Many people misunderstand what it means to be a mystic. They have this image of a person living in a cloister, hiding in a hermitage on a mountain, or sitting in a unique position gazing at their belly and repeating sacred words to connect with God. This image may reflect what some mystics have done at some points in history, but the mystical life is not a life separated from the ordinariness of life. In fact, the mystical life is one of living connected and united to God “IN” the ordinariness of life.
I have been blessed to experience this way of living the mystical vocation because of my connection to the Benedictine community. I was educated at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe Pa. St. Vincent’s Monastery is the oldest Benedictine community in the United States. Benedictines have had a tradition of allowing people who are not monks connect to their monastery and live a monastic life as much as they possibly could. This unique connection includes making sacred promises in front of the community to live in a way that reflects Benedictine practices and values. The people who do this are called Oblates. I’ve been an oblate connected to St. Vincent’s Monastery for a long time. My formation required me to develop a cycle of prayer reflective of how and when the monks pray as well as a willingness to follow the Rule of St. Benedict as best as I can in the life I live. To be an Oblate means developing a balance of living in the world while also following the monastic traditions. I didn’t find that balance easily, it took discipline, prayer, and an understanding wife. In fact, at one point my wife had to remind me I wasn’t a professed monk and I had responsibilities to her, our children, and my job which was essential for feeding the whole gang that I could not ignore. I had to learn to be an oblate did not mean being a monk, it meant being Benedictine in the world in a different way.
The mystical life is very much like this as well. Yes, our focus must be like that of all believers, a focus completely dedicated to God. God doesn’t like an adulterous heart; he wants a heart focused completely on him. However, God is patient and realizes for many this total focus takes a lifetime to make real. Along with this, living for God alone doesn’t mean excluding everyone else in your life nor does it mean becoming a person completely disconnected from the way of the world. Stephen Rossetti explains it like this:
“Living for God alone does not necessarily mean leaving one’s family or place of business. While time away from the distractions of the world can be a great help in fostering this relationship with God, especially in the beginning, mystics will have to find the place and modality in which they are called to find the Lord.”
I am a husband, father, and professor of psychology. I am also a minister, consultant, and therapist. I do a number of different things but within these different things is a common vocation to love God above all else, serve those he places in my life in a loving way, and care for creation. What I do matters less than what I am. What I’m called to be is what is most important. Who I am is expressed through what I do and what I am is a created human being called to experience a complete union with God.
It’s very important those reading this post remember this very important fact. Too often we want to run away from our daily activity in order to pursue God but the reality is God is already right where we are. This is what I love about the Benedictine vow of stability. It’s a vow (or in the case of an oblate a promise) taken that means the individual will seek to stay within the place God has placed him or her in order to find God in the present situation. Mysticism is not escapism, rather it’s a way to know God more profoundly in the midst of life. Be attentive to your situation and seek God, you may be surprised to find how close he is to you right where you are.