One of my dreams is to create a knowledge base on Christian mysticism (or, perhaps best described as Christian mysticism UN-database !). I wrote the following questions a while ago thinking they would go to the FAQ page of a mysticism knowledge base. And maybe they will. But for now, I’m posting them here.
What is Christian mysticism?
Christian mysticism, an aspect of Christian spirituality, emphasizes awareness and meet God, here and now, in our lives today. Christian mystics, renowned spiritual masters of each of the past 20 centuries, were men and women who knew this divine encounter, and taught and inspired others to do the same. Mysticism emphasizes prayer, meditation, contemplation, worship, community and a virtuous life as keys to discovering union with God.
Why is this important?
Many Christians believe that the purpose of religion is to practice self-denial on earth in order to go to heaven after your death. Meanwhile, more and more people (especially the younger ones) find spirituality to mean more to them than religion. Christian mysticism, above all, is a spiritual journey – and it emphasizes not an abstract reward after our death, but the search for joy, meaning, purpose and a sense of true fellowship. , in our current lives. So, in a very concrete way, Christian mysticism can help us have a better relationship with God – starting today.
Why did I never learn this in my church growing up?
For a number of historical reasons, Christianity developed a culture that emphasized religion rather than spirituality: for the average person, being a Christian meant obeying the teachings of the church, leading a moral life, supporting financially the church and … well, not much else. Even practices like Bible study were more for the “head” than the “heart”. Historically, mysticism has been kept alive by monks and nuns, but especially from the twentieth century more and more Christians seek to reclaim this almost forgotten spiritual heritage – which is for everyone.
Isn’t mysticism reserved for Catholics?
Many of the great mystics in much of Christian history were monks and nuns. Since most Protestant churches do not have monasteries or convents, these “keepers” of mysticism tend to be Catholic or Orthodox. However, it should be noted that mysticism is rooted in the Bible, and almost all of the teachings of the great mystics are universal – appropriate for Christians of all faiths. There have been great Protestant mystics, such as Evelyn Underhill, George Fox, and Howard Thurman.
Is it really Christian? It looks like something imported from other religions.
Mysticism is a universal spiritual phenomenon – like meditation and prayer, forms of mysticism can be found in all the major religious traditions of the world. Especially in America after WWII, many people became familiar with Eastern forms of spirituality and mysticism – Zen Buddhism, Vedanta, and religious forms of yoga. With an emphasis on meditation and contemplation, Christian mysticism seems very similar to Eastern religions. But Christian mysticism is centered on Christ and based on the teachings of the Bible and of Christian saints.
What is the difference between mysticism and contemplation?
Many people use these words almost interchangeably. They are both difficult to define and have been used to mean different things by different writers and teachers. For our purposes, think of it this way: mysticism is the theory and contemplation is the practice. In other words, mysticism involves the philosophy and theology of Christian spirituality centered on union with God. Contemplation refers to prayer and other spiritual practices that help us recognize and discover the ongoing presence of God in our lives.
Do you have to be a Christian to become a mystic?
Not all types of mysticism are Christian. If you are interested in general mysticism or if your main focus is interfaith or interspiritual practice, then you might be interested in learning more about Christian mysticism without feeling the need to become a Christian. The emphasis of By mysticism is about the particularly beautiful Christian expression of mysticism. Since Christian mysticism directs us towards a deep intimacy with Christ and union with the God who is recognized as the Holy Trinity, naturally anyone who is serious in this path will identify himself as a Christian.
What did Karl Rahner mean when he said: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist?
Most people, especially in Europe and North America, recognize that Christianity is undergoing a major transformation in our time. Many churches are losing members and entire congregations have had to close their doors. This appears to be the fulfillment of Rahner’s warning that “the Christian of the future” no longer exists. If we take Rahner at his word, perhaps the best hope for the future of Christianity is for Christians to embrace the spiritual heart of Christianity – the mystical path – rather than just the institution.
Why do you have a Patreon page (and ask for donations)?
My blog (mirrored on www.anamchara.com and www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman is a labor of love. I have been studying Christian mysticism for over forty years and have been a full time Christian speaker / writer since 2013. Maintaining a blog is a significant time commitment, and there is no “salary” for doing it (Patheos pays a small allocation of their ad revenue, but that’s only a few dollars a month). Thanks to the generous support of readers like you, my blog is available as a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about and exploring the mystical path. For those who sign up, exclusive additional content is available at www.patreon.com/carlmccolman.
Featured Image Photo By Simone secci.