Am I a Mystic? A Simplified Definition of Christian Mysticism
(edited November 1, 2018)
Does the word “mystic” make you uncomfortable? It delivers a mixed bag of messages in our era. The images it conjures can be as diverse as its preceding adjective or context:
New Age mystic? Crystals and incense
Spiritual mystic? Gandhi
Fictional mystic? Harry Potter
Eastern mystic? Rumi
Western mystic? Richard Rohr
What does it bring to mind for you?
What about Christian mystic?
Do you pull away hesitantly or do you relate with a resounding “Yes!”?
There are lots of words out there. We could just stop using words with layered meanings and choose alternatives to replace them. Depending on the audience and context, that might be the wiser choice. Another alternative is to take the extra time to explain what we mean-- define our terms. I believe that when we do this we can step forward without fear and confidently say what we mean and mean what we say-- because we have contextualized it. (Clarifying adjectives also come in handy.)
I like the word mystic. I’m not even sure why. Perhaps it’s because I have always been drawn to the spiritual. Perhaps it’s because it gives me a sense of the profundity and “beyondness” of God.
The word mystic predictably shares its root with the word, mystery. It is also related to the word, mute, coming from the Greek muein: to shut the eyes or lips.
To me, this evokes awe and reverence, my utter speechlessness before an indescribably holy God. It reminds me of my exceedingly limited comprehension of spiritual truths and matters.
Isaiah 55:9 states, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
A mystic’s view of God is ripe with the mystery of God’s infiniteness. This feeds a mystic’s response to God. The definition of mystic from the Cambridge Dictionary is “someone who attempts to be united with God through prayer.” So simple, yet profound.
A Christian mystic, therefore, is one who believes that God is wider, longer, higher, deeper than the biggest box that any human can imagine. Because of this, she seeks to live in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, seeking oneness with Christ in all.
What do I actually mean by this religious verbiage-- in, through, with and oneness with Christ? That a key part of God’s infinite character encompasses this: “the mystery of union with God...is not unknowable but infinitely knowable.”1
The cardinal trait of a mystic is that she holds a high view of God and a humble view of herself while deeply believing (even knowing) that intimacy with God is possible, experiential and accessible to all.
John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” This intimate and accessible experience hinges on the incarnation of God as flesh in Jesus and continues to be walked out by the real presence of the Holy Spirit.
So am I a Christian mystic?
According to this definition…yes, resoundingly yes.
1 From Richard Rohr’s email newsletter, Remembering and honoring my teacher, Father Thomas Keating. (Nov 1, 2018)