Defining Christian Mysticism

First, let me apologise for the disjointed order of these posts, although I shouldn’t need to apologise – blogging gives an author the freedom to post items as they come to mind. The reader must wait in anticipation to see if and when some order emerges from the heap. Why should I deprive anyone of that adventure?

Today I plan to begin discovering what mysticism is, and I will begin with a definition from Wikipedia:

Mysticism from the Greek μυστικός (mystikos) “an initiate” (of the Eleusinian Mysteries, μυστήρια (mysteria) meaning “initiation“) is the pursuit of achieving communion or identity with, or conscious wareness of, ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight; and the belief that such experience is an important source of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Traditions may include a belief in the literal existence of realities beyond empirical perception, or a belief that a true human perception of the world trancends logical reasoning or intellectual comprehension. A person delving in these areas may be called a Mystic.

The term “mysticism” is often used to refer to beliefs which go beyond
the purely exoteric practices of mainstream religions, while still being
related to or based in a mainstream religious doctrine. For example, Kabbalah is a significant mystical movement within Judaism, Sufism is a significant mystical movement within Islam, however Gnosticism can refer to either a mystical movement within Christianity or as various
mystical sects which arose out of Christianity. Some have argued that Christianity itself was a mystical sect that arose out of Judaism. While Eastern religion tend to find the concept of mysticism redundant, non-traditional knowledge and ritual are considered as Esotericism, for example Buddhism‘s Vajrayana. Vedanta is considered the mystical branch of Hinduism.

My only interest is in Christian mysticism, so I will give the Wikipedia definition of this:

Mysticism is the philosophy and practice of a direct experience of God. Christian mysticism is traditionally pursued through the practice of the disciplines of prayer (including meditation and contemplation), fasting (including other forms of abstinence and self-denial), and alms-giving, service to others, as discussed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Other forms of mysticism in general include participation in ecstatic worship and the use of entheogens, the latter not being associated with the mainstream of Christian spirituality. Christians believe that God dwells in Christians through the Holy Spirit, and therefore all Christians can experience God directly.

Without needing to accept that these definitions by the unknown Wikipedia authors are the be-all-and-end-all of truth, one point immediately becomes clear. If mysticism includes “the pursuit of achieving communion … with, or conscious awareness of, … God through direct experience, intuition, or insight; and the belief that such experience is an important source of knowledge, understanding, and Wisdom“, and if “Christians believe that God dwells in Christians through the Holy Spirit, and therefore all Christians can experience God directly“, then all Christians can and, I contend, should be mystics!

Of course, there is at least one growing mystical movement in the Protestant church, alongside the mystical elements of more Catholic and Orthodox traditions, which never went away. This is typically expressed in an exploration of the contemplative traditions, and perhaps accounts for the fact that so many Protestant, and even Evangelical pastors now have Roman Catholic spiritual directors. The movement is typified by such organisations as Renovaré, a Christian renewal para-Church organization founded by Quaker Richard Foster in 1988. There are many other signs and centres of this stream.

Some of the resources of this stream have been useful to us in our teaching people how to hear God’s voice, as can be seen on our listening2god website.

Some Renovare resources:

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