If pressed for a definition (at this point in my life), I’d say that a mystic is one who sees Jesus — the Way, Truth and Life of God — in the depths of who we are and in the expanse of all that surrounds us.
While some [more fundamental] Christian circles hold it and sister concepts like mysticism and contemplation as suspect (reflexively brandishing and dismissing them as “New Age” and/or “Catholic”), I can not help but see them (i.e., mystic and mysticism and contemplation) as inevitable destinations in our spiritual journeys – givens, as we mature in Christ, as we experience more and more the fullness of Christ and the Spirit in us. Here, I find the words of Karl Rahner coming to mind — that “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”
Offering a “contemplative”1 sample may suffice in conveying the notion and concept and “experience” of what we are talking about — far better than any further ramblings on my part.
A series of reflections from Parker Palmer comes to mind as it typically does this time of year—as Autumn asserts a physical and spiritual presence in our lives. Eventually published as chapter 6 in his book, Let Your Life Speak, “There is a Season,” was originally commissioned and published by the Fetzer Institute as a way of introducing their retreat/renewal center, Seasons (in Kalamazoo, Michigan). You can download a pdf copy of the pamphlet (from Fetzer) by clicking here.
As you engage the document/download, I encourage you to take it “one season at a time.” (At a series of quarterly retreats—related to Palmer’s “Center for Courage and Renewal”, a different season was the focus of each time apart.) In the spirit of Ruminations [a quarterly/seasonal resource from Zoe-Life], you might want to keep a given season open on your kitchen table or coffee table –reading it through, more than once, over the course of several sittings, taking extra time to chew on those passages and phrases and images which particularly stand out.
Therein, is one measure of contemplative life and living: resisting the urge to devour things all at once but, savoring each bite. To borrow from Thoreau: “living deeply and sucking out all the marrow of life.” It is the difference, I might add, between a marathon reading through the entire Bible in a given time period and taking your time to stew on one book (or chapter or, even, verse) through a protracted season.
1 To be sure, the definition of “contemplation” implied in this post (as, indeed, the definition of “mystic”) are “rookie” in nature.
Reading Gerald May’s The Dark Night of the Soul has him unpacking the writings of St. John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila in quite friendly ways. I highly recommend it. His Chapter Four, focused on meditation and contemplation and entitled “With A Temple,” is very helpful in distinguishing between these two forms of prayer. Reading that chapter (in the wake of writing this post) has me realizing that my understanding of contemplation suggested here is really more an expression of meditation than contemplation (as the mystics would have defined that dynamic).
For the ways that too many confine their “meditations” to the Scriptures, though, I will preserve this post [with its focus on the seasons and meditating thereon] as a step towards a more general and fuller meditation — a meditation that seems to me to be a next step (however small) towards the fullness which is contemplation.
Still, it ought to be affirmed here, as throughout my writings: as in all work of this nature, the work of defining continues… and will forever continue.