Embracing the Mystic

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There are words we hear which create an almost physical reaction in the people who hear them. Words like blue, hurt, and dog are common and easily read over or ignored in conversation. Words like azure, agonizing, and mongrel are less common and create a response in the person reading or hearing. These words are called trigger words. Trigger words create a strong emotional response because of our previous experience with the words. And although the idea of trigger words has taken on new meaning, writers and speakers use what are technically known as trigger words to evoke a visceral reaction from their readers.  

I ran across a religious trigger word today as I was going through my devotional reading. I was reading an article today in which Bruce Epperly writes, “Pentecost tells us that there is a mystic within each of us.” [1] Many people shy away from this term, mystic, believing it has something to do with new age movements or magic practitioners. The truth is, the word mystic is rooted in the idea of seeking out mysteries, specifically the mystery of God. Mystics are people of prayer and searching, people who look for the Holy Spirit working within and without. The Center for Action and Contemplation, a modern expression of Christian Mysticism says,

  • “A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. 
  • A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity.  
  • Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing.  
  • A Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself. 
  • If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you.  
  • For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.  
  • Saints embody goodness while mystics embody love. —Carl McColman  
  • The mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic. —William McNamara” [2]

These thoughts are not just random touchy, feely ideas. The idea and practice of mysticism has a long history church going back to our Jewish forebearers (see the Psalms for a myriad of examples) to Jesus and the disciples (see especially Jesus Final Discourse in John 14-17) and through to the monastics who continue to embody these practices today. Mysticism is a way of practicing the Jesus Way of Life, a means of experiencing God and sharing that experience with others while helping them grow in their own faith journey. 

Some suggestions for looking into the ideas of Christian Mysticism are:

  • Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, and Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010)
  • Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads Publishing Company: 2016)
  • Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)
  • Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009)
  • Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (Vintage Books: 1947, 1972)

[1] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2022/05/the-adventurous-lectionary-pentecost-sunday-2/

[2] https://cac.org/themes/introduction-to-christian-mysticism/