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.
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.
“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
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.