Thursday, April 9, 2009

Collected Comments on Christian Mysticism

Mysticism is nothing more or less than a love-driven way of knowing God, that is centered in direct, immediate experience of God’s presence –- as contrasted with the efforts of our minds to think through, capture, and describe the object of our belief in clear language, theological subtlety, or scientific precision.

A little over 50 years ago, E. Allison Peers, the translator and biographer of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, noted that the word mystic had for some time “been getting into the wrong company.” For one thing, mysticism is consistently and confusedly identified with the highly publicized, easily dramatized special effects of the spiritual life – rare, exotic phenomena such as levitation and stigmata that mark the lives of some who have sought to live with God. But these effects are not the reward for spiritual success, signs of God’s approval, any more than their lack is a mark of spiritual failure, a sign of God’s indifference. “A mystic,” Peers wrote, “is a person who has fallen in love with God. We are not afraid of lovers -– no indeed, all the world loves a lover. They attract us by their ardor, their single-mindedness, their yearning to be one with the object of their love.” Mysticism is a way of living that makes this consciousness of God’s presence the shaping context, the compelling energy of our lives. John Kirvan, God Hunger

What is Christian mysticism? It is a way of living prayerfully and lovingly, being open to God’s presence, however it may appear. While this is experienced most in contemplative prayer, it does not mean withdrawing from the world. Truly effective, responsive action in the world needs to be filled with and informed by contemplative awareness. Here are some quotations from well-known Christian writers that attempt to describe contemplative Christian mysticism. (with gratitude to the Shalem Institute)

Christ filling the hearing, sight, touch, taste, and every sense Origen Hanging by God’s thread of pure Love Catherine of Genoa

Seeing through exterior things, and seeing God in them Thomas Merton

A blind feeling of one’s own being, stretching unto God The Cloud of Unknowing The pure, loving gaze that finds God everywhere Brother Lawrence

The mind’s loving, unmixed, permanent attention to the things of God Francis de Sales

Finding God in all things Ignatius of Loyola

A continual condition of prayerful sensitivity to what is really going on Douglas Steere

Seeing God in everything and everything in God with completely extraordinary clearness and delicacy Marie of the Incarnation

The window of the soul cleansed perfectly and made completely transparent by the divine light John of the Cross

Awareness, absorbed and amazed Teresa of Avila

The enlightening of the understanding, joined to the joys of God’s love Walter Hilton

Continual communion through all things by quite simply doing everything in the presence of the Holy Trinity Elizabeth of the Trinity

The mind, gazing upon the universe of God’s handiwork, rapt by the divine and infinite light Maximus the Confessor

The mind stolen from itself by the ineffable sweetness of the Word Bernard of Clairvaux

Divine wakefulness with pure and naked intuition Gregory of Nyssa

With the flash of one trembling glance, my mind arrived at THAT WHICH IS, but I could not fix my gaze thereon. Augustine

The alertness which finds everything plain and grasps it clearly with entire comprehension Hugh of St. Victor

Receiving the clarity of God without any means; a single nakedness that embraces all things Jan Van Ruysbroek

Right understanding, with true longing, absolute trust, and sweet grace-giving mindfulness Julian of Norwich

Awakening to the presence of God in the human heart and in the universe which is around us... knowledge by love Dom Bede Griffiths

The world becoming luminous from within as one plunges breathlessly into human activity Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

---- Mysticism has been in the past & probably ever will be one of the great powers of the world & it is bad scholarship to pretend the contrary. You may argue against it but you should no more treat it with disrespect than a perfectly cultivated writer would treat (say) the Catholic Church or the Church of Luther no matter how much he disliked them. ----

Uncontrolled, the hunger and thirst after God may become an obstacle, cutting off the soul from what it desires. If a man would travel far along the mystic road, he must learn to desire God intensely but in stillness, passively and yet with all his heart and mind and strength. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), British author. Grey Eminence, ch. 9 (1941).

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