Mysticism

MYSTICISM: The Nature Of Mysticism—A Heuristic Sketch (Part Two) by Bernard McGinn

November 29, 2017

From The Foundations of Mysticism The Nature Of Mysticism—A Heuristic Sketch (Part One) Inspired in part by the seminal work of Joseph Maréchal, but especially by my reading of the texts that have been accepted as mystical classics in the history of Christianity, both East and West, I have come to find the term “presence” a more central and more useful category for grasping the unifying note in the varieties of Christian mysticism.  Thus we can say that the mystical element in Christianity is that part of its belief and practices that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the reaction to what can be described as the immediate or direct presence of God. The ways in which this special form of encounter with God have [...]

POETRY: Immersion by Denise Levertov

November 29, 2017

There is anger abroad in the world, a numb thunder, because of God’s silence. But how naïve, to keep wanting words we could speak ourselves, English, Urdu, Tagalog, the French of Tours, the French of Haiti… Yes, that was one way omnipotence chose to address us—Hebrew, Aramaic, or whatever the patriarchs chose in their turn to call what they heard. Moses demanded the word, spoken and written. But perfect freedom assured other ways of speech. God is surely patiently trying to immerse us in a different language, events of grace, horrifying scrolls of history and the unearned retrieval of blessings lost for ever, the poor grass returning after drought, timid, persistent. God’s abstention is only from human dialects. The holy voice [...]

POETRY: Thirst by Mary Oliver

November 22, 2017

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly [...]

MYSTICISM: Caryll Houselander—An Appreciation by Robin Maas

November 15, 2017

From Crisis Magazine In the midst of all the shouting it can be extremely difficult to hear the voices of spiritually powerful women who have come to terms with Holy Mother Church. Such women have found in the church, in their own femininity as well as in hers, a deep and satisfying sacramentality. One such voice is that of the lay spiritual theologian Caryll Houselander. Both her substantial corpus of writing and the particulars of her personal history provide a rich source of hope and encouragement for all who struggle with flawed family relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and personal disappointment – for these were her legacy. She became perhaps the most popular spiritual writer of her day, sought out for her guidance, and dearly [...]

POETRY: The Rosary by Frances Caryll Houselander

November 15, 2017

In the doorway of a low grey house, built of stones as old as the Crusades, a woman of Bruges sits in the sunlight, among the flowers, saying her Rosary. She seems to be carved out of season walnut and polished smooth by the constant touch of the hand of God, and the beads that twine her crippled fingers are scarlet berries on the thorny twigs. The running rhythm and the repetition of the Paters and the Aves is like the rhythm that in nature moves through the seasons from seed to harvest with the unity and the pause and stress of music; like the bloodstream of Christ, that flows through the seasons from Advent to Easter in the Liturgy of the Church, the ebb and flow of the tide of love in the Mystical Body of Christ. II God has given His [...]

MYSTICISM: The Nature Of Mysticism—A Heuristic Sketch (Part One) by Bernard McGinn

November 8, 2017

From The Foundations of Mysticism According to the great mystical Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Ávila: I used sometimes, as I have said, to experience in an elementary form, and very fleetingly, what I shall now describe.  When picturing Christ in the way I have mentioned, and sometimes even when reading, I used unexpectedly to experience a consciousness of the presence of God of such a kind that I could not possibly doubt that he was within me or that I was wholly engulfed in him.  This was in no sense a vision: I believe that it is called mystical theology. This quotation from Teresa’s Vida, or, Life, introduces some of the major issues that govern the account of mysticism to be presented in these volumes, especially the [...]

POETRY: The Invisible Seen by Saint Athanasios

November 8, 2017

When our dull wits had so declined as to set us mid the squalor of the merely sensible creation, the Very God consented to become a body of His own, that He as one among us might gather our dim senses to Himself, and manifest through such incommensurate occasion that He is not simply man, but also God, the Word and Wisdom of the One. Thereafter, He remained His body, and thus allowed Himself to be observed. His becoming joined to us performed two appalling works in our behalf: He banished death from these our tendered frames, and made of them something new and (take note here) [...]

MYSTICISM: Meditation And Recollection by Evelyn Underhill

November 1, 2017

From Practical Mysticism Recollection, the art which the practical man is now invited to learn, is in essence no more and no less than the subjection of the attention to the control of the will.  It is not, therefore, a purely mystical activity.  In one form or another it is demanded of all who would get control of their own mental processes, and does or should represent the first great step in the education of the human consciousness.  So slothful, however, is man in all that concerns his higher faculties, that few deliberately undertake their education at all.  They are content to make their contacts with things by a vague, unregulated power, ever apt to play truant, ever apt to fail them.  Unless they be spurred to it by that [...]

POETRY: Thou Hidden Love of God by Gerhard Tersteegen

November 1, 2017

Thou hidden love of God, whose height, Whose depth unfathom’d no man knows, I see from far thy beauteous light, Inly I sigh for thy repose; My heart is pain’d, nor can it be At rest, till it finds rest in thee. Thy secret voice invites me still, The sweetness of thy yoke to prove: And fain I would: but tho’ my will Seem fix’d, yet wide my passions rove; Yet hindrances strew all the way; I aim at thee, yet from thee stray. ’Tis mercy all, that thou hast brought My mind to seek her peace in thee; Yet while I seek, but find thee not, No peace my wand’ring soul shall see; O when shall all my wand’rings end, And all my steps to thee-ward tend! Is there a thing beneath the sun That strives with thee my heart to share? Ah! tear it [...]

MYSTICISM: Why Mysticism Matters by Carl McColman

October 18, 2017

From The Big Book of Christian Mysticism You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. (John 15:3) All mystic charisms are worthless compared to the love of God. They are as a string of pearls adorning a hungry infant who does not heed the pearls but only wants his mother’s breast. (Macarius the Egyptian) For those who have a sense of God’s presence in their lives, who enjoy a natural bent toward spirituality or a strong commitment to religion, or who simply enjoy the history of ideas, mysticism is a fascinating subject in its own right.  Others without an innate attraction to the topic, however, may be asking themselves: “What’s the point?  Does mysticism really make a difference?  How can it make life [...]

POETRY: Ground Swell by Mark Jarman

October 18, 2017

Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher’s uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning’s surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor’s Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that’s vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with [...]

MYSTICISM: Simone Weil—Encounters With Christ

October 11, 2017

From Waiting for God and The Notebooks of Simone Weil In 1938 I spent ten days at Solesmes, from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, following all the liturgical services.  I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow; by an extreme effort of concentration I was able to rise above this wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself, heaped up in a corner, and to find a perfect and pure joy in the unimaginable beauty of the chanting and the words.  This experience by analogy enabled me to get a better understanding of the possibility of divine love in the midst of affliction.  It goes without saying that in the course of these services the thought of the passion of Christ entered into my being once and for all. [...]

POETRY: Daydreaming by Simone Weil

October 11, 2017

I believe that the root of evil, in everybody perhaps, but certainly in those whom affliction has touched, is daydreaming. It is the sole consolation, the unique resource of the afflicted; the one solace that helps them bear the fearful burden of time; and a very innocent one, besides being indispensable. So how could it be possible to renounce it? It has only one disadvantage, which is that it is unreal. To renounce it for the love of truth is really to abandon all one’s possessions in a mad excess of love and to follow Him who is the personification of Truth. And it is really to bear the cross; because time is the cross. In all its forms without exception, daydreaming is falsehood. It excludes love. Love is [...]

MYSTICISM: John Ruysbroeck—The Little Book of Enlightenment

October 4, 2017

From The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism John Ruysbroeck is the most famous of Dutch mystics.  His long life (1293–1381) spanned one of the most troubled centuries of the Middle Ages, but he does not dwell on the contemporary problems of church and society.  Rather, Ruysbroeck concentrates on the soul’s progress toward the “common life,” that is, our sharing in the interaction of the divine persons in the Trinity.  Ruysbroeck’s mysticism was set forth during an era in which there were many debates about mysticism and mystical union.  He was aware of at least some of Eckhart’s writings, and he was careful to qualify and even to criticize, what he thought were some of Eckhart’s excesses. [...]

POETRY: The Inward Stirring by John Ruysbroeck

October 4, 2017

The inward stirring and touching of God makes us hungry and yearning; for the Spirit of God hunts our spirit; and the more it touches it, the greater our hunger and our craving. And this is the life of love in its highest working, above reason and above understanding; for reason can here neither give nor take away from love, for our love is touched by the Divine [...]

MYSTICISM: Christian Mysticism And World Mysticism by Carl McColman

September 27, 2017

From The Big Book of Christian Mysticism Anyone who loves God is known by him. (1 Corinthians 8:3) Christians need to think “Nothing” when they call God, “Love.” Buddhists need to think “Love” when they say, “Emptiness.” This will at least wake us up to the fact that words must always fall short of the ineffable. (David Steindl-Rast) What makes Christian mysticism so, well, Christian?  What is the difference between it and all the other mysticisms out there – including Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism, Sufism (Islamic mysticism), Vedanta (Hindu mysticism), Zen (Buddhist mysticism), and shamanism (indigenous mysticism)? On the surface, it’s an easy enough question to answer: Christian [...]

POETRY: The Darkness by Angela of Foligno

September 27, 2017

When I enter that darkness I cannot recall a bit about anything human, or about the God-man, or anything owning specific form. Nonetheless, I see all and I see nothing. As this that I have spoken of withdraws—though not completely, as it seems to stay with me—I see the God-man. He draws my soul with utmost gentleness and maybe He whispers You are I and I am you. I see, then, those eyes and that face go gracious and attractive as He leans to draw me to Himself. In short, what proceeds from those eyes and what descends from that face is what I said I saw in that previous darkness rising from within, and which delights me so that I can say nothing much about it. When I am in the God-man, then my soul is alive. And I am in the God-man much [...]

MYSTICISM: The Mysticism Of Richard Rolle by Evelyn Underhill

September 20, 2017

Introduction from Fire of Love The four great English mystics of the fourteenth century – Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing – though in doctrine as in time they are closely related to one another, yet exhibit in their surviving works strongly marked and deeply interesting diversities of temperament.  Rolle, the romantic and impassioned hermit; his great successor, that nameless contemplative, acute psychologist, and humorous critic of manners, who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing and its companion works; Hilton, the gentle and spiritual Canon of Throgmorton; and Julian, the exquisitely human yet profoundly meditative anchoress, whose Revelations of Divine Love are perhaps [...]

POETRY: Invitation To The God by Richard Rolle

September 20, 2017

Sear my inmost being with Your fire, and my heart will burn on Your altar forever. Come, I beg You, O sweet and true glory! Come, O most desired sweetness! Come, my Beloved, Who are my whole consolation, to my soul—now languishing for Your sake and inclined to You— and slip into it with most sweetly flowing love. Set ablaze with Your heat every penetrable place of my heart and, by filling its inmost places with Your light, feed the whole with the honey-flowing joy of Your love, in order to snatch up in new, noetic union this mind and [...]

MYSTICISM: A Homegrown Mystic—Catherine of Siena by John Michael Talbot

September 13, 2017

From The Way of Mystics Giacomo Benicasa was a practical, hard-working man who made his living as a wool dyer in Siena’s bustling textile market.  His wife, Lapa, was a simple woman who was well acquainted with heartbreak.  She gave birth to twenty-five children, only twelve of whom survived infancy.  All Lapa wanted for Catherine – her next-to-last child – was a normal childhood, an early marriage to a good husband, and a happy, predictable life. But Catherine had other plans, none of them “normal” (for example, she lavished care on lepers and plague victims) or predictable (for example, after sensing God wanted her to live a more simple life, she began giving away her family’s possessions).  Her life was [...]

POETRY: Inebriated Soul In Love by Catherine of Siena

September 13, 2017

Then that soul, even as one drunk, appeared to be beside herself, parted from her bodily senses due to union with her Creator. She raised her spiritual eyes, her nous, and gazed into eternal Truth. As she now came to know the Truth, she knew herself to be in love with it. She said aloud: O high eternal Goodness, O my God! What am I—the wretched one—to You, O soaring, everlasting Father, that You have shown Your truth to me? that You have shown the snares the evil one has set? the snares my own selfish heart lays out for me? What moved in You to do such things for us? Love alone, love unreturned, You have poured out Your love without my answering love! O fire of love Who burns [...]

MYSTICISM: The Evolution Of Christian Mysticism by Carl McColman

September 6, 2017

From The Big Book of Christian Mysticism So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16) I have found Heaven on Earth, since Heaven is God, and God is in my soul.  The day I understood this, everything became luminous in me, and I wish to tell this secret to those I love, discretely. (Elizabeth of the Trinity) The basics of Christian thought put forth in the New Testament are foundational to all subsequent Christian mysticism.  In their time, these interpretations of spirituality were the religious equivalent of dynamite.  They emerge out of the revolutionary concept that a flesh-and-blood human being, Jesus of Nazareth, was [...]

POETRY: Eden by Thomas Traherne

September 6, 2017

A learnèd and a happy ignorance Divided me From all the vanity, From all the sloth, care, pain, and sorrow that advance The madness and the misery Of men. No error, no distraction I Saw soil the earth, or overcloud the sky. I knew not that there was a serpent’s sting, Whose poison shed On men, did overspread The world; nor did I dream of such a thing As sin, in which mankind lay dead. They all were brisk and living weights to me, Yea, pure and full of immortality. Joy, pleasure, beauty, kindness, glory, love, Sleep, day, life, light, Peace, melody, my sight, My ears and heart did fill and freely move. All that I saw did me delight. The Universe was then a world of treasure, To me an universal world of pleasure. Unwelcome penitence was [...]

MYSTICISM: Angelus Silesius by Paul Carus

August 30, 2017

From The Open Court, Volume XXII Mysticism is, as it were, a short cut of sentiment to reach a truth otherwise inaccessible under given conditions, and since writing an article on the subject for a recent number of The Monist, I have devoted more time to a renewed perusal of one of the most prominent and interesting mystics of Germany, Johannes Scheffler, or as he is better known by his adopted name, Angelus Silesius, who was born in 1624 at Breslau, and died in 1677. While mystics of the type of Jacob Boehme and Swedenborg present their views in long essays of a philosophical nature which read like the dreams (or if you prefer, the vagaries) of a prophet, Angelus Silesius condenses his views in short apothegms, written in a somewhat [...]

MYSTICISM: Elizabeth Of The Trinity, An Introduction by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

August 23, 2017

From Elizabeth of Dijon, An Interpretation of Her Spiritual Mission The Carmelite Order seems to have been specially entrusted, in recent years, with the function of proclaiming to the church and the world certain truths strongly opposed to the spirit of the age.  We allow ourselves to be absorbed in external action, and measure values according to its visible effect; the Carmelite reminds us that contemplation is the “one thing necessary,” and that its effects are not to be measured by even the churchly statistician.  We are strongly influenced by the theories of the psychologist with his insistence on the untrammeled development of personality.  The Carmelite shows us where individual difference is of small account, in the [...]

POETRY: To Surrender To Love by Elizabeth of the Trinity

August 23, 2017

Oh how good it is in silence To listen to Him over and over, To enjoy the peace of His presence, and then to surrender wholly to His love. O Lamb, so pure and so meek, You my All, my only One, How well you know that your fiancée, Your little one, hungers greatly for You. She hungers to feed upon her Master, Above all to be consumed by Him, To surrender fully to Him her whole being So she may be totally taken. Oh, that I may be possessed by You; One who lives by You alone, Yours, your living host, Consumed by you on the [...]

MYSTICISM: How Mysticism Became Christian by Carl McColman

August 16, 2017

From The Big Book of Christian Mysticism But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Corinthians 6:17) The Christian religion is primarily about a transformation of consciousness.  This takes spiritual practice and the cultivation of wisdom.  In another time, this was called cultivating the supernatural organism, what Paul called “a new creation.”  So the main thing is to be transformed into God, what the early church called deification, theosis, divinization. (Thomas Keating) As useful as Wilber’s orienting generalizations are, they are not the only tools we have to explore the complex mystery of mysticism.  History and etymology also provide important clues to the understanding this recondite [...]

POETRY: The Morning Watch by Henry Vaughn

August 16, 2017

O joys! Infinite sweetness! With what flowers And shoots of glory, my soul breaks and buds! All the long hours Of night and rest, Through the still shrouds Of sleep, and clouds, This dew fell on my breast; O how it bloods, And spirits all my earth! Hark! In what rings And hymning circulations the quick world Awakes, and sings! The rising winds, And falling springs, Birds, beasts, all things Adore Him in their kinds. Thus all is hurled In sacred hymns and order; the great chime And symphony of Nature. Prayer is The world in tune, A spirit-voice, And vocal joys, Whose echo is heaven’s bliss. O let me climb When I lie down! The pious soul by night Is like a clouded star, whose beams, though said To shed their light Under some cloud, Yet are [...]