Is there a place for mysticism?

I’ve seen some Christians say truly ridiculous things about mysticism, saying that it doesn’t sense unless it’s about communion with the devil (largely this comes from Michael Heiser fans). I think that worldly pleasures are merely temporary, and you cannot gain true satisfaction through worldly pleasures alone. The only way in which I find you can gain lasting satisfaction (or eudaimonia) is through focusing on the divine, since the divine is infinite. Neoplatonism (which I kind of lean towards), Kabbalah, Sufism and Christian Mysticism accomplish this well.

What do you think? Is there a place for mysticism?

I think yes…Dallas Willard among others recently, but hermits and ascetics too.

Nice photo, by the way.

Unfortunately, in recent years, mysticism has gained associations with crackpot new agers and theosophists such as Aleister Crowley and Helena Blavatsky, which leads to the unfortunate opposition by many modern Christians. By mysticism I don’t mean occultism, or esotericism, as if the goal of mysticism is to gain some ‘hidden knowledge’, rather I mean surrender to and contemplation of the divine. True mystics say that knowledge of the divine cannot be accurately known, contra the claims by theosophists.

I see this as the highest form of satisfaction, which transcends any finite pleasure.

Mysticism needn’t reach so far. When Mozart gave expression to new music I think he was tapping into something that presented itself to him whole cloth, not building it up from consideration of classical principles. Many novelists do not decide what their characters will say or do in order to make them conform to a conscious design. Rather, they foster a new character in their imaginations to the point where they can simply transpose what they imagine them as saying, and what they say can come as a surprise to the author. There is mysticism in creative endeavors as well as in contemplation of the divine. Through contemplation and quieting our analytic mind, we open ourselves to receiving the gifts of the intuitive mind. Or maybe it is simply deeper, less easily accessible layers of our minds … or maybe it is a divine gift. Precisely what to call it is a preoccupation of the analytic mind.

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Psalm 42:1-2
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

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Exactly, also, all the Christian objections to mysticism I have seen focus on a guilt by association fallacy. Other religions use mysticism, therefore it is wrong.

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I find that doesn’t give me fulfillment. It is still focus on the finite, not the infinite.

That’s a good point, and I’ve seen that objection as well. I have to wonder if many Protestants also interpret it as “too Catholic” for their tastes.

I think of the “Jesus Calling” devotional books by Sarah Young as an example, and while I’ve never read them, I’ve read a fair amount of “warnings” from the more conservative side about how she’s supposedly putting words in Jesus’s mouth. Not sure if that’s quite what you’re thinking of, but “mysticism” is the label many would use for something like that.

I wrote a post on the subject:

Obviously.

On the one hand, I am not terribly interested personally. On the other hand, I recognize the value of it intellectually – so much so, this is one of the reasons for my belief in God and the non-physical. In other words, I am such a “head case” that I can only see the value of it intellectually, which in some ways is kind of like jumping on words in other languages that sound like totally different words in English. At least as I understand it, mysticism is pretty much the opposite of intellectualism, so my purely intellectual appreciation of mysticism is a bit laughable.

So why do I? …because as much as I may be trapped in logical thought, I can see the limits and so strongly sense something else, that I cannot believe this defines the limits of reality.

I have never encountered this negativity. And to me is sounds practically delusional. From an atheist/naturalist I could understand this attitude perhaps, but religion ALWAYS has at least one foot outside the intellectual and in the mystical. So this negativity tells me that there is a serious lack of self-knowledge involved and even in my totally rational intellectual framework, they sound incoherent to me. On the other hand, maybe just like so many many many many many many many other things, they simply don’t understand what they are ranting and babbling about.

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I think you’re right. I think they are paranoid about creeping Eastern influence (perhaps not without reason) so tar all mysticism with the same brush, ignoring the long history of Christian mysticism, which had nothing to do with anything eastern

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Yes… the question of what does the word “mysticism” refer to is an important one. Mine comes largely from a university class I took entitled “The religions of China and Japan.” That is where I encountered this definition of mysticism which put it in opposition to intellectuality and the confines of logic. I suppose in this class the quintessential example of mysticism was the Zen Buddhists and their attempts to break the human mind out of the confines of logical thinking.

@Realspiritik this topic might interest you.

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Funny that many evangelical Christians feel a need to avoid mysticism when Christianity is a mystical religion in the first place. I mean, our Lord Jesus Christ was in a sense, a mystical figure who had supernatural powers to preforms miracles.

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Thanks, @MarkD, for wondering if I’d be interested in this topic. I am, as always, drawn to discussions about mysticism, though am in the midst of clearing out my parents’ home after 52 years of collecting too much of everything, so don’t have a lot of time.

Every religion at every time in history has an assortment of practising mystics. This is because mysticism is a natural part of the human experience. It’s not common, to be sure, but it’s there, hardwired into our DNA just like other oddities of the human genome. There are probably more mystics in the world today than people who have tetrachromacy (another interesting genetic anomaly that affects how people see and relate to the world), but genuine mystics are nothing to be ashamed of or shunned. Mystics have a role to play within human society, though at present we’re marginalized and treated like pariahs because there’s so little understanding of what mysticism is.

It’s really just an extension of normal human intuition, though for the individuals who have fried their own intuitive brain circuitry, this won’t mean much. For a mystic, the impressions of God’s presence (impressions that many people have at one time or another) are heightened and more consistent. Just as some people have an incredible ear for musical tones, and can pick out nuances the rest of us can’t hear, a mystic is someone whose “inner hear” is highly attuned to God’s Voice. This doesn’t make a mystic better than anyone else (and in fact being a mystic presents many challenges that non-mystics don’t have to deal with), but it does mean mystics have a perspective on Creation that has the potential to help others better understand their own relationship with God.

Mysticism isn’t the same thing as revelation. Nor is it the same thing as prophecy. In addition, there are several different kinds of mysticism, including apophatic mysticism (the main trend in the East), anagogic mysticism (more common in the Abrahamic religions), a blending of apophatic and anagogic (for example, the apostle Paul), and cataphatic mysticism (well represented in the Bible by Job and Jesus). I myself am a cataphatic mystic.

A major problem with the study of mysticism is, of course, the overlap that sometimes takes place between major mental illness and reports of mystical experiences. This overlap is to be expected and treated with caution and compassion. There are definitely many instances where reported experiences have been caused by biological hallucinations and delusions (to name two possible factors among several). But other cases where the Veil partially lifts aren’t so easy to explain.

The brain and central nervous system are the biological firmament in which the seeds of mysticism are planted, so the way you treat your biological brain will always affect how you perceive and process mystical experiences. If you treat your brain badly (filling it up with dangerous substances and dangerous ideas), you can’t honestly expect your brain to understand what it feels like to know God’s loving presence.

Some mystical traditions (especially those based on apophatic traditions) try to create a considerable distance between reason and faith, forcing you to choose one over the other. In my own experience of God, however, the guidance I’ve received has always emphasized the balance between Heart and Mind, faith and reason, Creation and Self. So some mystics actually believe more in integration than in transcendence.

In short . . . mysticism is complicated!

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Dear Reggie,
What I speak about often could be labeled as mysticism, but the term is imprecise in my opinion. When a Christian says they are filled with the Holy Spirit, they are claiming to be a mystic and claiming special religious knowledge. Also, all of the prophets could be called mystics, as they had dreams, visions and other concealed communications with God.

But there is only one version of mysticism allowed in the Bible, as per 1 John 4. This is not a concealed revelation, but a testable revelation that Jesus promises. By testing the spirits openly, no one person can claim special knowledge and raise themselves above the others in the community.

Best Wishes, Shawn

Oh what the heck, I’ll share it here. Hopefully I haven’t already done so multiple times. In Still Life With Woodpecker the author touches on “the mystery” in a humorous novel which muses on how to make love stay. Not to take anything away from those aiming higher than the mundane love of human relations. I know I did recently share Blake’s poem Eternity on Laura’s poetry thread and I agree with him on the futility of grasping joy. Anyhow, Tom Robbins on why we seek to “make love stay”.

“When the mystery of the connection goes, love goes. It’s that simple. This suggests that it isn’t love that is so important to us but the mystery itself. The love connection may be merely a device to put us in contact with the mystery, and we long for love to last so that the ecstacy of being near the mystery will last. It is contrary to the nature of mystery to stand still. Yet it’s always there, somewhere, a world on the other side of the mirror (or the Camel pack), a promise in the next pair of eyes that smile at us. We glimpse it when we stand still.
The romance of new love, the romance of solitude, the romance of objecthood, the romance of ancient pyramids and distant stars are means of making contact with the mystery. When it comes to perpetuating it, however, I got no advice. But I can and will remind you of two of the most important facts I know:

  1. Everything is part of it.
  2. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
    ― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
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Or it has to do with the fact that Eastern Christianity is a thing, and is an important part of Church history that many Western Christians are entirely ignorant of.

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I tend to be more of an apophaticist, though not dogmatically. Since God is a perfect, transcendent being, we demean him by giving him worldly qualities.