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.

Author: Dominick D. Hankle PhD

Dr. Hankle has 20 years of experience in pastoral counseling and pastoral ministry. He is founder of the organization “From Emmaus to Jerusalem,” that promotes sacramental healing, spiritual direction, and counseling. His publication and presentation topics include spiritual discernment, the use of the psalms in therapy, and healing from a holistic perspective. He has also written about the use of psychology in priestly formation and other faith topics. Dr. Hankle serves as a priest in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a convergence community and pastors a community in Virginia Beach called Emmaus Fellowship.

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