A little more explanation then, about mysticism, which is a much maligned word. Mysticism tends to be something we associate more with eastern religion, but the tradition within Christianity is also ancient, stretching back into our Judeo-Christian heritage. Mystics are really just people who can “see.” They have learned to look at the world, at creation, to gaze at God, with new eyes. For a mystic, the spiritual is as real as the physical world.
My own journey into has developed over many years. I spend a lot of time sitting with God, and being still and quiet. Don’t go getting the idea that hearing God or seeing with eternity as your guide has anything to do with being good or holy, only God is those things, and the most mature spiritual leaders you will find in life are usually the most “ordinary” seeming. People who have got to know God a little (because that is as far as we are going to get in this short preamble we call life) are usually the more grounded for it. I also spend a lot of time complaining to God and faffing about on the internet.
My own path as a mystic includes being given “seeings,” which are received in my mind’s eye, stories, “hearings” which are like whispers underneath the world’s noisy currents of doing, and very occasionally a vision (which is so real it is almost like seeing it with my earthly eyes). With all of these treasures, discernment is part of the process. I always tell people to use their own instinct and knowledge of God and scripture to make sure something passes muster before sharing it or indeed, taking it from me. The main litmus test for me is always whether something is loving and edifying or not. I find that even when God is showing us something that needs to change, he does so, not with judgement, but with such gentleness and wisdom that we don’t even realise it was any kind of discipline till later on.
I think that God has a great deal to say to each of us, it is a matter of spending time with him and learning how to listen, how to “tune in” if you like. Scripture says his sheep know his voice, and so we can be confident that this is possible.
Things that seem to block this process are, in my experience anyway, focussing on myself, or my worries, self pity (this seems to completely stop me hearing from God in any meaningful way), emotional pain sometimes, because it can be so loud, habitual sin -but only the deliberate, stubborn kind, anything I’m willing to repent of vanishes in a heartbeat and the blockage is gone, any kind of pride, and the old favourite, the butterfly mind – the distractions, the flitting here and there of thoughts, especially if they are going to dark places. BUT the Lord has taught me that nothing I think can sully him, so I have stopped worrying about that, and remember how great his grace is, constantly turning back to him.
Prayer is on any level, really about giving him our full attention. This is a habit that needs developing, and I have certainly felt called to a life of prayer; but at the same time I believe that anyone can develop this relationship and hear from God, if it is something that is important to them and they make time for it. Let me be very clear also, that this is one way to God, and it is how he’s drawn me to him. It is not the only way, nor necessarily the best way. There are many Christians who sit at the feet of their Lord in a different and equally important way, offering him other kinds of service and devotion, sacrifice and worship.
Mysticism is not just about hearing from God though, let me clarify that as well. God is not a radio station, simply broadcasting stuff for us to pick up. This is fundamentally about relationship, and what God talks to you about in the silence or in your heart will be primarily about change. He wants to transform us from glory to glory and this means giving up a great deal, changing the way we think and behave, it is not a hobby, it takes over your whole life. Because how could you spend time with your creator, the very meaning of love and life, and not be changed? It is impossible. So going deeper is not an easy road. But if you want to know him better, you will need to develop new ways of seeing and hearing.
In the end, we become prayer. Relationship with God takes over everything. We are thinking on a scripture when we are loading the washing machine. We are wanting to shine out his compassion when we see someone hurting, we are longing to give each and every activity, moment, interaction and breath over to him. We are stubborn creatures, and this surrender is the work of a lifetime. I’m a long way from being a living prayer, but it is my goal, if I have one.
In mystic prayer, the Lord reveals his heart to us. This is utterly precious. A good deal of what we speak about is shareable, hence his bringing me into a ministry of writing, but most of it is a process of union, a togetherness, a conversation that is not just about “me”, because the more you pray like this, the more you recognise your own smallness; but it is about life, about love, about the universe, about the way things are, more than anything perhaps, about perception, how we see and hear and understand Kingdom things.
For more information please see the page on Contemplative Prayer where I have shared some further reading recommendations. Also, you may like to read the couple of examples below of my prayerful “receivings,” along with the explanations/interpretations that often surface afterwards. God bless you.
The Snail and the Canyon
I am up in the air, very high. I see a grand canyon – deeper than I could imagine. I look at all the layers and colours of rock as I am falling past them. I sense the word “aeons” and know that’s how long they’ve taken to be formed. I then see myself. I am a tiny snail, with a delicate shell. I am spinning. I am a spiral, spiralling. I know that this is like the earth, it spins in infinity. I look and know two things with certainty.
1) All of this is purposed and intended. Every grain of sand is the right colour and age in the right place. Every molecule is where it needs to be. This will include me when I land with a tiny splat on the ground and am scattered into pieces, or when I splash into the river water to be smashed and eaten. Either way (and the breaking apart is inevitable) my molecules, the parts of me, will all end up where they are meant to be, as part of a gigantic whole. When I am integrated or fossilised into this landscape, which is God’s country, I take my rightful place and am ever part of it. But for now, I am spinning in what seems like infinite space. But even my descent and trajectory are intentional, are planned.
2) I feel and know my smallness, my unimportance AND my place and necessity simultaneously. I know I am both big and tiny AT THE SAME TIME. I sense my utter unimportance in the scale of things as a teeny tiny snail, and yet know I am watched and that I and my journey are purposed. I am important and trivial at the same time – it is the paradox of the human condition. In relation to the canyon I am small and seemingly irrelevant, and yet it needs me in order to be the canyon it is meant to be.
I cannot adequately explain how deep the canyon is. I see all this from outside of myself, knowing that this is a picture and sensing the spiral of both the shell and the movement both around and downwards. A spiral spiralling around and spiralling down.
note: the snail shell is so tiny, it is like yellowed calcium, like an old person’s toenail, but much prettier! There is a sense of it being fragile and perhaps an understanding that it is built in order to break on hitting the ground. In any case the things that stand out to me are that this is all necessary and carefully purposed. There is no sense of fear whatsoever, nor of discomfort, indeed the snail is unaware of the sensation of spinning, just as we on the earth do not feel it spinning.
Today I see and hear, especially hear, the roar of powerful flames. So much so it is quite overpowering. The understanding given with this is that this is the intense heat of self-righteousness, which longs to burn up everything that it sees as wrong. This is the indignation of the Pharisee, contemptuous of the “sinner” praying beside him at the Temple. It is the ferocious hatred of the religious fanatic, determined to burn the witches he sees all around him. It is the Nazi’s urge to burn books that might contradict her Fuhrer. It is the zeal of the psychotic, the deranged and the completely certain. It is the fire that rages against everything we see as “other” to our self, alien to our nativeness and wrong in contrast to our right.
The sad and ironic thing of course is that self-righteousness is the deepest delusion of all, and none of us is immune to it, it requires daily battling (or maybe that’s just me!). Added to this is the fact that the people who suffer from it most are often the most religious, as Jesus made painfully clear. But the facts and doctrines that form the basis of all religions and faiths, whilst important, are only ever a starting point. We begin with certainties and we grow into being comfortable with grey areas, with not-knowings, with questions and with wilderness times that call us into uncertainties. Out of these places we should come, if we are maturing at all, beginning to embrace paradox and wonder, humility along with a new appreciation both of our own smallness and of our connectedness with others, leading to greater love and tolerance. Above all, we should find that we are constantly knocked sideways by the sheer, unbelievable size of God’s grace and marvel at its being extended to ourselves and be joyful at its being extended to others.
Self-righteousness is a flame that seems to do the greatest damage to others, whereas in fact, it is baking our hearts so hard that when we fuel it, it is ourselves we are hurting the most.
“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” Jonah 3:10-4:1
©K Dibbens-Wyatt, photos from Pixabay
“Flames” is one of the 365 devotional entries in my forthcoming book of receivings “Manna from Heaven” which I hope will be published in 2018