Midweek Mysticism: What is a mystic?
It’s Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve, the most mystical time of year when barriers between worlds become thin enough for anyone to pass through.
Despite its “pagan” origins — the ancient Celts to be precise — it has taken on Christian meaning as the prelude to All Saints Day.
The mystical connotation of Hallowe’en has in modern times descended into a festival of spookiness and “fun” for children. A typical tale told on this Trick or Treat night goes something like this: “The last man on Earth sat alone in his house. Suddenly the doorbell rang.”
Aside from all that Hollywood jazz, what exactly is a mystic, and would you qualify as one?
Aldous Huxley in his book Grey Eminence wrote, “The Mystics are channels through which a little knowledge of reality filters down into our human universe of ignorance and illusion.” Moreover, “A totally unmystical world would be a world completely blind and insane.”
Clifton Wolters, an eminent Anglican priest, writer and editor, defined a mystic as one who has achieved a “deep union with God”. The Spanish founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, thought that a mystic is “a contemplative in action”, which is a neat way of putting it.
Evelyn Underhill, author of Mysticism and related titles, adds a characteristic flourish to her definition: “… a human being who has become a pure capacity for God and therefore a tool of divine action.”
So Kahlil Gibran’s luminous words in his magnificent book The Prophet: “Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the world.”
I would add: someone who has a spiritual life-purpose and who has tasted the fruits of mystical experience. There are as many versions of the practising mystic as there are individuals on the path.
Take Thomas Merton, for example. A Catholic priest, irresistible writer — his book The Seven Storey Mountain is a must-read — poet, hermit, and all-round bundle of energy, characteristically had his epiphany in Sri Lanka looking at a statue of the Buddha:
“…I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner cleanness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident, obvious…The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no ‘mystery’. All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with Dharmakaya [the Buddhist word for Godhead] … I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.”
What is notable about this passage is the emphasis Merton places on seeing. It is a direct seeing into the nature of existence, not felt, imagined, or experienced in dream, but visually made aware.
The last Pope, John Paul II, was taught in his youth by a Rosicrucian master. Following a car accident which nearly killed him, he had a spiritual experience which mirrored exactly what the teacher had taught him.
Such was its overwhelming power, the young mystical Pole signed up for a seminary that led all the way to his becoming Pope in Rome. He was a mystic with a big job, not such a rarity as many might think.
Last word to philosopher Rudolph Eucken: “Man is the meeting point of various stages of reality.” Very Hallowe’en!
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.