WONDERFUL AND DARK IS THIS ROAD
by Emilie Griffin
Chapter Two: Who Can Be A Mystic?
THE ANONYMOUS 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
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
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.
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.”
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
different language Karl Rahner makes a similar claim: everyone
is called to the immediacy of God’s presence. A supernatural,
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.
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
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.
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.
by Emilie Griffin
10.These twelve historically practiced Christian disciplines were discussed
by Richard J. Foster in his popular book, A Celebration of Discipline,
(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1979, 1988).
fuller discussion of John Wesley’s views on mysticism will
be given in a later chapter.
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.
Are They Saying About Mysticism? 98-99. Also see Christian
the Future of a Tradition, 246-247.
Griffin, Wonderful and Dark Is This Road (Orleans, MA: Paraclete
Press, 2004) 25-27.
Used with permission of Paraclete Press, www.paracletepress.com.
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