and feeling. And while we may be among those who read Rahner’s words with recognition, a question appears. A mystic? How?
First of all it might be helpful to think about what a mystic is. A mystic is one who tastes, who sees, who drinks. In other words a mystic is one who knows by experience. Learning, mental knowing, is needed in spiritual life, but only experience truly informs and illumines us.
Where will we find the experience we need? It has been given to us by Christ himself, given as a response to his disciples when they asked him how they were to pray. “Go into your room,” he tells them, “and shut the door [they who have ears to hear], and pray to your Father who is in secret….”
Fully divine, Jesus was also fully human. He knows us, he knows our needs, and gives us the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer we all know, a prayer we have been reciting from earliest childhood. But while this prayer is so familiar to us, it is at the same time utterly unknown. We recite it, but often with as much familiarity and inattention as we do the Pledge of Allegiance.
We recite it, but when have we last listened to it? These are Christ’s words, words from a divine source. When we allow them to act upon us, when we listen in silence to every one of the phrases, they bring us into unexplored and unexpected realms. The prayer reveals itself as the primary Christian meditation, the way to the experience we so desire. And to grace without measure.
This listening requires something from us. It requires all our attention: a listening with body, mind, and heart. We must allow the prayer to act on us, in the moment. Jesus provides us in his prayer with support and a kind of scaffolding enabling us to take the first step, and the next. We enter into a relationship with Christ as Teacher, as Master. And as we go on, we begin to learn what is up to us.
When even a little silence appears between each phrase, the holiness of the prayer begins to reveal itself. Allowing a space of only three or four breaths before moving from one phrase to the next already provides a taste of what John Cassian (360-345) found in the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer, he said, “raises up those making use of it to that prayer of fire known to so few…to that ineffable prayer which rises above all human consciousness, with no voice sounding, no tongue moving, no words uttered.”
To “make use” of the prayer is to submit to a practice of listening in silence. There is a demand, but along with the demand comes help. We enter into the radiance of the Lord’s Prayer, and into a divine atmosphere. We turn aside from our preoccupations, our wishes, our aims and ends and means, and find a Presence waiting for us in the silence.