Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The Quest is Afoot! Journey in to Christian Mysticism
Now, initially, I thought I was looking for the way of a Prophet. When I would read about the Prophets in the Bible, they always seemed to possess a mystical quality-a knowing beyond knowing. I wasn’t looking for the great sage who sat on a hillside, cross legged, uttering “ohm” over and over again. They reminded me of that phrase about people who are “so heavenly minded, that they were no earthly good.” No, what I was looking for, was a way to grab on to the truths that meant something in the here and now and could be used for good in the here and now! And that is when I discovered the distinct difference between mysticism and prophecy.
Webster’s dictionary defines mysticism as “the doctrine or belief that direct spiritual apprehension of truth or union with God may be obtained through contemplation or insight in ways inaccessible to the senses or reason.” So a “mystic” is someone who practices this belief. A Prophet, on the other hand, as defined in Webster’s dictionary is “a person who by divine inspiration, declares to the world the divine will, judgments, etc.” So, the way I understand this, is that, a mystic does not necessarily “declare” anything to the world, like a Prophet. They are on a spiritual quest. So far, so good! This made sense.
I soon discovered though, in our modern world, mystic and mysticism, are terms loosely used! They run the gamut of philosophies and practices! That was not what I was looking for! I was looking for a Christ centered, Christian based example-Christian Mysticism. Did I mention that this is almost as muddy and undefined? It runs the gamut from Leslie Weatherhead and Norman Vincent Peale to Ernest Holmes with C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton thrown in, for good measure. If you go back to ancient times, the names that come up range from St. John of the Cross to Jeanne Guyon. Yes, clear as mud! I was about to throw up my hands in defeat!
Fortunately, this is the point when I came in to possession of Morton T. Kelsey’s book “The Other Side of Silence.” Although the book was published back in 1976, his words are as true for today as when he wrote the book! From the very beginning, I discovered that he put in to words, what I had been feeling. In the very first chapter he says this: “I found that I could read the Scriptures and say my prayers and offices with little sense of contact, almost no experience. Most of this activity came from my conscious mind. I was reading the bible like a student, voicing the prayers mostly as thought forms, and more and more the feeling grew of something lacking, of facing a dead end.”
This perfectly described my feelings about prayer and meditation! Why was it, that I could read the Bible and get so much out of it, but trying to follow all of the various forms of prayer left me feeling empty? He addresses this point in chapter 2: “…the meditative process is a many-faceted jewel…So many people like to emphasize certain forms of prayer or meditation such as prayer of thanksgiving or adoration. But these are completed only when one’s prayer life involves all the other aspects of his life, from one’s anguish and despair to volcanic and explosive anger.” (This is probably why I fell in love with Leslie Weatherhead’s book “A Private House of Prayer” because his imaginative room layout allows for such breadth of prayer and meditation.)
Further on, in chapter two, I experienced my biggest “ah-ha” moment, so far. He discusses the differences between introverts and extroverts. He starts off by saying that God “…wants each of us to seek Him in whatever way is the best for us individually, and He honors each personality and does not try to force us into any particular pattern or mold in order to relate to Him.” He then gives some examples of the different ways that each type experiences prayer and meditation, “…extroverts find meaning among people and in doing things, their prayer life will probably be geared to service with and to others….Introverts…find the inner world fascinating and easy to deal with. They are very likely to have no trouble finding an inner experience of God’s presence…Since they enjoy quiet, it is relatively easy for them to find time to meditate…”
Ah ha! Most of the books on prayer are written by individuals who find quiet, contemplative prayer as easy as breathing! I, on the other hand, try to sit quietly and hold a thought in my head but end up running a shopping list of thoughts through my head instead! Quiet contemplation is not my strength.
However, if I am in the garden pulling weeds, looking after plants, doing something active, I suddenly find myself with all sorts of insight into things that I might have been trying to pray about or that I had been struggling with! For me, gardening is a form of meditation! It wasn’t that I was a failure at prayer and meditation. The problem was that the methods I was trying to use were not the methods that worked best for me! That one realization was such an Eureka moment for me that I was astounded that I had not discovered this on my own! I felt like a weight had suddenly been lifted off of my shoulders!
And so, the mystical journey begins! I’m not sure where it will lead. I am positive that it will not always be easy. But knowing that God honors the journey is priceless! I’ll keep you posted.