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Category: Theology

Spiritual Mystic


Mysticism is a process. Spirituality is a sensitivity.

Mysticism is movement. Spirituality is an awareness of the reality in which mysticism moves.

Mysticism is life. Spirituality is our ability to recognize that life we seek, the bits of life we’ve found and are finding.

Mysticism is something we do. Spirituality is our growing inner and outer vision, a guide for this doing.

Mysticism is a state of being. Spirituality is our sense of that state.

Mysticism is a place. Spirituality is the intuitive knowledge of that place we seek, that place we’ve found, that place in which we abide.

Mysticism is our continued journey toward full identification with God. Spirituality is a kind of knowing of the world behind the world in which we live, an awareness of the real world that undergirds and envelops the physical world, the tangible world, the visible world. That awareness of the world behind the world gives us the space we need to grow toward one-ness, toward consummation, into identification.

Mysticism is “living union with” God. Spirituality may be a partly-intellectual realization of the delights we seek. Spirituality may be “acute emotional longings.” Spirituality may be informed by the psychological, the conscious, the intuitive. Spirituality may be physical, a kind of ecstasy in the presence of God. But spirituality is not the thing we seek. It is the tool or ability or sense with which we seek.

Mysticism is not a kind of awareness or higher being. It is, according to Evelyn Underhill, actual union: “the true goal of the mystic quest.”

Hannah More pushes her readers toward something similar in her description of Christianity as a transformation “into the image of God . . . being like-minded with Christ.”

Phoebe Worral Palmer never seems to have experienced this kind of unity. Or if she did, she lacked language to express it, for the closest she comes to an expression of union is the claim that she has learned to present and keep “all upon the hallowed altar,” a phrase that suggest she has put herself both beneath and before God (but no closer).

Walter Rauschenbusch seeks unity with “the mind of Jesus.” And he suggests that close study of the Lord’s prayer is the key to knowing that mind. Living out the Lord’s prayer, then, is to experience a kind of unity of purpose with God.

Mysticism is movement. Spirituality is an awareness of the reality in which mysticism moves.



A grocery store in town has automatic doors that slide open as shoppers approach. It’s no big deal. Most stores do. But a few weeks ago, as I rushed from the store, the infrared sensor didn’t sense me. The door didn’t open. I ran into the glass. I was both embarrassed and frustrated. Later, it seemed that what I had experienced might have been a bit of a spiritual awakening.

Spirituality, I’ve reasoned, is like a series of openings. If spirituality is a fundamental dimension of my humanity, then it’s a series of openings that are mostly invisible, taken-for-granted, automatic. If I don’t notice these openings – to beauty, to wisdom, to intimacy, to understanding, to truth – if I fail to see (let alone value) those gifts to which I’m granted access, then I simply don’t know that I’m spiritual. If I never embarrass myself by running up against the glass, I may never learn that I’ve been living in two worlds. I may never learn to fully live.

What does it mean to be spiritual? I think it is a kind of awareness of the openings that allow me to transcend the purely physical, the purely literal, the purely logical. An awareness that grows into desire.

Origen of Alexandria (185-251) discusses spirituality in a treatise on Interpreting Scripture. In Rowan Greer’s translation of the text, Origen explains a three-fold method for understanding the Bible. The first of these is to view biblical texts or narratives as a “body, that is a logically coherent narrative meaning.” There are stories that say what they’re about. The second of these is to view biblical texts as a “soul . . . [that] bestow the greatest instruction upon those who hear them.” These are texts that we learn to interpret and explain. The third of these is the spirit, where “spiritual meaning is involved.”

I’ve run up against the glass. Then I realize that, of course, even scripture is an opening; and I want to cross over, to step through, to enter in. I want to be spiritual. And spiritually aware. I want to live.

I want to cross over, to step through, to enter in. I want to be spiritual. And spiritually aware. I want to live.



Left unchecked, an evangelical focus on Christ’s sacrificial death could be the death of the Church. It’s skewed our theology, messed up many of our relationships, and created a culture that thrives on guilt and judgment. But it’s not Jesus’ fault. He tried to warn us.

Here’s the deal: Jesus lived his message, and it was a message of love. But the present-day Christian addiction to the Calvary cross has replaced Jesus’ entire ministry — both before his death and after his resurrection — with a single act of sacrifice, making that willingness to die for a belief and a people the proof of Jesus’ love.

It doesn’t work that way. Sacrifice — of anything for anyone — is powerful because of its selflessness. But sacrifice has some problems as well.

1) Sacrifice, to be effective, requires the misfortune of others. I cannot save someone unless he needs saving, hence the Church’s reputation for passing judgment. 2) If the act of sacrificial death teaches us the value of someone we previously took for granted, it remains powerless to heal that relationship. There is no reconciliation without life. 3) The pursuit of sacrifice in the form of hoped-for martyrdom is to give up living altogether. What is the value of a life that was never lived? 4) Sacrifice, as we understand it, involves a completely selfless giving without any hope of receiving in return. It is not a contract. This makes death the end of all sacrifice. Except for one thing — Christians have the hope of resurrection. Unbelievers have no such hope. Logically, this would make the sacrificial death of an atheist more powerful (and more ethical) than the death of a believer.

I could go on.

But I’ll end with this, instead. When Jesus preached that “The Kingdom of Heaven is here” or that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice,” when he offered rest for our souls and spoke of a banquet to which all those found along the highways were invited, when he healed the lame and the blind and the bleeding, he was pointing to a wedding, not a funeral. And the wedding is here. Now.

It’s time to change our focus.

And our tone.

He was pointing to a wedding, not a funeral. And the wedding is here.

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