Discover the Tradition of Christian Mysticism

Listen to this Reflection

You may have heard the term Mystics before. This word appears in our media and culture. It describes someone other worldly, an ascetic, and with a strong spiritual connection. In my western context, these references often characterized mystics as exotic foreigners. It was a term I don’t recall hearing as a child in the Church.

It was during my study of Christian history that I discovered Christian Mysticism. It is a rich, long, and ongoing tradition. A tradition with roots in second temple Judaism. That expanded with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the spread of the early church. Weaving its way through nearly every denomination these past two millennia.

Christian Mysticism is a way of preparation, openness and practices that pursues direct and transformative experiences with God. Since the earliest days of the church, there have been people pursuing God in these ways. It crosses all denominations, even though the language used often differs. I invite you to look up a list of influential Christian mystics and their writings.

During the first centuries of the church, mysticism was spoken of in Latin as contemplatio – or contemplation. Contemplation in this context is another term that is misunderstood in common usage. To be contemplative involves sitting in silence, and quieting one’s body + mind. Allowing all thoughts and feelings to present themselves to you. Each one is seen, felt, and looked at to discern if it is from ourselves, or from God. This is often done explicitly without direction, context, or refrain. Mysticism can also involve much more vivid & felt experiences with God.

With Depths of Knowledge and Wisdom

In my experience of resting and silence with God, I find that I mostly meet myself. My thoughts, my bias, my feelings. This is why the greatest challenge to mysticism is ourselves. It is also why these practices have been so transformative for me personally.

My experience of Mysticism has been an exercise of “taking every thought captive.” To look for the ways I am showing up to myself. Seeing how God is showing me myself. A hopeful expectation that I will have the divine of God be present with me in ways that are certainly not myself.

For this to be done with confidence, we need to develop two things. We must deeply know ourselves, our emotional world, our biases, our leanings, our history, and our present context. We also must deeply know the person of Jesus from the Bible. God in the scriptures of the Bible is not presented in a single unified way. Instead, countless people speak of God from their understanding, perspective, and experience. Jesus is different. We still read of Jesus through the experiences and stories of others. Yet the cloudy veil between the divine and creation has never been thinner. As Jesus taught us, we see the Father in Jesus.

So we prayerfully and quietly rest. We invite the silence and experience it. We welcome ourselves, and we welcome God. We allow ourselves to pass through us and return to quiet waiting in the darkness with the Holy Spirit. That maybe today God will move us in quiet and subtle ways.

No Tradition alone

There are many traditions within Christianity. Each one of them invites us to become less, to be broken and humbled by the Father. Mysticism can mislead us. With its emphasis on experiences with God, it can easily become an idol for us. We can find ourselves believing that these experiences are the purpose of life. Elevating our hope for these moments over the very God who we hope to dwell with, to live with, and who gives us life. God’s love and presence are gifts one can never earn, deserve, or command.

Let us remember. To follow Jesus means that we continue his work. Let us reflect once again on the opening words from Isaiah 61. The words Jesus proclaimed over himself and the work he was sent to do. The work we continue to do with Jesus in our world.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
    because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to set free those who are oppressed,
    to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Luke 4:18-19/Isaiah 61 (NASB)

Photo Credit
Paul Prins on 23 August 2021 in ‎⁨Plougonvelin⁩, ⁨Brittany⁩, France

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