“Wouldn’t it be great if God gave us a phone number we could use to talk with the Creator at any time?” I joked with my friend Mary as we sipped coffee. “We’d each get a direct dial number for God. Whenever we felt sad or lonely, we’d dial our magic phone number, and the Creator would remind us we’re loved unconditionally. When we needed instructions on how to deal with a tough situation, we’d call the God Hotline and get some Divine Wisdom.”
“You know, you do have the ability to connect with God directly,” Mary said with a gleam in her eyes. “We’re all mystics. It’s just that we don’t know it or trust it.”
I considered. “What do you mean by a mystic?”
Mary then told me something I’d never learned in religious education classes.
In his book, Longing for God—An Introduction to Christian Mysticism, William Paulsell writes, “A mystic is a person who has experienced the presence of God in a very direct way. The event is so real and certain that there can be no doubt about what happened.”
According to Paulsell, the experience of divine presence is rooted in our deep longing for God. We want to know for sure God actually exists and hope it’s possible for us to have contact with him. Mystics are not seeking ecstatic experiences—they’re seeking God.
Most everyone has had experiences of God’s Divine Presence, Paulsell suggests. “We may have attributed many incidents to chance, coincidence, or fate, when, later in life, it becomes clear that God was acting in such events and we did not realize it at the time.”
A Bad Rap
The word “mystic,” however, has gotten a bad rap. Some people think it means levitating or sitting on a meditation cushion humming “Om.” Others think it’s a term reserved for exceptionally holy men and women like Saint John of the Cross (who wrote passionate love poems about God while imprisoned) or Saint Teresa of Avila (who in a moment of meditation levitated, and is purported to have exclaimed, “Put me down, God!”)
The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
God desires to communicate with each of us in our own unique way. So, the Creator often surprises us through ordinary experiences that becomes extraordinary because they speak directly to our hearts.
As Mary let me ponder, I recalled for her the cardinal that had startled me on the way to the coffee shop that morning. I had stopped and stared at him dancing in the tree branches for several moments. The bird’s melody was magical. It were as if I heard him ask if his song mattered, if it made any difference in the world. As those words whispered their way into my heart, I responded to my feathered friend, “Of course your song matters. I heard it, and it filled me with joy.”
Mary said that moment with the cardinal was a mystical experience. It was God giving me the answer to what I had struggled with during my quiet time that morning. I had wondered if the words I write each week make any difference in the world. Do they matter? And the cardinal’s song was God’s answer.
How Do You Know It’s God?
William James, in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience, outlined some characteristics of mystical experiences. Here’s a summary of four:
Ineffable. The experience is beyond human intellect. We can’t explain it in mere words. It’s knowledge that surpasses understanding.
Experiential. The knowledge it conveys can’t be learned in a textbook. It can be experienced only. It provides new and deeper insights.
Transient. The experience is temporary, and often brief. It’s as if time is held and suspended.
Surprising. No one can make Divine Presence happen. It surprises us. It’s a pure gift from God.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Although we can’t create these “God-moments,” we can create an openness to receiving Divine Presence when it appears. An inner life of prayer, meditation, study, and silence creates an attentive heart for us to recognize the God-moments in our lives.
These spiritual practices help us become open and receptive to God. Like going to the gym to strengthen our physical muscles, our daily spiritual practices are exercise for our souls.
Join the Conversation
If a mystic is simply someone who experiences God’s presence, then maybe we’re all mystics. We all have unique experiences of God, whether we’re aware of them or not.
Maybe it’s time for us to join the conversation about these delight-filled God-moments. Let’s share our stories about these sacred experiences and affirm they’re as real as the air we breathe. They’re an important way the Creator communicates with us.
Who’s a mystic? Me and you!
I invite you to share your story of when you had a mystical moment by adding your comments below.
—brian j plachta
PS: Zoom Webinar Today (Monday, April 12) at 10:30 am to 12 Noon (EST)
Join me and the Dominican Village on-line for: Are You Resurrected? and explore the natural pattern of inner growth and transformation.
During our time together we will explore …
- Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple light switch we could flip to move beyond the painful Good Fridays of our lives into the joy of Easter resurrection?
- Is there a natural pattern we can embrace that helps us move through the difficult periods of our lives into inner peace, balance, and wholeness?
- What does Order — Disorder — Reorder have to teach us?
During this online program, we’ll explore the pattern of order-disorder-reorder in our lives. We’ll discover how this cycle repeats itself like the four seasons. And if we’re attentive to it, we can cooperate with that cycle and grow.
We can live as resurrected people.
Registrations encouraged and all are welcome! Here’s the Link to Register and Join us: