On Being a Mystic

IMG_5941

A breathtaking sunset over Arkansas’ Mount Nebo photographed byΒ Josh McCray.

Some Christians tend to be frightened by the word β€œmysticism.” The word “mystic” raises irrational fears based on a misunderstanding of mysticism as a part of the Christian’s spiritual experience. So what exactly is a mystic? A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief systems to an actual inner experience with God.

That brings us to the sticky concept of belief systems. Christians definitely have belief systems, sometimes rigid and judgmental belief systems. The reality is that there is never a shortage of persons spouting out their beliefs, beliefs that are often based on systems of fake religious piety.

A life lived in the spiritual realm of God is much, much more than a set of rigid beliefs. Spirituality is much more than what we think or what we say. Spirituality is who we are, our inner spirit, our soul that dances to the rhythms of the God who dwells within us.

Richard Rohr understands the inner spiritual experience.

Until people have had some mystical, inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand religious beliefs beyond the level of formula. At most, such moral ideals and doctrinal affirmations are only a source of deeper anxiety because we don’t have the power to follow any of Jesus’ major teachings about forgiveness, love of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power, and so on, except in and through radical union with God. Further, doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, and the significance of Incarnation itself have little active power. They are just β€œbelieved” at the rational level.

– Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Any of us can believe at the rational level. We can easily formulate a set of personal doctrines, doctrines that often hold us captive to self-righteousness and rigid relationships with others. To be truly free is to be open to the winds of the Spirit, to rest in the presence of God, to follow Christ into places of deep need, to give ourselves over to inner spiritual experiences.

When we live in the comforting place of the mysticism of spirituality, we will not find in ourselves a judgmental spirit that uses our beliefs to denigrate those whose beliefs differ from ours. We will not find in ourselves the need for the criticism and condemnation that results in divisions.

What we will find within ourselves is the ability to love as Christ loved, the longing to bury our souls in the gentle grace of God, the deepest desire to transform the world around us and thus create the β€œbeloved community.”

So I, for one, want to be a mystic. I want to live in the very center God’s spiritual realm, to be moved by the Spirit, to scatter the love of Christ in all the places I walk.

May God make it so.

Advertisements

How Should We Live?

image

I am moved by hymns and often make their words a part of my prayers. This hymn, “When the Church of Jesus,” has long been one of my favorites. It challenges us to live in the world as a people of compassion and caring.

When the Church of Jesus
Shuts its outer door,
Lest the roar of traffic
Drown the voice of prayer:
May our prayers, Lord, make us
Ten times more aware
That the world we banish
Is our Christian care.

If our hearts are lifted
Where devotion soars
High above this hungry
Suffering world of ours:
Lest our hymns should drug us
To forget its needs,
Forge our Christian worship
Into Christian deeds.

Lest the gifts we offer,
Money, talents, time,
Serve to salve our conscience
To our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us
By the way you give;
Teach us, dying Savior,
How true Christians live.

Fred Pratt Green, 1969

How should we live our lives? In what ways does Christ compel us to service? Does the life of Christ inspire us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?

As the hymn says, “Lord, reprove, inspire us.” May it be so.

The Soul of Music

image

Music is the stuff of the soul, a universal language that speaks to the depths of our being. I have long been a devotee of the choral composer John Rutter. I have marveled at his art and his giftedness. I recently read an article about his faith. Here is what he said.

You certainly have to have a sense of faith. That is not usually difficult for a musician, as musicians move easily in the realm of the mysterious and the transcendent. I don’t think it matters whether you are a signed-up believer of one particular faith.

I learned also that his faith is not of a specific tradition. It is more about spirituality than religion. He describes himself as a reverent believer at the time he is working on a sacred piece. He adds,

When I take a sacred text I believe every syllable of it while I am setting it to music because I think it’s part of an artist’s job to enter into states of being which are not necessarily his or her own. As long as I’m writing or conducting I am a firm believer and when I have finished I go back to being what I am the rest of the time, which is Agnostic.

Regardless of our religious tradition, God places a kind of brilliance within us. John Rutter, no matter his faith, has inspired the world of sacred music for decades. Music emerges from the soul, and John Rutter has created music of the soul.

I invite you to listen to his brilliant arrangement of the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth” at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PaMkj4_H8WM.

On Spirituality

image

I have been asked many times to explain the difference between religion and spirituality. So today, I will give it a try.

Most of us long for a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and that Longing typically involves a search for meaning in life. We call that longing for connection spirituality, a universal human experience that touches every person. Spirituality asks its own questions about life and identity, such as:

Am I a good person?
What is this feeling I have deep inside myself?
What does it mean to abide with the Divine?
What is the meaning of my suffering?
What is my connection to the world around me?
Do things happen for a reason?
How can I live my life in the best way possible?

Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, says that “spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or the sacred.”

Perhaps the most meaningful explanation of spirituality comes from its root: The word spirituality comes from root words in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek that all mean wind, breath, or airβ€”that which gives life.

In my spiritual quest, I look for the breath that restores my life, the fresh wind of the Spirit that carries me on the wings of the morning, the air that allows me to breathe in the world that surrounds me.

 

Spirituality and Religion

While spirituality may incorporate elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion and spirituality are not the same thing, nor are they entirely distinct from one another. The best way to understand this is to think of two overlapping circles like this:

image

Venn Diagram of Religion and Spirituality

In spirituality, the questions are: where do I personally find meaning, connection, and value?
– In religion, the questions are: what is true and right?
Where the circles overlap is the individual experience, which affects the way you think, feel, and behave.

 

Obviously, spirituality is difficult to define. Words do not seem adequate to describe something that is swirling inside every person. It’s a soul thing, and everyone has a unique soul. But, as always, the words of Bishop Steven Charleston offer us the most eloquent description.

I have been thinking about the cycle of spirituality. It is very much like the rain cycle. First we rise up into the clouds, seeking out inspiration, and then we return to earth, entering into the ground of reality to bring forth new life. Spirituality only works when that cycle continues. Too much time in the clouds and we disconnect. We fail to nourish our own world. Too much time on the ground and we wither. We miss finding renewal. Spirituality is a process, a balance, a constant movement between the high winds of wonder and the organic struggle for the birth of hope.