Peter on Mysticism and Facebook in a Time of Crisis

Peter on Mysticism and Facebook in a Time of Crisis November 21, 2016

I read poetry in the mornings. Or theology. Or I journal. Sometimes I meditate, occasionally I will put a prayer into words. It’s a daily spiritual practice, and it helps keep me grounded and centered and sane.

It also draws me into thinking about the deepest levels of reality. I wonder about the relationship between human consciousness and the Divine. I read Plotinus and the Sefer Yetzirah and Erwin Schrödinger and I sit with their thoughts as I might sit staring into the heart of an intricate puzzle, working at it some with my mind but also just letting their insights soak into my unconscious.

I’ve been carrying around Rilke’s Book of Hours the way some Christians carry around their Bibles, and lately I’ve been going back to the original German and hammering out my own translations. It leads me into a much deeper reading, and here and there I think I’ve picked up shades of meaning in the text that were missed by more literate translators. They are poets reading mystical poetry, while I am a mystic reading mystical poetry.

God speaks to each person before we are formed from the clay
And then, in silence, walks alongside each of us out of the night.
The words, clouded by memory as we emerge,
Are these:

You go now to a place beyond understanding.
Follow your longing, all the way to its end,
And let me walk each step within you.
Blaze up like fire, bright,
And let the shadows cast by all you see
Cover me entirely.

Let in all of it: beauty and horror.
Just go! Neither pain nor joy is final.
Hold fast to me
As we draw near to this land
Called life.

You will know it
By its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Book of Hours I, 59
my translation

Lately I find myself very reluctant to post on Facebook about Rilke, or anything about my spiritual life. For the last couple of weeks we have been living in a fragile democracy where the president elect is appointing white supremacists as advisers. It’s scary. It demands action to protect the weak and disenfranchised among us, and it demands vigorous, loud, continuous protest.

I have heard people say, “It’s in God’s hands now. God is calling the shots. I’ll just trust in Him.” The temptation is to retreat from the crises of the world into a quietist, introspective spirituality. We want to leave the world situation in God’s (or the Gods’) hands and to forget what Theresa of Avila told us, that “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.”

Facebook is a public forum. It seems like Facebook ought to be a place where we can come together and where our individual experiences can coalesce into public opinion and into a movement. But it’s not.

Facebook is an echo chamber, feeding everyone only the posts and updates that they want to read, and Facebook is ad-driven, full of click bait. Conspiracy theories and forecasts of doom make good copy, and the real dangers facing our country get lost in the self-indulgence and the hysteria.

So how can I talk about grounding our actions in the promptings of Spirit when our society is in such a moment of crisis? Perhaps I should close with the words of Rufus Jones, a Quaker writing in 1943:

While I am writing this, the world seems to be collapsing into a primitive chaos of revolution and destruction. It appears to be reverting to a barbarism of hate and blind, self-destructive conflict. The discourse of every hand is about bombing planes, resources of gasoline, the explosive power of chemicals, the control of naval and air bases, the conscription of men, and the collecting of scrap iron. What a time t his is to talk of the soul’s discovery of God! In the midst of the destruction of the capitals of the world, the cry of mangled children and the waste of the supreme creations of genius, who has an ear for the dream of the soul’s communion with Eternal Love and Beauty?

Worshipping in the Woods
Worshiping in the Woods (photo by Cat Chapin-Bishop)

It has been strangely enough, in such epochs of desolation and confusion that the mystics of history have borne their testimony to the Reality of God and to the resources by which men live. We cannot prepare ourselves for the tasks of rebuilding the shattered world by merely knowing facts, the facts of history and the facts of our laboratories, we must get back to the springs and sources of life, to an experience that fortifies and undergirds us for life, for living. It is now if ever that we need the voice of those who “listening to the inner flow of things, speak to the age out of Eternity.”

Rufus Jones
New Eyes for Invisibles, pp. 160-161
including a quote from Lowell’s Columbus.

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