Teachings of the Mystics, Part Two
The Teachings of the Mystics, Part Two
(In Part One, the first three qualities of mysticism
were discussed: 1. Consciousness, 2. Quiet, and, 3. Love.
Today: 4. Union, and, 5. Transcendence......)
Teachings of the Mystics, Part Two
4. Union. The thirst for union is the natural outcome of this motion
of love, if indeed they can be separated. The one central teaching
of the mystics is, as Eckhart put it, that man through the divine
spark within his soul may rise into union with the Godhead in an
"The Divine treasure lies hidden in thy own soul," wrote Walter
Hilton in fourteenth-century England.
The Absolute of the mystic is not cold, distant, and unapproachable.
When found, it is something both lovable and living.
Yet there are many testimonies to the difficulty of this discovery.
"There was never yet pure creature in this life, nor never yet shall
be, so high ravished in contemplation and love of the Godhead, that
there is not evermore a high and wonderful cloud of unknowing
betwixt him and his God," says the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.
"Then will He sometimes peradventure send out a beam of spiritual
Light, piercing this cloud of unknowing that is betwixt thee and
Him; and show thee some of His privity, the which man may not, nor
cannot speak. Then shalt thou feel thine affection inflamed with the
fire of His love, far more than I can tell thee."
The craving of the soul for its mate, often accompanied by a longing
to achieve purity and perfection, breaks out in such a cry as this:
"I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a
man." (Theologia Germanica)
Often the radiant awareness of the "otherness" in nature, of
Wordsworth's "something far more deeply interfused" is the first
sign of mystical illumination. The radiance, flooding the whole
personality as if with a new Light, becomes apparent in the face and
gestures of the enlightened. He is ready to cry with Angela of
Foligno: "This whole world is full of God!"
Images of Light inevitably come to the lips of those who have been
enlightened. Paul, blinded with that Light on the road to Damascus,
often speaks in images of Light: "God hath shined in our hearts."
And John too: "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man
that cometh into the world."
5. Transcendence become Immanent. The theorizing of theologians
about God as transcendent and immanent, the God beyond knowing and
the God within, does not concern the mystic. He will admit with Paul
that God has shined into his heart, but he knows that God was
already there -- the divine seed, the inward Light.
Rufus Jones says with all mystics, "God Himself is the ground of the
soul, and in the deeps of their being all men partake of one central
Is there anyone who has entirely escaped this feeling of inner joy
and serenity? Perhaps it has come while watching a sunrise at sea,
or upon stepping out into a bitter cold night and looking up at the
stars, or as a fugue of Bach strides up to its noble climax. At such
moments the larger presence is felt by any sensitive person, and by
quiet meditation can be seized and held. Then we know that something
is present in us beyond the ordinary self. In religious terms, we
have felt the immanence of the divine: Emmanuel -- God with us.
"God is near us," says Meister Eckhart, "but we are far from Him;
God is within, we are without; God is at home, we are in a far
country." (Pred. lxix.)
When our motions are toward evil, the divine becomes distant -- not
by removing itself from us but because we wrap and muffle it with
our indifference. Yet it is still there, within. This is the faith
of the mystic, and it is a knowledge based upon experience. Not upon
doctrine, dogma, creed, encyclical, or church. It is as real as what
you see through a microscope, what you grasp with your hands, what
you chew and swallow and digest. The literature of mysticism is full
of bright and memorable images because mystics see, hear and feel
with an intensity which vibrates to spiritual overtones. Spirit has
cleared their vision, sharpened their senses, toned up their
awareness. If the divine is ever-present, one must be keen of sense
and quick of eye to take it all in.
Through the divine that is within and that has been experienced, one
is led up to an intimation of the divine that is beyond knowing
because if it were not beyond man's powers of understanding it would
not be transcendent. Yet we are led to it by those inner leadings
that are so real, we cannot doubt their authenticity. Like Moses, we
may have to look on the promised land from a distance. But we know
it is there; otherwise we would not be here.
-- Bradford Smith, Meditation -- The Inward Art, Lippincott books