The word “mystic” is a mysterious word. It’s one of those terms you either love or hate, or for most of us, don’t understand.
And mystics have gotten a bad rap over the years. Some think a mystic is a person who levitates or has out of body experiences. Some think mystics are people who wear white robes and have long beards and live in monasteries, or people who are able to dance across clouds. Others think mystics are part of the unholy one’s work. Mystics, they say, are unchristian because—God forbid—they use their imaginations too much.
But mystics are much more common and ordinary than we might realize. In fact, all of us, in one way or another are mystics, it’s just that we’re not fully aware of it.
So, what’s a mystic? In short, a mystic is someone who experiences a relationship with God. They move beyond the mind’s mere intellectual knowledge of the Divine into the heart space where they experience a one-to-one intimacy with the Creator. Mystics feel God’s presence, seek his wisdom, and trust (as best as they can) he’s walking alongside them as a wise soul friend guiding their footsteps toward deeper wholeness, joy, and love. Mystics sometimes even hear the gentle whisper of God’s silent voice.
Have you ever looked at the colors of a setting sun, and been filled with awe? If so, you’re a mystic—you experienced the presence of the Creator as you gasped with wonder at the beauty unfolding before you.
Have you ever watched the simplicity of a toddler at play, a small child whose eyes are filled with simple delight as she splashes her boots in a muddle puddle and laughs with glee? Yes? You then are a mystic. You experienced the simplicity of the Creator’s love and life and laughter through the innocence of a child.
Have you ever looked back at your life, seen how the puzzle pieces, even the broken ones, seemed to fit eventually, how they all came together, to align in such a way that it was if someone’s hand was nudging you along, inviting you down the right path? You then are a mystic.
Mystics know we can’t touch or feel or fully explain love or laughter, peace or beauty. They simply trust these things exist, because they notice and experience them.
Mystics are people who are awake, aware of that deep desire within all of our hearts to feel connected, embraced, guided by something or some being that is much larger than us, and of which we are all a part.
Jesus was a mystic. He had an experiential (not simply intellectual) relationship with God. He got up early in the morning to be alone with his father, to listen and talk to him, to hear his voice, to experience God’s quiet whispers in his heart.
Jesus sat in the wilderness of his life and gave the father thanks for guiding him, nudging him, teaching him wisdom. And then Jesus did what all of us are called to do, he showed others that they are mystics too. He helped them find the tools to experience God more deeply, in the midst of their busy lives, in the midst of joy and pain, hardship and laughter. He helped others know that God was real because they experienced his love.
Theologian Karl Rahner writes, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” In other words, Rahner suggests that mere intellectual knowledge of God—simply memorizing or spewing out dogma and scripture and beating each other over the head with it—is not enough to find the peace and love we long for and hope to express. Rather, intellectual knowledge must always lead us to a more intimate relationship with the Creator, a relationship that’s authentic, that’s ever deepening and growing. That’s, what Rahner points to, will bring about the peace and joy, the happiness we yearn for individually and as a community. It’s all about relationship. It’s all about love.
Developing our mystic muscles is much like maintaining a healthy body. To stay physically fit, we have to get up, exercise, go to the gym, eat the right foods, and drink lots of water. To be spiritually fit, to develop our mystic muscles so we can experience God, requires we spend daily time alone with him, that we listen as well as talk to him, that we learn God’s unique language: silence.
As a child, my parents did a good job teaching me about God. They laid the foundation for me to believe in him. But, as I grew older, mere words and ritualistic prayers were not enough for me to quench that deeper longing, it didn’t fill the black hole the world’s brashness opened up in me.
And then one day, a quiet, red-headed woman asked me if I could hear God’s voice? And from that moment on, my life has been an on-going journey to find and follow that voice, the Voice to which she pointed.
Through quiet times alone with God, in moments of staring out my den window pondering the beauty of Spring’s first Robin, I’m beginning to hear his voice, distinguish its unique tone, feel its gentle rush of air within my body. And I am learning, a little bit more each day, to trust my experience of this God I cannot see face-to-face, yet who I have come to know is deeply in love with me and you.
I am a mystic, I can now say with humility and courage. And you are One too.
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.