Friday, November 28, 2014

Mysticism and the Normal Life of Faith

What's on my mind today is a phrase I've heard in various settings. This was not directed to me personally, but to an audience of which I was a part: Of course you've had touches of mystical experience. If you hadn't, you wouldn't be here.

This phrase strikes me like summer. Summer is when the warmth in the air allows the pores in my skin to open fully and soak in the comfort of not needing layers of clothes to produce heat for me. Summer is when I don't have to buffer myself against my environment. I can just be. Such peace, beauty, and union with all that is good.

People get afraid of the term mysticism for many reasons. I would simply call it the experience of God, who is real. Now, granted, I realize a lot more theological nuancing than that is necessary, but let's take it for granted that I am speaking of someone who is in union with Christ's Church and in submission to his Bishop who is in union with Rome. It also presupposes a healthy prayer life rooted in Scripture, liturgy, and community. It supposes that one is seeking to live a life of virtue and penance and mortification from sin in all its forms, but probably especially pride.

But with all that, mysticism is simply life with God, who is real, personal, and who acts as such. God is Emmanuel.

Years ago when blogging was still new I remember reading a Catholic blog where someone had the courage to ask whether mystical experiences were a common factor in people's stories of conversion. Several people tentatively acknowledged this to be true, almost as if they were letting out a closely held secret. Perhaps it is because Catholics are talking more with each other via social networking, or maybe it is because of the particular circles in which I move, or maybe it is a broader move of God, but since that time I have heard countless stories from regular ol' Mass-going sinners about experiences of God intervening in the course of their lives by vision, locution, revelation, and visitations of various sorts. For believers, it seems completely normal.

These things don't make people holy or special, or even necessarily does it mean that they understand what God may have been trying to convey. I also know that real visitations from God can be grossly misconstrued and dangerously interpreted so that people run off in weird and dangerous directions. I'll never understand why God is so peaceful with allowing us humans to play such an active role in the salvation of the world. I mean, I get it, but it puts me in awe. God takes such risks and is patient with so much foolishness from us. If we were better at acknowledging these simple truths, I believe there would be less foolishness because everyone would be better equipped to speak to these experiences, and fewer people would be deceived by the further ends of weirdness.

Bottom line: I believe that Christianity is broken and in serious danger when we do not consider that our faith and life have this mystical dimension as a part of being normal and healthy. We say we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and is that not a mystical reality? My goodness, yes. If we lose these basics, a faith becomes a ritual-based morality system that is opposable based on personal taste and perceived "common good." But if Almighty God interacts with human beings, well then, every knee needs to bow to this ultimate reality and every heart needs to align itself with it.

If Christianity is not mystical it is worthless.

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