This post is part of a thread called Brian’s Questions. It began with a Facebook message from a young man and I first outlined this thread in a post on September 17, 2010. Yesterday I responded to Brian’s first question which is about Lilith, a popular figure in Jewish mystical literature. It got me thinking about the reason for such a question, which led me to the question, “Why is mysticism so attractive, especially in 21st century spirituality?”
From the earliest days of Christianity, there have been persons who have chosen the path of a mystical religion. That mystical impulse has shaped the way they looked at the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. Basically Christian mysticism can be defined as the pursuit of union or communion with God through direct experience, insight and intuition. This a desire and a quest to step beyond words and ideas and even history to have an encounter or experience with God in the here and now in a deeper way. This approach generally focuses on prayer and meditation. Generally Christian practice is concerned with applying God’s truth and living God’s truth (incarnation of truth) in our daily (ordinary) existence. Mysticism desires a deep union with God that goes beyond existence, an experience that actually makes our daily experiences and lives as merely something we do as we work to be united with Christ and raised above existence.
Basically, the Jesus who came in the flesh and lived among us is a nice introduction to God. But rather than staying in the world living by his example, we need to pursue the real Jesus, that spirit that we do not yet know. When we find that Jesus, we will find God.
Other streams of mysticism seem to have this same above or beyond existence focus. Life in the flesh is something that can be endured or even escaped by a deep union with the Divine.
Why is this so appealing? The scriptural record of Jesus is that he went about the daily business of his ministry and at the same time was in deep communion with His Father. That deep communion was not a way of stepping out of his everyday existence but his everyday existence and how he conducted himself was an expression of his deep union and the place where that deep union was lived out. You did not step away from your calling to live for God, you grew closer to God by living out your calling.
On the one hand, mysticism has a great motivation, to stop seeing through a glass darkly and finally to know God as He really is. But it can also be an inward focus that forgets that Jesus was a man for others. He existed to serve, ultimately to serve humanity through his sacrifice. Mysticism can make detachment so important that our spiritual quest becomes self-serving, with no real responsibility for the world around us. Mysticism can easily become escape instead of engagement.
Non-Christian mysticism has the same tendency. In many of the religions of the East and mystical cults of the west, the pursuit of deep knowledge of God can become an excuse for giving little concern for how we live as a neighbor. Someone else becomes responsible for salt and light, we’re too busy trying to find the light for ourselves.
We don’t need secrets or ceremonies or higher consciousness, we just need a relationship with Jesus Christ and a life in obedience to his commands to love God and the people God loves. That’s how we get close to God.
(C) 2010 by Stephen Dunn
Addendum in December 2012: When I first posted this response, it was in response to some comments I had received on the post about Lilith where persons felt I had given mysticism a bad rap. Again, please understand that I am commenting about any approach to spirituality that encourages us to disengage from our need to be engaged daily in the second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – STEVE