Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Is Mysticism?

 Joan of Arc

Maternal Indigo chronicles my personal, spiritual journey, particularly as relates to the path along which I am joining the Catholic Church. It is a journey that analyzes what has gone before, my past beliefs, and the ongoing evolution of my religious thinking and experiences, with a particular slant toward the mystical. But what, exactly, is mysticism, and what does it mean to be a mystic? When we think of mystics, Joan of Arc or Hildegard of Bingen may come to mind, or poets such as William Blake. But what about "ordinary" people like you and me? Can we also lead a mystical life? My belief is that if this is so desired, then certainly it can be.

In a general sense, mysticism can be a belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human experience, especially perceived as essential to the nature of life. It can be understood as the transcendentalism of Emerson's "transparent eyeball" and be marked by "peak experiences", otherwise known as a state of "flow". For Emerson this translated as a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Self-consciousness melts away, and the human becomes one with the universe. This type of experience may occur as an artist paints, a poet writes, a dancer performs, or a gardener pulls weeds. Meditation is often used to achieve this state of unity with all of creation. It is the detachment or nonattachment described by great spiritual thinkers from various traditions. In a creative endeavor, the artist seems to be divinely inspired, and the resulting work is a collaboration between human will and a higher power. I have had many such mystical experiences of a creative nature.

In Christian theology, mysticism is a system of contemplative prayer and spirituality aimed at achieving direct unitive experience of the divine. It is an immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality of God. In some cases, awareness of the presence of God rather than union with Him is the reality. This was the case for me when, at the age of 8, God called me to be baptized while attending Sunday school, a message I heard directly in my head. A similar experience occurred last fall when God called me to the Catholic Church for a meeting with the Virgin Mary, where her presence and message were mystically made known to me.

Visions and miracles are other types of mystical experiences. Hence the inner voices telling Joan of Arc to lead an army and the special knowledge she received to prove the message was from God, the apparitions to Bernadette by the Virgin Mary at Lourdes and subsequent spiritual and physical healings, and Hildegard's and Jane Leade's personal visions of the Virgin Spirit Sophia. The only possible test of authenticity from a Christian perspective is personal transformation, both on the mystic's part and upon the part of those whom the mystic has affected. The Catholic Church has strict criteria for deciding upon the authenticity of an apparition of the Virgin Mary, for example. Has conversion taken place? Are the fruits of the visions good and holy? Have others been lead to God as a result of the visions and miracles?

 Our Lady of Lourdes by SakuraHaze

Mysticism inspires a sense of mystery and wonder. What was once obscure, strange, and enigmatic is divinely revealed. Sometimes a mystical experience is a purposeful goal, while at other times the peak experience occurs accidentally, as it were, while washing one's hair or chopping vegetables for a soup. Often a repetitive ritual of a physical nature engages the logical left brain so that the creative processes of the right brain have a chance to be released. Inspiration means a state of being filled with the spirit. A combination of study, prayer, and meditation, or the carrying out of some routine task, or becoming lost in a creative endeavor, may bring about the presence of Holy Wisdom; and suddenly one understands, a hidden meaning is disclosed,  and the "ah" moment when we see into the nature of God and existence is reflected in our own souls.


  1. nice story you have. somebody once told me: "welcome to the mystical world" and i remember it but do not understand it.

    now you tell about this but my mind is still blank, maybe because i have no experience yet.

    i am very interested in following your blog because maybe i can find something here which would open something for me.

  2. Good to hear from you again, Elizabeth! I did email you. Did you receive my message? If not, I will try again. Read the post "The Mystic Path" on this blog and that may give you more insight into mysticism. I recommend the book, Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. Be well!