Sunday, April 23, 2017

Christian Mysticism is for the Commoner

It is a truism that Christian mysticism is difficult to define, and furthermore, that it renders mixed responses. A conservative, Protestant website like Got Questions Ministries deem the theology an oxymoron, while there is less hostility among Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. This becomes apparent when considering some of the prominent mystics, people like Augustine, Saint John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Teresa of Ávila, Thomas Merton, and Fr. Stephen Freeman. Most of these people were Catholics, save for Fr. Stephen Freeman who is an Orthodox Christian. Still yet, Christian mysticism has not been entirely separated from Protestantism, as made evident through the work of A. W. Tozer. In his introduction for The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, he defines 'mystic' as: "...that personal spiritual experience common to the saints of Bible times and well known to multitudes of persons in the post-biblical era ... [who is] aware of the Presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him."

The other day I was thinking to myself about the accessibility of mysticism to the Christian. All of us can relate to a dark night of the soul, or a time of spiritual dryness, but my guess is that there are many of us who have lacked Teresa's visions of Christ's appearance and resurrection, for instance. Those who have received the more ecstatic varieties of revelation from God must not be made subject to animosity, however; but rather, those who have lacked such experiences should know that as long as they are pursuing God, they are mystics. Paradoxically, a lack of a perceived closeness to God can assure the believer that they are close to God because, they are, in deed, seeking Him. I suppose these few remarks are not far off from the concept of the dark night of the soul, though. Perhaps the new understanding I have attained is that Christian mysticism is for both the eccentric and the commoner, and that commonality is a test by which it might ironically be overcome - in all its apparent sterility - and that spiritual reality will be seen in a place that seems, at first, non-spiritual. The dark night of the soul is a mystic phase of life rather than a meaningless phase that merely leads to Christian mysticism proper.

"If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere."
~ Oliver Holden


  1. That brand of mysticism (might call it Western mysticism, though I don't want to denigrate it necessarily) is rather particular since it depends on special dispensations from God--i.e., visions. I generally like to use mysticism to refer to man's experience of God through creation, which can happen in a few different ways. But in that sense, mysticism would be in reach of anyone as created beings, by necessity.

    1. Curious, which examples of creation would you list? If there's one example of creation I sense God through, it is the wind.

    2. If there's one thing in particular, it's clouds. Dunno what it is about them: