Christian Mysticism is a complex spiritual topic and defies easy definition. Historically, mysticism is defined as hidden, unspeakable, can’t be put into words, an awareness and experience of the reality of God beyond ritual, doctrine, and dogma.
Alan Watts (1915–1973), a British philosopher, put it this way: “The truth that religion, to be of any use, must be mystical has always been denied by the seemingly large number of people, including theologians, who do not know what mysticism is. . . . Its essence is the consciousness of union with God.”
Carl McColman, author of, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism-The Essential Guide To Contemplative Spirituality, offers perhaps the most precise definition: “Christian Mysticism is the spiritual encounter with a sacred mystery that cannot be put into words, but may be embodied through feelings, conscious awareness, experience, or intuition – or even through darkness or unknowing.” He goes on to provide a five-fold definition:
- Mysticism refers to the experience of God, which can range from an ordinary sense of “practicing the presence” to a truly extraordinary “peak” mystical experience;
- Mysticism also refers to an exalted level of consciousness: the sense of being enlightened or attaining nondual ways of knowing and seeing;
- Mysticism may point to someone who has extraordinary abilities: a truly gifted sense of Union with God, or the possession of supernatural, charismatic gifts;
- Mysticism can also mean having an abiding belief in God’s presence and intimate activity in one’s life, even without extraordinary experience or gifts;
- And finally, mysticism also points to the inner dimension of religious faith and practice, where religion means more than just an institution or a set of external rituals, but points to an interior transformation that has been nurtured by religious observance but ultimately transcends the limitation of religious dogma or institutional identity.
McColman goes on to say that mysticism is notoriously difficult to define and that any brief definition of mysticism must necessarily be limited and incomplete.
Once we have a definition, regardless of how imprecise, the next question we should answer is: Why Should Christian Mysticism Be Important To Me?
Why Should Christian Mysticism Be Important To Me?
Bernard McGinn, an American Roman Catholic theologian, religious historian, scholar of spirituality and specialist in Medieval mysticism, provides a compelling reason to pursue Christian Mysticism when he says, “Mysticism is a special consciousness of the presence of God that results in a transformation of the subject who receives it. It’s not enough to have wonderful theories about God. Authentic mystical encounter radically changes us and our way of living—our politics, relationships, economics.”
Spiritual Director and author Father Richard Rohr adds, “Until someone has had some level of mystical inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow in any life changing way the ethical ideals of Jesus or the mystery of Christian doctrines like the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, Salvation, or Incarnation. We simply don’t have the power to really understand or follow any of Jesus’ ideals such as loving others, forgiving enemies, nonviolence or the humble use of power except in and through a mystical union with God.” Rohr goes on to say that “mysticism teaches us how to find God, and a mystic is someone who has been recognized as doing this particularly well.”
Finding God, growing in love, experiencing oneness and union with God, radical life change, better understanding and followership of Jesus’ teachings…..all are profoundly important reasons for considering the mystical path. James Finley defines the mystical path as “through a personal commitment and an active discipline of meditation and reflection we discover an ever deepening awareness and realization of the god given godly nature we all have and of God’s infinite love and oneness with all things.” And, interestingly, all spiritual traditions, at their mature levels, agree that mystical experiences are possible, desirable, and even available to everyone.
Posted on October 13, 2020