What is a Christian Mystic?

Review: WHAT THE MYSTICS KNOW: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self
by RICHARD ROHR, CAC.org
Reviewed by David Bradshaw, Blissfull.org

INTRODUCTION

I’ve been a fan of Richard Rohr since reading “Falling Upward” in 2013 and “Eager To Love” in 2014. Richard Rohr is an authentic spiritual teacher who promotes balancing Christian contemplation with action. His views are a unique blend of orthodox, yet iconoclastic (meaning he’s an equal opportunity religious offender in a good way).

So, what exactly is a Christian mystic? Since the word mystic has some negative baggage, as in “so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good”, I was interested to read what the widely respected Franciscan Friar had to say on the subject.

Rohr defines a “Christian mystic” is anyone who places experiencing God personally as their number one priority, as opposed to simply knowing about God in Scripture, church doctrine and theology. Rohr advocates prioritizing God-centeredness to rule over self-centeredness, a basic Kingdom principle.

THE SIMPLE TRUTH

I like reading Rohr because he prompts me to rethink instead of react. I admire his love of Scripture as well as vast historical knowledge of the early church Fathers and important Saints, something most Protestants are rarely exposed to — even in a lifetime of Sunday sermons.

Jesus said his disciples are called to be salt and light — preservers and illuminators — and that His Kingdom requires some things old and some things new. Our Lord warned us that our biggest obstacles in this life would include our; old self, hardness of heart, a thirst for power and position and the spiritless traditions of men.

2,000 years later, it’s clear we have complicated Christianity in such a way that has confused both believers and non-believers alike. How else can we explain the dramatic rise of American Christians who now identify themselves as “Done’s” — those who have given up on religious affiliation.

What is needed is a simplification of the pure Gospel message, an amplification of our loving God’s deepest desires for us, and a fresh revelation of where we fit in His plan — moment by moment.

Tom Ehrich, founder of MorningWalk, offers a visionary perspective on tomorrow’s faith community … “Enough about churches that are dying. Let’s imagine something that lives, breathes, serves, makes a difference. It would be God’s incarnate presence in human life. Not the only presence, but one that many people could enter into. It would see people wanting to draw closer to God. It would see human needs such as grief and tragedy, hunger and hopelessness. The community would have a bias toward action. Welcoming the stranger, providing care and food, supporting people in transition, working for justice. This faith community would teach about God, not by formulating doctrines, but by telling the stories people are living with God.”

Speaking of telling God-stories, Doug Sherman, founder of TradingUp.org says, “The ability to see God’s hand, hear His voice, converse with Him, to make fresh starts, to see His heart and then represent Him by sharing our story is the central mission of Trading Up and Letters From God.

RE-CENTERING ON GOD

Knowing what the mystics know means choosing to re-center upon God more frequently and thereby de-centering our old selves. As Rohr puts it, “Thy Kingdom Come, My Kingdom Go.” This is a process and journey of a lifetime. Richard Rohr is on the same journey and invites us all along for the ride of a lifetime.

This latest book by Friar Rohr offers nearly 200 short devotional essays divided into seven core mystical truths — most of which, like the words of Jesus, can at first appear counter-intuitive. Below are the book’s seven chapter headings with a few sample devotional story quotes which struck me as important …

  1. THE ENLIGHTENMENT YOU SEEK ALREADY DWELLS WITHIN YOU
    - “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.”
    - “Self worth is not created; it is discovered.”
    - “Each of us are a story. We were created by God as a story waiting to be told…”

2. GOD IS FOUND IN IMPERFECTION
- “God is an earthquake…the preaching of the Gospel pulls the rug out from under us. We have to put life on a new footing.”
- “The ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing.”
- “Three demons Jesus faced in the wilderness…the compulsion to be; successful, right and powerful…until confronted presume they are still in charge.”

3. FROM PROFOUND SUFFERING COME GREAT WISDOM AND JOY
- “It is the things that you cannot do anything about or with that do something with you.”
- “It’s not that we have a message then suffer for it. It is much more the opposite: We suffer, come through it transformed, and then we have a message!”
- “The Prodigal Son might also be better called the story of the Merciful Father, a proclamation of the nature of God’s love and mercy.”

4. THE MYSTICAL PATH IS A CELEBRATION OF PARADOX
- “Untested faith tends to produce a very mechanistic and impersonal spirituality. Mature faith, however, almost always has a quality of paradox and mystery about it — as if to leave room for the freedom of God.”
- “Truth isn’t where we suppose. As Jesus says, be prepared for the surprise that ‘the first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matt. 19:30)
- “You pay a price for being a bridge — people walk over you from both sides.”

5. CONTEMPLATION MEANS PRACTICING HEAVEN NOW
- “By contemplation we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image and the false promises of this world.”
- “What’s happening in the heavenly kingdom is communion, unity, family…Union and communion are the goal of what God is doing on earth.”
- “It is much easier to belong to a group than to belong to God. To belong to a group one usually has to be convinced the group is ‘right’; to belong to God, one always knows one is as wrong as everybody else.”

6. TO DISCOVER THE TRUTH YOU MUST BECOME THE TRUTH
- “The Spirit confers the gift of inner authority. Only people of inner authority will use the outer authority correctly.”
- “Happiness is finally an inside job…drawing life from within. They’re not letting other people name them. They are named by God…”
- “First I have to act, and then I’ll understand…Then I’ll know what I know. But I really won’t know why…it’s the mysterious wisdom of faith.”

7. WHEN YOU ARE TRANSFORMED, OTHERS WILL BE TRANSFORMED THROUGH YOU
- “The effect of contemplation is authentic action, and if contemplation doesn’t lead to action, then it remains only self-preoccupation.”
- “Sacrifice comes from the words sacrum facere — to make sacred or holy. We make something holy by reconnecting it to the whole — in our case by giving ourselves.”
- “The Gospel is before all else a call to live differently, so that life can be shared with others…simplicity, vulnerability, dialogue, powerlessness and humility.”

SAMPLE DEVOTIONAL: “SOMETHING NEW: HOLY FOOLS”, page 118

“Those who will lead into the future will have some hard-won virtues that I will try to describe here. But there is one character type that we cannot do without. Those who name and exemplify what God is doing will be “holy fools”.

By holy fool I mean what the Bible and mythic literature have always presented as the “savior.” They are persons who are happily, but not naively, innocent of everything that the rest of us take for granted. They alone an trust and live the new work of God because they are not protecting the past by control (conservatives) or reacting against the past by fixing (liberals). Both of these are too invested in their own understanding to let go and let God do something new on earth:

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

- Isaiah 43:18–19

According to pattern, the wise fools are always formed in the test ground of exile when the customary and familiar are taken away and they must go much deeper and much higher for wisdom. As a result, they no longer fit or belong among their own. Yet they alone can point the way to the ever new Jerusalem. Conventional wisdom is inadequate, even if widely held by good people. It is Paul, isolated but enthralled by vision of universal Gospel, who can say,

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.” — I Cor. 3:18

The holy fool is the last stage of the wisdom journey. It is the man or woman who knows his or her dignity and therefore does not need to polish or protect it… these alone can be trusted to proclaim the Reign of God.”

Foolishness includes the rejection of worldly cares and imitating Christ, who endured mockery and humiliation. That’s why, spiritual meaning of ‘foolishness’ from the early ages of Christianity was close to unacceptance of common social rules of hypocrisy, brutality and thirst for power and gain.

Contemplative reader, writer, musician

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