Midweek Mysticism: The Comforter
A few people have questioned my comparison of the first stage of spiritual enlightment — the Divine Light — with “the Comforter” in John’s Gospel (see here).
It is no surprise to me because many Christians will not allow any crossover between what they think of as Christianity and other forms of mysticism. Their grounds are that, 1) their religion is not mystical, and 2) other religions are Pagan and therefore untrue.
Clearly, they have not read many of the great documents of their faith. Mystical Theology has been an established part of Christianity since a book of the same title was written in the 5th century by that chap with the mystifying name: Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. I can assure you he was no pseud, but took an earlier more famous monk’s name as was common practice at the time.
So let’s take a look at the Comforter and then compare it with some personal descriptions of the Divine Light experience.
To a large extent all religions converge towards a single point the higher up an aspirant climbs the ladder of perfection. This is because mysticism is the highest religion (or religious experience), which encompasses all others. While the mystic inhabits the mountaintop, institutional religions represent the diversity of paths to the summit.
Chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 of John’s Gospel are the purest distillation of mysticism. The Comforter is the Holy Spirit which drops down into those who are ready for higher things. After Jesus’s death, he tells his disciples, another will come to show them the way:
I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
To the world with its physical comforts it remains dark, but the Spirit of truth will show them the unity of all being, and the subordination of the things of this world:
The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you. … The Spirit of Truth shall testify of me. But not all will be chosen, and those that are will be judged by their level of attainment (their fruits): I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
One could easily translate these passages into the language of Mahayana Buddhism with its Bodhisattvas returning to earth to bring others to enlightenment.
There will be a “presentation” of the truth, and the truth will “sanctify” them. They are nevertheless to remain in the world, but at a higher state than before. Jesus is showing them, and by implication other contemplatives, the way to live and, once chosen (for there is no other way), he stresses again and again that they are not of this world.
The Divine Light
Let’s now have the experiences of two mystics of that first stage of spiritual enlightenment, often known as the Divine Light.
First, here is the testimony of the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats:
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and an empty cup
On the marble table top.
As on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Now here is my own description of the same experience over the course of a month:
In the summer of 1992, I was living in the south of Spain writing a book on mystical experiences. As an escape from writing, I had taken up a kind of walking meditation. The aim was partly exercise, but also to give my mind a rest from constant thought.
One day, completely out of the blue, I became aware of a subtle alteration in consciousness. It was as if a grip had been taken on my mind, pleasantly it should be said, and was drawing it back into an area of increasing stillness.
As this rather strange quietness built, it became more and more tangible, like a distinct presence. It wasn’t physical, as far as I could tell; it resembled a warm, yellowish light, a golden glow, even a tingling florescence all around and within me. This supremely-benign condition continued for about half an hour, then mysteriously faded.
Over the next month or so, the state returned virtually every day at varying levels of intensity. At times I found I could induce it at will merely by walking rhythmically. It was a very welcome presence and I came to look forward to its characteristic onset.
The experiences reached a peak one Sunday morning. Unusually I was seated in an armchair reading a book. After a while, the words began to take on a heightened significance and my thought processes slowed right down. I was aware that this was a much deeper experience than anything hitherto.
Reading was now difficult, although not impossible. … I was enjoying this spiritual immersion, which was how it seemed, and after half an hour it left me for good.
The presence was with me continuously for about a month, with my consciousness of it rising and falling in unpredictable ways. It was partly of the body but also external to it in a way I had not knowingly experienced before.
When we are opened up to the light, a “Comforter” removes all the cares and woes of physical existence. We get a glimpse of eternity.
Descriptions of mystical states usually differ in quirky ways, but the congruity between the three versions given here is unmistakeable and, in my view, conclusive. The Comforter is the Christian carrier of the Divine Light, a golden glow that brings divinity into the heart of those who are ready for it.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
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