Archive for July, 2019

Black Women Mystics

July 29th, 2019

God’s Abiding Presence
Monday, July 29, 2019

Today, I’d like to feature the words of a modern mystic I am honored to know. Dr. Barbara Holmes is a teacher in our own Living School, a former lawyer, professor, and author of several books. She has taught me, our staff, and students so much. I hope you will go deeper with her work beyond today’s excerpt from Joy Unspeakable. I have been telling folks that there are people who talk about God and there are people who know God. Barbara is the latter:

Holiness is a concept that makes ordinary people nervous. . . . The holiness that Jesus describes has less to do with pious character traits and more to do with the hosting of God’s abiding presence. It is not effort but invitation that opens the human spirit to the possibility that God may sojourn with us.

Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of the intellect and senses with a spiritual reunion and oneness with God. When this oneness occurs, it is accompanied by heightened spiritual awareness and insight. Contemplative moments also carry with them the potential for mystical encounter which only compounds the difficulty of describing the experience in words. C. S. Lewis’s attempt to describe his own mystical event is a prime example. He says, “I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.” [1] His wry comments are clearer than any somber attempt to describe the event with exactitude. Rather, this contemplative moment is a spiritual event that kisses the cognitive but will not be enslaved to its rigidities.

Our twenty-first century ideas about contemplative practices are borrowed from a Christian heritage that relegates contemplation to desert mothers and fathers, anchorites and monastics. Although we have learned much from our Catholic brothers and sisters, there is a rich but neglected legacy in the Protestant tradition. When the word contemplation comes to my mind I want to think of Thomas Merton . . . [and] Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan and all the black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. Like Christianity, contemplative practices come in many forms; these practices have survived and thrived through inculturation and ethnic adaptation. . . .

The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.

Black Women Mystics

Sunday, July 28, 2019

It’s so important that all people are able to recognize themselves as God’s image. Icons and images of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with a dark or ebony hue are revered in many cultures around the world. For example, the Black Madonna as a model of maternal love, faithfulness, and hope is esteemed by people across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Yet, as we explored a few weeks ago, the divine feminine—especially in darker form—generally has been suppressed by Western Christianity unless the image had already reached iconic form.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that women of African descent have faced so much oppression in the United States, both historically and to this day. For example, black women are paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men. [1] Last year at least twenty-six transgender people died due to violence (and at least eleven already in 2019), and the majority were black transwomen. [2] Yet even as white men continue to monopolize positions of religious leadership and theological authority, black women are reframing Christian traditions, practices, and Scripture in liberating and justice-oriented ways.

Womanists today build on a long lineage of courageous and wise prophets and mystics. This week I’ll introduce you to a handful of African American women mystics. They reveal Christ to us as they speak of their personal relationships with and experiences of the Divine and, as they stand in their truth, remain uncompromised by the systems that seek to silence them.

Thea Bowman (1937–1990) was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration born in Mississippi. I am drawn to Sr. Thea since my own mother would listen to her talks, especially when she knew she was dying, and she found out that Thea listened to mine! I am sorry we never met. Her description of Black American spirituality provides helpful context for this week’s reflections: 

[It] is rooted in our African heritage, with its ways of perceiving and valuing reality, its style of expression, its modes of prayer and contemplating the divine. It is colored by our Middle Passage, Slavery, our Island and Latin experience, segregation, integration, and our on-going struggle for liberation. [3]

For Sr. Thea, “God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere.” [4]

Like other mystics, Bowman found God everywhere, in all beings. She saw many images of God:

God is bread when you’re hungry, water when you’re thirsty, a harbor from the storm. God’s father to the fatherless, a mother to the motherless. God’s my sister, my brother, my leader, my guide, my teacher, my comforter, my friend. God’s the way-maker and burden-bearer, a heart-fixer and a mind-regulator. God’s my doctor who never lost a patient, my lawyer who never lost a case, my captain who never lost a battle. God’s my all in all, my everything.

God’s my rock, my sword, my shield, my lily of the valley, my pearl of great price. God’s a god of peace and a god of war. Counselor, Emmanuel, Redeemer, Savior, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Mary’s little baby, wonderful Word of God.

These images come from Scripture and from the meditations of Christians. . . . Each one corresponds to a particular need. All these images help me as I call upon God’s name. [5]

Summary: Week Thirty

Mystic: Howard Thurman

July 21 – July 26, 2019

The goal of life is God! The source of life is God! —Howard Thurman (Sunday)

God reveals God’s Presence out of the mystery of Being. —Howard Thurman (Monday)

Faith teaches us that God is. —Howard Thurman (Tuesday)

It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades [Christians] have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings. —Howard Thurman (Wednesday)

What does our religion say to the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed? —Howard Thurman (Thursday)

If being Christian does not demand that all Christians love each other and thereby become deeply engaged in experiencing themselves as human beings, it would seem futile to expect that Christians as Christians would be concerned about the secular community in its gross practices of prejudice and discrimination. —Howard Thurman (Friday)

Practice: Attending to Details

The mystic’s concern with the imperative for social action is not merely . . . to feed the hungry, not merely to relieve human suffering and human misery. If this were all, in and of itself, it would be important surely. But . . . the basic consideration has to do with the removal of all that prevents God from coming to . . . [fullness] in the life of the individual. Whatever there is that blocks this, calls for action. —Howard Thurman [1]

Each Saturday we offer an invitation to contemplative practice. You may not always choose to try the practice we suggest, but I hope you will explore today’s, even if you have a regular contemplative practice.

One of our Living School teachers, Dr. Barbara Holmes, writes about “crisis contemplation” as a way to express grief and find refuge in the midst of danger. We need practices to move through suffering and find creative responses. One example of crisis contemplation occurred on plantations:

Here, enslaved Africans created narratives of survival that depended on personal courage and God’s deliverance. The word courageous within the context of slavery is problematic because it has incongruous but romantic overtones. Those who attempt to describe the horrors of one holocaust or another inevitably use language that mythically denies, romanticizes, or diminishes the oppression. When history is collapsed into myth, responsibilities become diffused, and repentance and reconciliation become impossible.

In the inflated realm of mythical oppression, villains are so villainous that no one sees themselves reflected in the image. Few can trace accrued privileges to specific and intentional evil acts. Similarly, victims become so quintessentially and epically victimized that all escape routes from the condition are sealed off by a maze of self-doubt, blaming, and low self-esteem. The antidote to this phenomenon is to attend to the details, to understand the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression, and avenues of social change. Historical and spiritual specificity is salvific. Then and only then can the movement toward moral flourishing begin. [2]

Meditation teacher Ruth King helps people cultivate awareness of how we impact each other and ourselves, especially being “mindful of race.” For those of us who are white, thinking about our own race can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. For people of color whose ancestors and they themselves have experienced oppression, this exploration can be quite painful. But the path toward healing for all of us includes attending to the details, as Holmes suggests, and seeing reality as it is.

Find some uninterrupted time to reflect on Ruth King’s questions below. After you’ve held these with an open heart, you may wish to do some research with an open mind.  

  • Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?
  • What racial identities or ethnicities have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a race?
  • What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about race? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?
  • What are the roots of your racial lineage? Given your lineage, what has your race gained or lost throughout the generations? How have these gains or losses influenced your racial views today? [3]

Being Christian

July 26th, 2019

Mystic: Howard Thurman

Being Christian
Friday, July 26, 2019

Today I invite you to reflect on your own sense of identity—both as an individual and as part of a collective—as you read Howard Thurman’s thoughts on race and relationships:

The burden of being black and the burden of being white is so heavy that it is rare in our society to experience oneself as a human being. It may be, I do not know, that to experience oneself as a human being is one with experiencing one’s fellows as human beings. Precisely what does it mean to experience oneself as a human being? In the first place, it means that the individual must have a sense of kinship to life that transcends and goes beyond the immediate kinship of family or the organic kinship that binds him ethnically or “racially” or nationally. He has to feel that he belongs to his total environment. He has a sense of being an essential part of the structural relationship that exists between him and all other men, and between him, all other men, and the total external environment. As a human being, then, he belongs to life and the whole kingdom of life that includes all that lives and perhaps, also, all that has ever lived. In other words, he sees himself as a part of a continuing, breathing, living existence. To be a human being, then, is to be essentially alive in a living world. . . .

If being Christian does not demand that all Christians love each other and thereby become deeply engaged in experiencing themselves as human beings, it would seem futile to expect that Christians as Christians would be concerned about the secular community in its gross practices of prejudice and discrimination. If a black Christian and white Christian, in encounter, cannot reach out to each other in mutual realization because of that which they are experiencing in common, then there should be no surprise that the Christian institution has been powerless in the presence of the color bar in society. Rather it has reflected the presence of the color bar within its own institutional life.

On the other hand, if Christians practice brotherhood among Christians, this would be one limited step in the direction of a new order among men. Think of what this would mean. Wherever one Christian met or dealt with another Christian, there would be a socially redemptive encounter. They would be like the Gulf Stream or the Japanese Current tempering and softening the climate in all directions. Indeed the Christian would be a leaven at all levels of the community and in public and private living. Of course, such a situation may lend itself to all kinds of exploitation and betrayals—but the Christian would be one of the bulwarks of integrity in human relations in an immoral society.

A note on language from Thurman’s editors: “We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview.” [1] While his masculine words might suggest that Thurman didn’t consider other perspectives, he did see many women in his life (for example, his mentor Mary McLeod Bethune and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman) as peers and leaders. We must grant this same sympathy to all those who write with sincerity in previous times and various cultures.

Why Are You Here?

July 25th, 2019

Mystic: Howard Thurman

Why Are You Here?
Thursday, July 25, 2019

Today, as you read this second excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, hold an open heart and mind. In other words, read with a contemplative stance. The meditation ends with a question that I’ll hope you’ll sit with—as Thurman and his companion did for five hours—and not rush to a pat, tidy answer.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against the wall . . . the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is . . . what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life.

In the fall of 1935 I was serving as chairman of a delegation sent on a pilgrimage of friendship from the students of America to the students of India, Burma, and Ceylon. [On this trip Thurman also met and visited with Gandhi.] It was at a meeting in Ceylon that the whole crucial issue was pointed up to me in a way that I can never forget. . . . I was invited by the principal to have coffee. . . .

He said to me, “What are you doing over here? I know what the newspapers say . . . but that is not my question. What are you doing over here? This is what I mean.

“More than three hundred years ago your forefathers were taken from the western coast of Africa as slaves. The people who dealt in the slave traffic were Christians. One of your famous Christian hymn writers, Sir John Newton, made his money from the sale of slaves to the New World. He is the man who wrote ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds’ and ‘Amazing Grace’—there may be others, but these are the only ones I know. The name of one of the famous British slave vessels was ‘Jesus.’

“The men who bought the slaves were Christians. Christian ministers, quoting the Christian apostle Paul, gave the sanction of religion to the system of slavery. Some seventy years or more ago you were freed by a man [Abraham Lincoln] who was not a professing Christian, but was rather the spearhead of certain political, social, and economic forces, the significance of which he himself did not understand. During all the period since then you have lived in a Christian nation in which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. Even in the church, I understand, there is segregation. One of my students who went to your country sent me a clipping telling about a Christian church in which the regular Sunday worship was interrupted so that many could join a mob against one of your fellows. When he had been caught and done to death, they came back to resume their worship of their Christian God.

“I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my country, staying deep within the Christian faith and tradition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position?”

A note on language from Thurman’s editors: “We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview.” [1] While his masculine words might suggest that Thurman didn’t consider other perspectives, he did see many women in his life (for example, his mentor Mary McLeod Bethune and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman) as peers and leaders. We must grant this same sympathy to all those who write with sincerity in previous times and various cultures.

[1] Editors, Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 6. See Sunday’s meditation for

A Subtle Peril

July 24th, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Howard Thurman lovingly critiqued Christianity, which has often ignored the direct teaching and witness of Jesus in relationship with those who are oppressed. This excerpt is from one of Thurman’s most well-known books, Jesus and the Disinherited. I think this message is important today and always.

To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail. The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.

It is not a singular thing to hear a sermon that defines what should be the attitude of the Christian toward people who are less fortunate than himself. Again and again our missionary appeal is on the basis of the Christian responsibility to the needy, the ignorant, and the so-called backward peoples of the earth. There is a certain grandeur and nobility in administering to another’s need out of one’s fullness and plenty. . . . It is certainly to the glory of Christianity that it has been most insistent on the point of responsibility to others whose only claim upon one is the height and depth of their need. This impulse at the heart of Christianity is the human will to share with others what one has found meaningful to oneself elevated to the height of a moral imperative. But there is a lurking danger in this very emphasis. It is exceedingly difficult to hold oneself free from a certain contempt for those whose predicament makes moral appeal for defense and succor. It is the sin of pride and arrogance that has tended to vitiate the missionary impulse and to make of it an instrument of self-righteousness on the one hand and racial superiority on the other.

That is one reason why, again and again, there is no basic relationship between the simple practice of brotherhood in the commonplace relations of life and the ethical pretensions of our faith. It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades we have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings. I say this without rancor, because it is not an issue in which vicious human beings are involved. But it is one of the subtle perils of a religion which calls attention—to the point of overemphasis, sometimes—to one’s obligation to administer to human need.

Faith Teaches

July 23rd, 2019

Mystic: Howard Thurman

Faith Teaches
Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Like many mystics, Howard Thurman saw that humans need to relate to a God that is both beyond rational thought—what I might call a force field of love—and very relatable and personal. This is why Christians have both Jesus and Christ: In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart we could trust, in one moment of time. Christ is God’s presence incarnated in all of Creation, before and beyond time. Read how Thurman understands this:

Not only is faith a way of knowing, a form of knowledge, but it is also one of life’s great teachers. At no point is this fact more clearly demonstrated than in an individual’s growing knowledge of God. It is obvious that, in the last analysis, proof of the existence of God is quite impossible. A simple reason for this is the fact that, if there is that to which God may be finally reduced, then He is not ultimate. But let us not be led astray by this apparent abstraction. Faith teaches a man that God is. The human spirit has two fundamental demands that must be met relative to God. First, He must be vast, limitless, transcendent, all-comprehensive, so that there is no thing that is outside the wide reaches of His apprehension. The stars in the universe, the great galaxies of spatial groupings moving in endless rhythmic patterns in the trackless skies, as well as the tiny blade of grass by the roadside, are all within His grasp. The second demand is that He be personal and intimate. A man must have a sense of being cared for, of not being alone and stranded in the universe. All of us want the assurance of not being deserted by life nor deserted in life. Faith teaches us that God is—that He is the fact of life from which all other things take their meaning and reality. When Jesus prayed, he was conscious that, in his prayer, he met the Presence, and this consciousness was far more important and significant than the answering of his prayer. It is for this reason primarily that God was for Jesus the answer to all the issues and the problems of life. When I, with all my mind and heart, truly seek God and give myself in prayer, I, too, meet His Presence, and then I know for myself that Jesus was right.

A note on language from Thurman’s editors: We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview. [1]

Mystic: Howard Thurman

July 22nd, 2019

The Meaning of Life
Sunday, July 21, 2019

In spite of all seeming evidence to the contrary, mystics know that God is love, and this love is both our source and our goal. I’d like you to recognize that it’s not just me saying these things. There are a great many theologians, saints, and laypeople who have conveyed this reality much better than I. I’ve previously written about some of the Christian mystics who have had a profound impact on me, such as Francis and Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila. [1] This week I’d like to reflect on a more contemporary mystic, Reverend Howard Thurman (1900–1981).  

Here’s an insightful description of how Thurman’s significant influence was built upon his commitment to contemplation and action: 

The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman contributed much to the incorporation of the contemplative in social/racial justice efforts. An African American theologian and mystic, Thurman was reared in an African American Baptist Church, . . . [and] served as spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and thus played a critical role as a “behind the scenes” leader in the development of an alternative to violence in the dismantling of racial injustice in America.

Thurman chose to engage in work that would serve all people and to use the contemplative experience as a path to peace, joy, and power. . . . [He] had the prophetic ability to make a connection between the silence and scrutiny of one’s inner life and the work for social justice. [2]

This week I’ll share Thurman’s own writings with very little introduction or explanation. His words speak for themselves. Read with your heart wide open:

The goal of life is God! The source of life is God! That out of which life comes is that into which life goes. . . . God is the guarantor of all [our] values, the ultimate meaning—the timeless frame of reference. That which sustains the flower of the field, the circling series of stars in the heavens, the structure of dependability in the world of nature everywhere, the stirring of the will of man to action, the dream of humanity, developed and free, for which myriad men, sometimes in solitariness in lonely places or in great throngs milling in crowded squares—all this and infinitely more in richness and variety and value is God. Men may be thrown from their courses—they may wander for a million years in desert and waste land, through sin and degradation, war and pestilence, hate and love—at last they must find their rest in Him. . . .

The source of life is God. The mystic applies this to human life when he says that there is in man an uncreated element; or in the Book of Job where it is written that his mark is in their foreheads. . . . To deal with men on any other basis, to treat them as if there were not vibrant and vital in each one the very life of the very God, is the great blasphemy; it is the judgment that is leveled with such relentless severity on modern man. “Thou hast made us for thyself and our souls are restless till they find their rest in thee,” says Augustine. Life is like a river.

Deep River, my home is over Jordan—
Deep River, I want to cross over into camp ground. [3]

Opening the Doors of My Being
Monday, July 22, 2019

This week we’re reflecting on the writings of Howard Thurman. (See Sunday’s meditation for my introduction.) Today Thurman explores how prayer is not a transaction, nor is it about changing God. It’s about opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to be receptive to God’s already and always presence:

The place and significance of spiritual disciplines and exercises cannot be overemphasized. It is important, however, to understand what that significance is. There is no necessitous relationship between the disciplines and the awareness of God’s presence. All disciplines of this character are meant to “ready” the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence.

This is the miracle, the heights and depths of wonder and awe. God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey. All of my prayers, my meditation, my vast and compelling urgency or need cannot order, woo or beg God into the revealing of His Presence. Even my need and my desperation cannot command Him. There is an overwhelming autonomy here;  God does move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. But He is so full of such wonderful and heartening surprises.

In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life—so that when His Presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me. . . .

I work at preparing my mind, my spirit for the moment when God comes to Himself in me. When it happens, I experience His Presence. When this experience becomes an object of thought and reflection, it is then that my mind creates dogmas, creeds and doctrines. These are the creations of the mind and are therefore always after the fact of the religious experience. But they are always out of date. The religious experience is always current, always fresh.[Emphasis mine—RR.] In it I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.

Summary: Week Twenty-nine

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

July 14 – July 19, 2019

A mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. (Sunday)

A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity. Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing. (Monday)

A Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself. (Tuesday)

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God. (Wednesday)

Saints embody goodness while mystics embody love—Carl McColman(Thursday)

The mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic. —William McNamara (Friday)

Practice: A Prayer of Gratitude

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise. Mature prayer always breaks into gratitude. This week’s practice is a body prayer from Beverly Lanzetta. Adapt the movements to your body’s needs so that you’re comfortable. Focus simply on the feeling of gratitude and, as you are able, do the following as you read through the stanzas: bow, kneel, lie down, rise, put your hands over your heart, place your hands together, bow your head, and open your arms wide.

Holy Earth, Holy Cosmos,
I bow before you
With my whole being.

Holy Creatures, Holy Nature,
I kneel upon the earth
In honor and thanksgiving
Of your blessed bounty.

Holy Waters, Holy Mountains,
I lay my body on your temple
In gratefulness for nurturing
My tender soul.

Holy Passion, Holy Longing,
I rise up before you
A devotee of truth,
Following wherever you lead me.

Holy Silence, Holy Solitude,
I place my hands over my heart
Breathing in serenity,
Breathing out your peace.

Holy Sorrow, Holy Suffering,
I close my hands in prayer
May I bear every wound
With compassion and nonharm.

Holy Humility, Holy Emptiness,
I bow my head before you
I have become open,
For your All to shine in my soul.

Holy Freedom, Holy Rejoicing,
I open my heart to the world
Offering myself to this day,
In joyfulness and gratitude.

Amen. [1]

The Mystical Heartbeat

July 19th, 2019

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

The Mystical Heartbeat
Friday, July 19, 2019

Today I share again from Carl McColman’s book Christian Mystics:

The first Christian mystics appear in the Bible, figures like John the Evangelist and Paul of Tarsus. But mysticism didn’t end when the Bible was written. Great mystics appear in every century of Christian history. [1] By the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christianity became socially acceptable in the cities of the Roman Empire, remote wilderness locations like the deserts of Egypt and Palestine or the forests of Ireland became home to many saints and mystics.

Out of the deserts came the first monasteries, intentional communities of Christians who sought to give their entire lives to God. As this movement caught on throughout the Christian world, it became a natural home for great mystics and visionaries; and, indeed, nearly all of the great mystics between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries lived as monks or nuns. But with the dawn of the modern era—and the social changes such as the Renaissance and the Reformation in particular—monasteries became less central to Catholic Christianity and were largely rejected by the Protestant churches, so in recent centuries more mystics have emerged who did not live in a cloister.

By the twentieth century, several important figures, such as Evelyn Underhill [1875–1941] and Karl Rahner [1904–1984], began to insist that mysticism was not just a special quality for the “elite” Christians found in abbeys or convents, but rather everyone is meant to be an “everyday mystic.” Indeed, Rahner, widely recognized as one of the greatest of twentieth-century theologians, famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or . . . will not exist at all.” [2] . . .

Carmelite friar William McNamara [writes]: “the mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic.” [3] . . . In order for Christianity to survive, all Christians need to discover the mystical heartbeat that is already alive in the center of our tradition—and our souls. Put another way, mysticism is not something we achieve; it is something we receive. . . .

How do we find out what “special kind of mystic” we are called to be? Certainly the ultimate guide to union with God can only be God. . . . But God is assisted in this task by the wisdom and writings of the great mystics throughout history.

Not all mystics are writers, of course. But the ones who made the effort to record their life stories, their insights, their wisdom, their poetry and teachings, are the ones who have left behind “lessons,” so to speak, in the school for the love of God. . . .

Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us. . . .

Goodness Of God

July 18th, 2019

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Goodness of God
Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spiritual director and author Carl McColman explores the etymology of the word “mystic” and the difference between a saint and a mystic. Carl is a wise and holy man still among us.

The Greek root for mystic and mysticism is mueo, which means to shut or to close, as in shutting one’s mouth or closing one’s eyes. It comes from the pagan mystery religions. . . . The “shutting” or “closing” quality of mueo implied keeping the secrets or mysteries hidden, locked away in the heart or mind.

The writers of the New Testament adapted this language for Christian purposes. . . . Among Christians, the idea of mystery referred not so much to what is secret as to what is hidden. And topping the list of hidden things is God . . . : as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Truly, you are a God who hides” (Isaiah 45:15). Meanwhile, Jesus, the Son of God, represented the hidden things of God made manifest—and not only in Christ himself, but also in his followers, who were said to be part of his “body.” So, mystery in Christianity involves the hidden things of God made manifest, or revealed, in the hearts and minds and spirituality of those who love God and follow Christ.

In every generation, in every century of the Christian era, men and women have existed who have exemplified this spirituality of manifesting the presence of God, the wisdom and power of God, the love and mercy of God, in their own lives, in their hearts and minds. . . . [1]

While the idea of sainthood came to be associated with almost supernatural levels of goodness, mystics encountered and embodied the presence of God in profound and life-changing ways. And the mystics (at least the ones we know about) shared their encounters with God through poetry, confessional or autobiographical writing, philosophy, theology, and spiritual teaching. The language of the mystics is often deeply beautiful, expressing love of God, communion with God, even union with God (which sometimes got some mystics in trouble with the less spiritually inclined authorities in the Church).

Of course, many mystics have also been recognized as saints, and some authors suggest that it is impossible to be a saint without also being a mystic. But the two words have distinct meanings, at least in popular usage: a saint is someone who is good and holy, while a mystic is someone who knows God, and whose life has been transfigured by this divine presence. Put even more briefly, saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.

There’s plenty of overlap here. But this is one way to understand the distinction.

What makes someone a mystic is less about a top-down kind of approval and more about an organic, broad-based recognition on the part of the people whose lives have been touched. In other words . . . , mystics teach us how to find God, and a great mystic is someone who has been recognized as doing this particularly well. [I, Richard, would suggest that saints are supposedly perfect people, whereas mystics are visibly imperfect people who have been convicted by moments of very real divine union. If we knew the full story, most “saints” are really mystics!]

Our Response

July 17th, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.

When you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. I call this the “Principle of Likeness.” From this frame you stop judging and start loving unconditionally, without asking whether someone is worthy or not. The breakthrough occurs at once, although the realization deepens and takes on greater conviction over time.

As I mentioned earlier this week, mystics are nondual people who see things in their wholeness and call forth the same unity in others, simply by being who they are. Wholeness (head, heart, and body, all present and positive) sees and calls forth wholeness in others.

Dualistic or divided people, however, live in a split and fragmented world. They cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them or others (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). They cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves. This lack of forgiveness takes the forms of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and humbly inside their own body. The fragmented mind sees parts, not wholes, and invariably it creates antagonism, fear, and resistance.

What you see is what you get. What you seek is also what you get. We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, not by demanding or forcing it on others.

Mystics are human like the rest of us, and none of us are perfect. We are inconsistent creatures with blind spots and cultural limitations. Outside of flashes of insight and unitive experience, mystics are products of their place in time. For example, they may have sexist, anti-Semitic, or other biases common for that period, as we see even in the much-idealized Desert Fathers. In spite of momentary glimpses of universal and unconditional grace, they may still be rooted in a retributive understanding of God. It takes more than a lifetime for us to grasp the Mystery that we experience during moments of deep presence and surrender. [1]

What mystics finally do, it seems to me, is heal in themselves the fragmentation that is evident in the world. Instead of hating, excluding, or dismissing it over there in others, they heal it in themselves. This healing is God’s Spirit working in us. Mystics see the whole—good, bad, ugly, and beautiful—in themselves and others, refusing to hate or ignore any of it. This allows them to have immense sympathy, empathy, and compassion and to work in service of the world’s healing. I am not sure if you can come to such empathy in any other way.

Christ is Everywhere

July 16th, 2019

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Christ Is Everywhere
Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The twentieth-century English mystic Caryll Houselander (19011954) describes how an ordinary underground train journey in London transformed into a vision that changed her life. I share Houselander’s description of this startling experience because it poignantly demonstrates what I call the Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it:

All sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging—workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too . . . all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.

I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ.

I had long been haunted by the Russian conception of the humiliated Christ, the lame Christ limping through Russia, begging His bread; the Christ who, all through the ages, might return to the earth and come even to sinners to win their compassion by His need. Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact . . . Christ in [humankind]. . . .

I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his [or her] sin, which is in reality [their] utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in [them]. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. . . .

Christ is everywhere; in Him every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life. . . . Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.

After a few days the “vision” faded. People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight for me each time I was face to face with another human being. Christ was hidden again; indeed, through the years to come I would have to seek for Him, and usually I would find Him in others—and still more in myself—only through a deliberate and blind act of faith. [1]

I (Richard) would say that my only real definition of a Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself.