Friday, March 8, 2013

The Christian Mystic

 Some people long for a deep, intimate connection with God. It seems only right for a human, with spiritual needs, to desire a "divine encounter" or "mystical experience". It  has almost become a spiritual "right" for a personal encounter with the divine. Yet, is a divine experience deserved for human beings? Is it even something right for us to desire? And, is it an actual or valid knowledge of God? 
We are drawn to mystical encounter because they seem to supersede the  dreary, meaningless routine of everyday life--it's as if they puncture it with "the divine" and connect with a place in ourselves that nothing else can. And it is true to an extent, for we are made for "divine encounters".

Another aspect that pulls us in is the "experiential" element. Our parents were raised in the day where "facts" were where the deepest knowledge was found.  After the technology boom and the birth of the internet the amount of information exploded and we could see how much life was much more than facts and formulas. As facts and formulas have faded, the value of life-experience as knowledge skyrocketed. Rather than books, graphs and lectures, personal experience is now our societies most valued source and most meaningful epistemological (the study of the nature of knowledge) exchange. Mysticism has become an outlet for our cultures lack of experiential knowledge, and gives us some clues on how to practice it (often while presenting us a new belief system).

 Mysticism can be found in all of the major world religions: The Christian Mystics of the Catholic Middle Ages, The Kabbalist in the Hebrew tradition, and Sufism in the Islamic tradition. It has also highly influenced New Age beliefs (which are often just a rebirth of old pagan beliefs) and it's themes are in Buddhism (Zen and some Yoga practices) and other transcendent-self systems (Eastern Religions like Taoism). Mysticism is vague and has been overly defined and re-defined, and enmeshed into almost every religious tradition as those who have "a personal experience of the divine". Often, in mysticism, the melding of philosophies and ethereal/emotional language blurs the lines between beliefs and a mystic either affirms that all experiences are valid and/or denies all basic belief sets or knowledge but the mystic-experience. 

Any tradition is easily embraced for someone searching for the "supernatural". We were created for some sort of mystical experience, but when we have these experiences, who are we encountering and where are they leading? All knowledge, even experiential, must lead somewhere, and we would be wise to ask who they are and where they are taking us--lest we end up in some hellish place or entrust a false or wicked guide. Those who used to go on long journeys followed guides who knew the safe destinations and places of rest and resource, or at least had a good, trustworthy map. If we are going to set out, we need to know with whom we go, and where. (and if you are exploring these things outside of the Christian context, ask these questions heartily, and examine to whom you entrust your life).