The Mystical Life – The Communal Life

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Fr. Stephen Rossetti writes the following that will guide our reflection on growing in the mystical/charismatic life for this post:

“The dangers of self-delusion, whether being misled by the evil one or simply exercising bad judgement, are very real.  I have seen some people, in the wake of what appeared to be genuine mystical experience, all but destroy their family in the belief that they were called to a “special” life, away from their worldly responsibilities.  Several others have fallen into a kind of “quietism” in which their meditations only served to dampen their emotional lives, not enliven them.  Others have understood their mystical graces as a sign they were called out of their communities of faith to follow a solitary, unique journey.  However, the path they chose did not take them into true solitude, but left them without community support, emotionally isolated, and at a spiritual dead end.”

His words are a striking warning for those desiring a deeper more meaningful relationship with Christ because the relationship one desires is a deeply personal one.  The very personal nature of this relationship leads us to believe the mystical and charismatic experiences of God are subjective individual experiences and no one else can understand how we feel.  Unfortunately, those sentiments are more a reflection of our sin nature than of the deep mystical union the Christian seeks with God.  Believing the relationship you have with Christ is only about you and Jesus has its root in our prideful nature rather than the grace of the Holy Spirit.  What Fr. Rossetti writes in this chapter serves as a profound warning about limiting our experience of God to the purely subjective dimension to the point we ignore important outside objective voices that can help guide our spiritual growth.

Fr. Rossetti points to three very important voices that should guide our subjective experience of God to keep us grounded in the spiritual realities of the Christian faith.  The first voice guiding our mystical experience is our faith community.  These are the people who know us intimately, prayed with us, mourned the loss of loved ones with us, and celebrated weddings, baptisms, and numerous birthdays with us.  These are the people who have helped us grow in Christian fellowship and hospitality.  They are important people who keep us from acting impulsively on misguided self-delusions.

The second voice is that of a trusted spiritual friend, director, or brother; whatever name you give to that one person you “dwell” with frequently.  It may be your spouse or it may be a minister you trust.  Whoever it is, let them be for you as Jonathan was to David.  You need someone, and perhaps someone who is more spiritually mature than you, to help guide you through the process of spiritual growth.

Lastly, and in my opinion, most importantly, listen to the word of God.  When I say the word of God I am not meaning prophetic words spoken over you (These may be a part of the many voices you listen to but not necessarily the most important) by a church member, rather I mean the sacred scriptures of God.  This is the purest of revelation of God.  Fr. Rossetti says it this way:

“And of course, the greatest book to guide us is the living word of God.  The sacred scriptures not only guide us infallibly toward the Father, this word carries within it the living spirit of God.  Thus, the word of God is our surest guide and is itself a boundless source of grace.”

If one wants to truly discern the experience of God from our own psychology or worse yet, from the illusions Satan uses to cause our religion to be a divisive force in our lives and that of others, we need to be connected to other people.  We need our faith communities, a mature spiritual friend who knows us well, and yes, we need to be students of the word of God.  Don’t let your personal sin misguide you into calling what is selfish and self-focused holy and Godly.  Let God convict you, your spiritual gifts serve others, and your life be poured out for the people God places in your life.  The mystical charismatic life of the Christian is one lived out in community with others to serve the Kingdom in such a way that those you encounter grow and flourish spiritually.  The greatest litmus test for the mystical charismatic life is simple; do those who know you feel loved?  If so, God is served well.

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Judging Others Invites Control and Separation

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One of the most important lessons the mystic learns is that he or she cannot judge other people.  Yes, we’re all taught not to judge others as children, but the reason we’re given is based on the fact judging others can be hurtful.  While there is a good reason not to be “judgmental” there are even more profound reasons the mystic comes to appreciate this mandate.  Judgment is a vailed exercise in control and separation.  The mystic knows one cannot control things nor be separated from the rest of the world to grow spiritually.  There are mystical traditions that emphasize control and separation, but the Christian tradition does not believe these are the keys to a deeper relationship with God.  Christian mystics are not gurus sitting on mountains away from the rest of the world developing special powers.  They are men and women connected to the rest of humanity who must trust God with everything.  Judging people separates you from them and gives you a false sense of control.  Stephen Rossetti writes this in regards to the controlling nature of judging others:

“The first step in this process of letting go of control is seemingly simple: do not judge.  An early and essential step in the mystic journey is to stop judging others and, eventually, to stop judging oneself.  This judging is our way of labeling, controlling, and demeaning.  Instead, we must begin the process of trying to stop thinking and controlling everything.  We must simply allow things to be.”

When we no longer judge we engage reality in its most raw form.  Not judging doesn’t mean being content or accepting of how things are, rather it causes us to engage reality as it is in order to understand God in a deeper way.  I can know I’m a sinful human being.  Yet, I suspend judging myself for being that very thing in order to understand the mystery of my redemption more clearly.  I don’t have to accept my sinful state as being “okay”, only know it’s truly what I am and keep myself from rationalizing it away to protect my fragile ego.  I can accept the fact God loves me and draws me closer to him even though I am a profound sinner.  There is nothing I do to control the situation; it flows from God’s initiative and is completely controlled by him.  If I keep from judging these theological truths, I can have a deeper appreciation for what grace is and enter into its very mystery.

Rosetti also touches on the way judging others invites us into a world of division.  We can’t be connected to those we judge; they are different from us.  This division even includes self-judgment.  When we judge ourselves, we disown parts of who we are.  When we invite a world of division into reality, we accept an illusion that distorts the unified nature of reality.  Rosetti writes:

“Each time we judge others we separate ourselves from them.  We wound our inner selves and we step back from really “touching” and “tasting” the truth.  Ultimately, we step back from touching and tasting God.”

The mystic learns to refrain from judging others, oneself, God, and the way things should be to enter into the mystery of the divine presence in the hear and now.  Too often we run from reality by judging it and separating ourselves from it.  However, when we enter into raw reality, we encounter its very source, a God who waits for those he loves to enter into the mystery that is his triune life.

When the Knowledge of Sin Can Set You Free – The Mystical Awareness of Being Broken

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Sin is a heavy burden.  Perhaps the best way to understand this burden is to compare it to what we experience when we become overweight and physically unfit.  As we gain weight our bodies become overtaxed and we become more limited in what we can do.  We don’t notice the extra work our bodies need to perform or the mobility we’re losing because it happens gradually over a long period of time.  Very few people wake up one morning weighing 30 pounds more than when they fell asleep.  We don’t realize we can’t walk as far, climb the steps like we did in the past, or run as fast as we could when we were in a better physical state.  Because these limitations creep up on us little by little we’re almost completely unaware of how much being physically unfit is limiting what we can do.  Even worse, we seldom realize how much we have stopped doing things just so we can maintain the illusion that we’re okay and these physical barriers aren’t really a part of our life.  Instead of taking the stairs, we take the elevator.  Instead of walking to the store, our favorite restaurant, or to work, we drive or take an Uber.  It’s an unconscious decision we make to choose a more accommodating lifestyle rather than acknowledge our limitations and the need to change.  We become slaves to our limitations because we never acknowledge them.  We refuse to see our life as it is so we can continue to live with the illusion we’re okay.

The same problem occurs in our spiritual lives.  We slowly allow sin to become a burden and it starts to limit what we do.  As long as we refuse to acknowledge sin in our lives we will grow more and more spiritually handicapped.  We will forget how to forgive, be grateful, and ultimately love.  This is why one of the greatest hurdles in the spiritual life is to face the fact we have sin in our lives and it’s limiting us from being the profoundly beautiful creature God created us to be.  The mystic understands the paradox that as one grows closer to God one begins to see the sinful creature they are.  By drawing closer to the light one begins to see the darkness they have in their life.  If you refuse to acknowledge the darkness you never get to draw closer to the light which is God himself.  As Rosetti writes in the book When the Lion Roars:

“When we do not see the beauty of goodness and God, we are not fully aware of the tragedy of sin.  We must not underestimate the damage of sin.  This is a danger of our time.  If the previous error was to overemphasize our sinfulness, our era underestimates the reality and horror of evil and sin.”

The knowledge of our sinfulness is a grace given by God as we draw closer to him.  It is grace because when it’s acknowledged and we allow his life to transform ours, we live a more beautiful life.  When we face sin for what it is, claim it as our own, and allow God to purge us of its presence what remains is the divine presence reflected in us.  We are no longer hindered in our exercise of the Christian life but rather we are free to love, exercise peace, be patient, kind, and sincere.  To know our sin is to become free of its power because when we know it we can turn it over to Christ who exchanges his life for ours and therefore the life we live is not our own, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2: 19-21).

Be free of sin by acknowledging it, confessing it, and allows God to dwell within you.  If you won’t do that you will be forever spiritually trapped and never exercise the virtue you were created to live.  By being free from sin and embracing God’s life in you, you can reflect his goodness and virtue in the simplest acts of love that make an ordinary day an extraordinary moment.

Prayer is to Dwell with God

 

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When one prays they find themselves dwelling with God.  This realization grows over time as you mature in the mystical life.  At first, you speak with God sharing your hearts concerns believing God listens to every word you speak.  In this way, you discover you dwell with a God who hears the concerns, needs, fears, hopes, joys, and sorrows of those who love him.  Then, gradually your spirit begins to hear the still and quiet voice of God whether in a crowd or a quiet place in the garden.  This is another way of dwelling with God as his Spirit impresses itself upon you communicating his presence to your very soul.  Then, when you have progressed further along your spiritual walk, it’s not only your conversations with God allowing you to know you dwell with him, rather it’s in knowing his continual presence surrounds you with every breath you take.  God is in you, above you, below you, beside you, and permeates all of creation upholding and lifting you up. 

It’s when your eyes see the eternal in the temporal, your ears hear heavenly choirs within worldly things, and your mind grasps paradoxical truths within what appears to be illogical presuppositions that you know you dwell with God in a mystical way.  Prayer, when practiced in this way leads us to know we dwell in the very source of light and love and can never escape it.  Prayer is to dwell with God.

Tears for the Dead – Why We Cry For Our Loved Ones

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It shouldn’t surprise you that many of the behaviors associated with grief are similar to those associated with depression.  For example, people struggling with grief tend to have crying spells in which they weep and shed tears in an almost uncontrollable way.  Home might be a constant reminder of the deceased. When you lose a spouse you may cry when you look into the face of your children because they remind you of your husband or wife.  Different activities, traditions, family photos, home movies, foods, etc. are all reminders of the person who died and when you see them you experience a heavy sadness that leads to tears.  Excessive and sometimes uncontrollable crying is part of grieving.

Crying is an interesting experience.  If asked why we cry different experts provide a number of different answers.  Crying is often associated with the release of stress. It can be a sign of complete joy as well as complete despair.  Crying can be associated with the experience of awe when we experience beauty. With grief, however, it’s usually associated with pain, loss, and emotional wounds.  Some say crying makes things better, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes crying is just something we do and we don’t know why we do it nor does it make us feel any better.  It’s just the human response to feelings of despair, pain, and loss. There is a popular quote that is part of a larger writing on tears that is often attributed (Although many believe incorrectly) to Washington Irving.  Some say it was written by Rumi, and others claim it is an amalgamation of a number of combined quotes. Whether it’s Irving who wrote this or some other anonymous soul, this brief piece of writing does a wonderful job of capturing the breadth of what it means to grieve with tears:

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, of unspeakable love. If there were wanting any argument to prove that man is not mortal, I would look for it in the strong, convulsive emotion of the breast, when the soul has been deeply agitated, when the fountains of feeling are rising, and when tears are gushing forth in crystal streams. O, speak not harshly of the stricken one—weeping in silence! Break not the deep solemnity by rude laughter, or intrusive footsteps. Despise not a woman’s tears—they are what make her an angel. Scoff not if the stern heart of manhood is sometimes melted to tears of sympathy—they are what help to elevate him above the brute. I love to see tears of affection. They are painful tokens, but still most holy. There is pleasure in tears—an awful pleasure! If there were none on earth to shed a tear for me, I should be loth to live; and if no one might weep over my grave, I could never die in peace.”

Perhaps in some way our tears are a tribute to the ones who pass away; a way of remembering with more than our minds, but with our very souls as well.  Maybe our tears are just one way we are reminded that we are more than just animals; rather we are creatures with souls that must find a way to express our transcendence in the face of mortal frailness.  Whatever the reason, it’s okay to cry when someone you love is no longer walking this world with you.  In fact, it does them homage and speaks the words that human language cannot express.

You Are Not What You Do

“For the Christian mystic, the first question should not be ‘What should I do?’ but rather ‘How should I be?’ The mystical journey is preeminently a life that focuses on being rather than doing. Mystics can be found in almost every walk of life and in every life circumstance and thus are largely indistinguishable in what they do. Rather, the sign of true mystics is in who they are” – Stephen Rossetti

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Today so much of our identity is derived by what we do that when what we do changes we go through an identity crisis. This is a problem for men in particular, but women struggle with this as well. When a man retires from his job he struggles to find a way to give his life meaning and purpose. Women experience this as well when their children leave home. A mother has been so identified as the person who cares for her children when they grow up and no longer need everyday care, she asks herself who she is. What we do becomes the determining factor for who we are. Our identity is deeply connected to what we do.

If there is any lesson the Christian mystic teaches us its that what you do does not determine who you are. Who we are is not determined by activity its determined by relationships. A Christian mystic is not defined by his or her job. Cooks are Christian mystics, plumbers are Christian mystics, school teachers, police officers, etc. are all Christian mystics. What they do is not what makes them a mystic its the relationship they have with God.

In the contemporary world we are very intentional about differentiating ourselves from one another because of our hyper individualism. While it was an error to identify ourselves by what we do, that error has been extended even further by people today. We are not just defined by what we do, we are defined by who we like to have sex with, whatever gender we decide we want to be, our political affiliation, the type of cell phone we use, etc. We are a mess because we now define ourselves based on so many temporary and changing trends, emotions, intuitions, and feelings that we no longer anchor ourselves in anything lasting.

We can learn a great deal from Christian mystics who define themselves by relationship rather than what they do, think, feel, etc. The Christian mystic learns he or she is a friend of God. The mystic understand the reality that they are loved by God. They know they are in a relationship with God and it is that relationship that primarily defines who they are not some shifting changing cultural idea. If we identify ourselves as anything other than a person in relationship with an eternal God we will lose ourselves as these temporal misguided ideas fade away and change. If you want to truly know who you are begin to see yourself in relationship to the eternal God. Then, when you lose your health, your youth fades, your job is eliminated, or your tastes and preferences change who you are remains firm. The mystic know their identity is in Christ and it is in that identity that they can remain confident. I am not what I do, I am a child of the most high God, loved when I am unlovable and cherished as the most valuable being in the universe. That is what the Christian mystic teaches us again and again.

The Rush to Witness to the Mystery Leads to Spiritual Pride

  

Think about the last time you ate at a restaurant and were overcome with how tasty the food was.  All you wanted to do was savor that experience, again and again, telling everyone you know how delightful it was.  The flavor of the food, how it smelled, and the lovely setting in which you dined makes you want to gather your friends together for what you tell them is the most wonderful dining experience they could ever have.  You’ve become an evangelist for this particular restaurant! You’ve embarked on a personal crusade to let everyone know this is the place to eat. 

Sometimes people experiencing God in a mystical and charismatic way do the same thing.  They have a profound experience of God and the first thing they do is tell everyone how God touched them in a special way.  While there is a place for sharing our experiences of God with others, the beginning mystic needs to be cautious of this desire to share.  It’s an understandable impulse, you just experienced God in the most profound way, but it’s often better to step back and explore the experience with more mature Christians before sharing it more broadly.  In fact, Rossetti states: 

“Launching out on a personal spiritual crusade at the beginning of one’s mystical journey is almost always a sign of spiritual pride.” 

The new mystic and the new Charismatic Christian often believes what they’ve experienced and the knowledge that comes from that experience is some new revelation God has tasked them to share with the “less spiritual” members of the church.  This is a dangerous idea because what God shares in these mystical and charismatic experiences is nothing new. There is no new revelation one is compelled to share with other people. All we need to know about God is already revealed in Christ.  The mystical experience is not a new revelation God has never shared before, rather it’s a new experience of the person of Christ who has been revealing himself to the world since time eternal. Again, we read this in Rossetti’s book: 

“What the beginner embarks on is not so much learning new ideas about God…the mystical journey imparts a different kind of knowing.” 

The mystic is not experiencing a new knowledge about God rather he or she is experiencing the same revealed truths about God in a new way; a mystical way.  What the mystic experiences is Christ, the complete revelation of God, in a profoundly different way. The mystical experience, as well as the charismatic experience of Christ, is not a way to acquire hidden knowledge about God, but rather it is a grace-filled experience of Christ that changes how we know him, not what we know about him. 

 It’s good we remain humble in our walk with Christ, even in that mystical and charismatic walk.  We must not be so quick as to try and convince others of the “rightness” of our experience or that they need to drink from the same stream of his grace as we do in order to know more about divine things.  All of us already drink from the same stream of God’s word. Some of us experience that water differently because God intends us to have unique experiences, but the water we all drink is the same water from the same stream.  It’s best for the new mystic to dwell in that experience and discuss it with those more mature in their faith walk. By doing this, God will distill the fruits of the Spirit in us so that when he is ready for us to share our experiences we do so as a conduit of his grace and not as a means to feed our own spiritual egos.