When I tell people that I’m an amateur theologian, they often ask what kind of theology I write about. That’s a tough question. In the past, I’ve responded by saying “existential Christian theology” or loftily explaining that I’d like to describe Christian theology in a way that makes it understandable, relevant and attractive to the millennial generation, on the verge of which I sit myself. To what extent that’s a reconsideration of current theologies or just a new marketing scheme, I don’t know. Neither does that matter so much, as the only really-persuasive, heart-changing thing about Christianity is the person of Jesus Christ.
All of that aside, as I’ve developed and organized my theological precepts in writing for this blog, I’ve come to realize the importance of mysticism in my own understanding (however limited it may be) of the divine. Were I to undertake the arduous task of writing a systematic theology, I think now that I might title the school of thought “New Mysticism.”
Dictionary.com (in the second entry) defines mysticism as “a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.”
We live in a postmodern age, skeptical of any answers this world could provide us. On the one hand, we see extremists telling us that there is no possible argument about the truth, that it is painted in harsh tones of black and weight, never mixing, never graded. On the other there are those who tell us that there is no such thing as Truth, that everything is a matter of perspective, or society or culture, that everything is relative.
Every day, science continues to astound us with the complexity, strangeness and splendor of the natural universe, all the while failing to answer life’s most important questions. Neuroscience shows us the many ways in which the brain might be tricked into misperceiving; we must become skeptical of our own ability to know and understand the universe around us. But there are more things in heaven and earth, dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The myth of progress has failed us; we have more ways to entertain ourselves, more things to do with our time, ways to communicate and travel faster than ever before, and yet the worst of our problems remain to plague us. We are disconnected and disaffected; disparity in power, wealth and opportunity yawns wide between societies and individuals; we still exploit one another, play games of “us” and “them,” fear and hate one another.
The myth of a bygone Golden Age is a bad joke. Those who tell us we can “make America great again” want to do so by reliving the darkest parts of our history—oppression, suppression and regression. Human nature has always been what it is; our past reflects this.
Should we not look toward what we might make of ourselves rather than what has been? Should we rely on revolutions in science and technology that might cover over the darker parts of our selves rather than healing one another’s souls and becoming something better?
Why do we look to the world for our answers? Nothing satisfies. We have been gifted the power to craft and create purpose and meaning and we have ignored it. Look at the wonder of the stories we craft—and then look upon the fallenness of the world we have wrought.
When logic fails us in answering the great existential questions, what are we to do? We look elsewhere. We look to hope. We look to faith. We look to love. None of these is logical, yet they answer more meaningful questions than all of our intellectual works.
We look beyond the world we see, to the invisible we sense only by other means, means at once inexplicable and undeniable. We look to the God who moves beyond all things, reaching for us if only we will let ourselves be grasped, whispering to us if only we will open our ears to hear.
In the relationship God seeks with us, there only is to be found Truth, there only is the source of all meaning worth making, there only are the answers we cannot find through our own faculties, great though they may be. The answers are found in relationship, not in understanding.
I know no other word for that than mysticism. I have never experienced the unio mystica, never spoken in tongues, never had an ecstatic experience of the divine. I do not mean that we should attempt to seek God through asceticism, nor do I mean to advocate for any particular “mystical experience.”
I seek a mystical way of living, one that follows the example of Christ by placing importance on the things that cannot be seen and grasped but that are more powerful than anything we find in this world—relationships, meaning, love. It is my belief that, to do that, we must free ourselves from the notion that we have the ability to understand, much less control, all things, we must be open to receiving the transcendent touch of a God who graciously condescends to be present with us. Most of all, we must live in light of the change that such experience brings to us—and we must endeavor to share that change with a world desperately in need of it.
That I think, is a mysticism of its own kind, a mystical view of existence that does not sharply differentiate between the mundane and the spiritual, but holds them together in tension. In this way, I think that it is fair to call it “new,” though I may be falling prey to the myth of progress myself.