Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Mystic Path

Catholic Mystic, Hildegard of Bingen

One of my favorite books is Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. The author attempts to provide a view of the lives of various people who are nonconformists in many ways, whose interior, spiritual life, to greater or lesser degrees, takes precedence over the signals modern society deems necessary for success--money, material goods, power, a high profile career. The monks and mystics this book describes do not live in monasteries or convents, but they do have some things in common with those who do. Their lives are relatively simple; they often require little money, because they have drastically pared down their material needs; they are socially transcendent; and in the case of mystics, they are also self-transcendent, and their overriding goal is union with God.

In all cases, these otherwise "ordinary" people experienced a stage of growth in which they had to pull away in some respects from others and focus inward. They were compelled to reorient themselves toward individual authenticity and re-evaluate what was most important and necessary to personal happiness. "Fitting in" to society was no longer important, and they let go of feeling socially obligated to spend time doing things that did not contribute to their spiritual calling. Small talk no longer held their interest.

Eventually after the period of withdrawal, the monk or mystic would be renewed and feel compelled to return to society the fruits of his or her isolation. Even if he lived alone in the woods, this person would perhaps have an Ebay business in which to sell his hand crafts, or he would publish his poetry. Or the business executive who seemed to live a conventional life might spend a great deal of time practicing yoga or meditating or finding ways to make his business more environmentally sustainable, honest, or helpful to a greater number of people. A feeling of union with others, rather than separation, would prevail.

Mystics such as the visionaries of Medjugorje, who were teenagers when they began to receive visitations and messages from the Virgin Mary, would spend several hours a day at mass and in prayer. We may not have time to be such outwardly devoted mystics. But the housewife who dedicates her day to the care of her home and family, who lives simply and prepares home cooked meals, may be no less contemplative than those Yugoslavian visionaries.

I would like to continue to discuss what it means to be a mystic and the price associated with such a calling, which may lead others to wondering and worrying about a person who lives such an unconventional life as this. Friends and family may wonder about the "sudden" (though it usually is not) change. Have you become a religious fanatic? What is wrong with eating meat? Are you starved for attention? Why don't you want to go to this party or that family gathering? Are you depressed? Are you anti-social? Why don't you read the newspaper? Are you trying to avoid the "real world"?

Or is it, rather, that finding the Real World is exactly your mission?

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