At some point in time, have you wondered if God really exists? You may have asked God to show you a sign, any sign, that he or she is real. You want to know your prayers aren’t going out into an empty void, that your faith isn’t a sign of some deeply ingrained ignorance, that there truly is someone or something looking over our lives and world.
The mystics say they know God exists because they have experienced God firsthand.
There are those, past and present, who have made a personal connection to a greater force. They claim to have not only sensed the presence of God, but to have felt the Divine within themselves, permeating their entire being. They are labeled mystics and they have been around since the dawn of religion.
Mysticism is the knowledge of God that comes from a direct experience of God. This knowledge is not learned from years of religious study or by following a specific faith-based protocol. It is an experience that is felt deeply and convincingly within, sometimes unexpectedly, a vision or sense of something that is far outside the normal experiences of life.
In the book Mysticism, A Study and an Anthology, author F.C. Happold points out that mystical experiences are common to all religions. What stands out is not so much the differences in these experiences but their similarities. They often come out of nowhere and can be fleeting, but they leave an indelible mark on the recipient.
Happold writes of several modern-day mystics he has studied and how through their supernatural experiences they have found “an illumination and certainty which can rarely, if ever, be reached by the rational consciousness.” Two common themes emerge:
- Mystics discover the unity of all things or what Happold calls “a consciousness of the oneness of everything.” When describing his experience, one modern-day mystic described it like this:
A great peace came over me, I was conscious of a lovely, unexplainable pattern in the whole texture of things, a pattern of which everyone and everything was a part; and weaving the pattern was a Power; and that Power was what we faintly call Love.
- Mystics realize that the God we are looking for, and call out to in our times of need, is actually within us. Here’s another modern-day testimonial via Happold:
The room was filled by a Presence, which in a strange way was both around me and within me, like light or warmth. I was overwhelmingly possessed by someone who was not myself, and yet I felt I was more myself than I had ever been before…there was a deep sense of peace and security and certainty.
Happold largely focuses on the Christian mystics and highlights over a dozen, spanning several centuries and several countries. As previously noted, what stands out are the similarities of these experiences, each stressing a deep and personal connection with something greater than the self. Here are a few of my favorite first-hand accounts:
The French abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux: My curiosity took me to my lowest depth to look for Him, nevertheless, He was found still deeper…he had passed into my inmost parts. Only by the movement of my heart did I recognize his presence.
The philosopher Meister Eckhart (here referring to the soul as the feminine “she”): She plunges into the bottomless well of the divine nature and becomes so one with God that she herself would say that she is God…where God is, there is the soul and where the soul is, there is God.
The cloistered nun Julian of Norwich: God is nearer to us than our own Soul; for He is (the) Ground in whom our Soul stands…our Soul is kindly rooted in God in endless love.
The parish priest John of Ruysbroeck: Grace flows from within, and not from without; for God is more inward to us than we are to ourselves. God works in us from within outwards…not from without.
All these different mystics, separated by time and place, in the days before religious texts were widely circulated, come to conclusions that sound surprisingly alike. It is a stirring reminder that if you are seeking the presence of God in your own daily life, you should pause each day to locate and engage with the Divine within.
Here’s one more passage, from the English priest William Law and a book he wrote in the 1700s titled The Spirit of Prayer. Law believed in what he calls an “indwelling presence” and wrote that heaven is “as near to our souls as this world is to our bodies.” What follows are his lightly edited words, updated to modern-day language:
You see, hear and feel nothing of God, because you seek Him outside yourself. You look for Him in books, in the church and outward exercises, but you will not find him until you have found him in your heart. God is already within you, living, stirring, calling, knocking at the door. Look for him in your heart and you will never search in vain, for he lives there.