This article in Seedbed is a couple years old, but it’s one of my favorite pieces of writing on Christian mysticism. Why? Because it takes some of the mystery out of mysticism. We often think that a mystical experience must be ecstatic, perhaps involving tears and visions. Or that it’s the preserve of a very saintly kind of person.
Donald Richmond, a clergyman and a Benedictine oblate, explains that this is not the case. Mysticism is not only practical but also essential to a vibrant, everyday faith — it “is central to the revealed religion of the Bible.” Every Christian who longs to encounter God, who wants her faith to be real and lived, is a mystic. Richmond writes:
When we read our Bibles . . . mystical experiences were frequently referenced. Enoch walked with God. Moses had his burning bush. Abraham entertained “angels.” Gideon spoke with “God.” Samson experienced supernatural strength. Mary spoke with an angel. The disciples saw Jesus transfigured and personally worked wonders. Mysticism is Bible-based religion.
What is mysticism, why does it matter, and how are we practical mystics? The answer to these questions partially resides in formulating a proper definition. After many years of thought, I have arrived at the following: Mysticism is a direct encounter with God by Christ through the Holy Spirit as often (although not always) mediated through Holy Scripture, Sacraments, and Christians living as “saints.”
Christian mysticism is direct encounter. That is, mysticism is experiential religion. It is philosophy (the love of wisdom) practiced.
Practical mysticism matters. We are hardwired for an experiential faith. We want to “know” penetratingly intense intimacy with God. When the Psalmist wrote, “my flesh yearns for [God],” his words highlighted both desert experience and ardent desire.
Reflection: Have you ever thought of yourself as a mystic?