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. 

 

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The Lost Mystical and Charismatic Experience and Spiritual Growth

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What does one do after having a profound experience of God?  The Christian mystic values this experience, and it can be important for spiritual growth.  However, what does the mystic or charismatic Christian do when the experience disappears? The beginning mystic often mistakes the profound experience of God as if it were God himself.  The truth is of course that the experience of God emerges from our awareness of his constant perpetual presence in our lives. The experience of his presence occurs when we overcome our indifference to God’s ever-present place among his creation and allow ourselves to dwell with him. This realization is, however, dangerous to the new mystic because the experience of God is not God himself, it is simply an awareness of God.  One might say it is a gift from God but one that can dissipate and disappear. We cannot chase the experience of God as if it is God. Instead, we must use it to know God in a more profound and mystical way. One cannot make the experience of God an idol replacing God himself.

In traditional Christian writings, these powerfully overwhelming experiences of God are called consolations and they’re the result of the Christian’s new awareness of God in his or her life.  When we acknowledge that a powerful God is right here among us, we are exuberant and joyful. This new awareness can cause us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues, weep with joy, or be carried away in worship of this powerful God.  For many people, this experience is a type of second conversion in which what they know in their minds becomes powerfully real in their lives. We know about God, but with this new experience, we know we dwell with God and are surrounded by him. We experience the fact we live, move, breathe, and exist in his powerful presence and are moved by that experience.  With the recognition of this powerful presence, we see all the things we once thought were important, valuable, and special as nothing more than straw.

There is a dark side to this experience of God that must be acknowledged.   Often, the one who has a profound experience of God experiences spiritual pride.  Spiritual pride puffs us up and makes us believe somehow we have earned this experience of God by what we have done.  We must have performed the right rituals, been in the right place, or said the right prayers to be able to have this profound experience of God.  We believe we have achieved a high spiritual status and we begin to judge those who have not had that experience as spiritually inferior.

Along with this judgemental attitude comes the belief that we must continue to exercise spiritual disciplines in an unbalanced way.  They become overt badges of pride that mark us as true Christians. We make sure people know we are fasting, pray very publically, and make very public professions of our faith.  We attempt grand miracles of healing and speak loudly in tongues for everyone to see. The purpose of this unbalanced practice of spiritual things is to maintain the experience. We are addicted to the mystical experience and believe we can continue to make it manifest by what we do… except we can’t.  At some point, the profound experience disappears. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back but at some point, it’s gone. This is when we no longer merely partake of the milk and soft food of the spiritual life but rather feed on the solid food required for continued growth. This is when our experience of God matures and our mystical walk with God moves forward.  How does it move forward? By learning trust. For the new Christian to dive more deeply into the experience of God they must let go of control and embrace a true trust in God.

When you no longer experience the profound experience of God you must trust he is ever present as he is when you experienced him in your mystical prayer.  You must trust God is there in the emptiness, in the suffering, in the hopelessness. The mystic learns to feed on the solid food of the spiritual life which is the mystery that God is present even when it seems like he is not.  God is mystically present in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. God is mystically present in the anointing of our sick brother or sister with the sacred oil. God is present when we pray over someone needing encouragement and God is present when we gather and listen to his holy word.  God is present even when we don’t feel like it is so. This is when our life becomes both a prayer of trust and a prayer of gratitude. This is when the charismatic and mystical Christian’s life begins to take root in the individual.

Stephen Rosetti describes it like this:

“In the midst of consolations, we feel very holy and very special.  But when the milk of God disappears and we return to earth, we feel a bit humbled and very ordinary.  Thank God that we are brought back to earth, lest we be swallowed up in our spiritual pride! A drop of humility and a sense of our frail humanity are more salvific than any sweet consolation.”

Perhaps the mystical life is not merely one of seeking the experience of God but always being mindful of the presence of God in the charismatic gifts and in the hidden sacramental mystery of Christian practice.  Perhaps we can truly begin to know the mystery of God when we accept what we know and experience is not God himself but a simple gift to be treasured when it is had, mourned when it is lost, but always treasured as a step closer to knowing the unknowable mystery of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.