Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is a Mystic?


The words "mystic" and "mysticism" date back to the 17th century, although the experiences that define this group of Godly individuals go back to the time of Jesus' early disciples. Mystics dotted the pages of church history throughout the past two thousand years in the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant streams of the Body of Christ. What unified them all was experiencing supernatural encounters with the Presence of God.
While Christians as early as the second century used the word "mystical" to describe their supernatural encounters with the risen Lord, they would not have considered themselves to be "practicing mysticism" any more than they would have considered themselves to be "practicing Christianity." Christianity was inherently mystical because it expected individuals and local bodies to experience and respond to the immediate experience of Jesus Christ. through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Over the centuries, as the study of doctrine, knowledge about God, gradually supplanted ever increasing experience with God as the central element of Christianity, the number of people having intimate encounters with the Lord dwindled. Because their experiences were so different from the norm, these people became to be known as mystics, or contemplatives, which simply means "those who behold the Lord." Mary of Bethany and John the beloved disciple became their role models for abandonment and single minded passion for Jesus.
What we call Christian "mysticism" is a collection of practices, which these people found effective for encouraging this abandonment and opening their hearts to receive the love of God. Among the better known mystics in the western church are John of the Cross, Jeanne Guyon, Bernard of Clairvaux, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich.
The mystics considered the goal of Christian experience to be an intimate, abiding spiritual communion with Jesus Christ or what the apostle Paul described as "being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." This goal has gone by many names over the centuries, but it is most commonly described as a spiritual marriage between the individual soul and Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom. Not surprisingly, the mystics' theology was heavily colored by the language and imagery of the Song of Songs.
The mystics describe the spiritual pathway as the experience of having one's heart progressively captured by the loveliness of Christ. They described their road something like this: in the beginning we knew God at a distance, through the testimony of others and the written word. As a result we began to desire Him and seek after Him, opening our hearts to Him so that the Holy Spirit could communicate the love of God to us directly. This love became like a blazing fire that began to burn up the roots of sin and purify us of our self seeking motives so that we could come to love Him and all things for His sake alone. For them the spiritual marriage was a state of learning to abide in the loving embrace of Jesus and, from that place, looking only to Him and doing what He wanted for their lives.
Experiencing the loving embrace of Jesus Christ is not reserved for a few super spiritual people. Jesus has offered to come and dwell fully in all of us to make us all "mystics." Maybe that's one reason why we've all been praying, "More, Lord."

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