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  Mystery & Mysticism How do I find the Mystic Path?

Overview | Lives of the Mystics| Wonderful and Dark is This Road | Jewish Mysticism



by Emilie Griffin

Bookcover for Wonderful and Dark Is This Road by Emilie Griffin
Chapter Two: Who Can Be A Mystic?

I believe that we are meeting mystics every day, but we
do not recognize them. Their humility and modesty is such that they pass into the crowd (“So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” Jn. 8:59). Perhaps we could spot them by their spiritual disciplines: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.10 It is possible, but not likely. For real mystics practice their deep love and service to God in ways that may fly below the radar, unobtrusively, transforming the lives of others in ways that seem sublimely plain spoken and levelheaded. Except when they receive extraordinary mystical gifts (not everyone does), it is hard to pick them out in a crowd. We have noted earlier that Padre Pio looked much like the next monk
in the procession. More to the point, the Roman soldiers needed Judas to point Jesus out to them. To them, he looked more or less like any other Galilean.

Both Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner, a major Modern Catholic theologian, insist on a mysticism of ordinary living. For Merton, the incarnation has sanctified all of human living. Far from taking the contemplative above and beyond the ordinary, contemplation, if it is authentic, roots the human being in the ordinary. The ordinary routine of daily life becomes the texture of contemplation for the devoted Christian. Merton insists there is a “latent, or implicit, infused dimension to all prayer.” Thus Merton gives us a valuable insight into the possibility of an ordinary or a hidden mysticism. He calls it “masked contemplation.”

Perhaps, as we shall see, this “masked contemplation” is what John Wesley saw as “a mysticism of service.” 11 Thomas Merton sees the hidden or “masked” contemplative as one who finds God in active service to the poor, the despised, the people at the margins of life. These “masked contemplatives” do not have the luxury to spend long hours in silence and solitude. But their mystic encounter with Jesus comes in service to the littlest and the least. They are mystics, perhaps, without knowing it, for they are fully in touch with the heart of God. Nevertheless, their mysticism is authentic. 12

In different language Karl Rahner makes a similar claim: everyone is called to the immediacy of God’s presence. A supernatural, graced, “anonymously Christian” mysticism may even exist outside of Christianity; that is to say, Christ himself may be working outside of established Christianity to be in touch with mystics (known and unknown) in all parts of the globe. Rahner sets no limits on the power of God.

Rahner writes: “In every human being ... there is something like an anonymous, unthematic, perhaps repressed, basic experience of being orientated to God, which is constitutive of man in his concrete make-up (of nature and grace), which can be repressed but not destroyed, which is ‘mystical’ or (if you prefer a more cautious terminology) has its climax in what the older teachers called infused contemplation.”13

This is no claim of universalism. Rahner says that God is everywhere at work, and everywhere takes the divine initiative. He does not say that all human beings equally recognize and respond to that call. But Rahner does not envision a mysticism of interiority alone. Instead, he sees a mystical dimension in many aspects of living, a mysticism of eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, sitting, and other everyday experience. Even more than these, Rahner sees Christ coming to meet us in our loneliness, our rejections, our unrequited loves, our faith in the face of death.

Even so, in the strands of thought and reflection taken here from these two modern thinkers and mystics is the beginning of a full theology of the mystical; one that can undergird my own sense that God’s call is to each of us. Human responses will vary. To become a mystic is not (for most) to become an ecstatic in some melodramatic style; but rather to enter into a deep encounter with God in a humble, hidden, and entirely mysterious way. It is about God’s unfailing love. It is about the mystery of the cross. It is about an encounter with the power of God in the middle of things: an encounter that is hidden, inexpressible, ineffable, and real.

Copyright ©2004 by Emilie Griffin

10.These twelve historically practiced Christian disciplines were discussed at length
by Richard J. Foster in his popular book, A Celebration of Discipline, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1979, 1988).

11.A fuller discussion of John Wesley’s views on mysticism will be given in a later chapter.

12.Harvey Egan gives an extended account of Merton’s idea of the hidden contemplative in
What Are They Saying About Mysticism?
(New York: Paulist Press, 1982) 58-60, and in
Christian Mysticism: the Future of a Tradition, (New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1984) 236-237.

13.Egan, What Are They Saying About Mysticism? 98-99. Also see Christian Mysticism:
the Future of a Tradition
, 246-247.

Emilie Griffin, Wonderful and Dark Is This Road (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004) 25-27.

Used with permission of Paraclete Press, www.paracletepress.com.

Wonderful & Dark is This Road

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