If you ask someone to explain what a “mystic” is, they might describe a pony-tailed yogi meditating on a mountain top or a prune-faced nun living a monastic life of fervent prayer.
People often think mystics levitate or meditate for hours chanting Om. Others believe mystics are a unique breed of holy men and women like Saint John of the Cross, who wrote passionate love poems about God while imprisoned for years, or Saint Theresa of Avila with her mystical visions of walking up the steps of an “interior castle” with Jesus.
There’s been a great deal of confusion about who mystics are and what their practice of daily contemplation involves. As a result, this rich and ancient part of Christian tradition has been sucker-punched with a bad rap over the years.
It’s time to unravel the confusion and reclaim the contemplative tradition so that each of us can discover the inner peace mystics invite us to experience.
Who’s a Mystic?
A mystic is simply a person who experiences the Presence of God. According to author Mirabai Starr, “A mystic is a person who has a direct experience of the sacred, unmediated by conventional religious rituals or intermediaries.”
With that definition in mind, I suggest we’re all mystics. We all have unique experiences of God, whether we’re aware of them or not.
The regular practice of contemplation and meditation creates the quiet space for us to become aware of God’s loving presence and divine guidance.
Unfortunately, as Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” rationalism of the Enlightenment took hold of the world, Christianity threw out the contemplative tradition, and we got stuck in our heads.
And now, we aren’t taught about these rich contemplative practices, much less given opportunities to share our deep experiences of the Divine with others.
A Brief History of Contemplation and Meditation
According to Father Daniel Renaud, OMI, in his article, “Fr. Thomas Keating and Centering Prayer: Reclaiming the Christian Contemplative Tradition,” contemplation’s roots are deeply embedded in the history of Christianity.
Scripture records that long before dawn, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). For Jesus, contemplation was his daily bread. Through times of solitude—alone with God—Jesus sought and found the love and guidance of the Father. It was the inner compass that directed and empowered him.
Following Jesus’ example, the desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria taught and practiced meditation. The list of Christian mystics is long and includes St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Hildegard and Meister Eckhart were all proficient in contemplative prayer. After the reformation, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and French mystics such as St. Francis de Sales continued to practice the tradition and teach others about it.
Who Threw Out Contemplation?
Somewhere along the way, many faith traditions abandoned teaching spiritual practices like meditation and contemplation. They shoved us up into our heads, as if the only pathway to God was through our intellect—following the right rules and performing proper rituals.
I went to Catholic schools all my life. I don’t recall any teacher talking about daily meditation as a pathway to experiencing God. Instead, I learned theology, ritual, and following the Ten Commandments—all of which are good—but it seems the Church got captured by the ideas of the Enlightenment, which emphasized science and reason over faith and experiencing the direct, real presence of God.
There’s nothing wrong with using our minds to deepen our understanding of God, but like a fish thrashing on the beach, our hearts and bodies got thrown overboard with the Enlightenment. We’ve lost the experience of God and are left gasping for spiritual air. We forgot we can deepen our relationship with God through quiet times of reflection with the Creator.
And the problem we’re now left with is this: “How do I quiet my overthinking, monkey-mind brain?”
Let’s Get Back to the Basics
The Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Church’s rich tradition hold the answer: a return to the practice of daily solitude with God.
When we enter the quiet, we leave the noisy world behind. We create an interior space for God. In the words of Mother Teresa: “In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.”
Prayer is Communication with God
Years ago, a spiritual mentor asked me if I prayed. “Sure,” I told him. “I say the Rosary. I pray the Our Father in the morning and night. And our family says a blessing at each meal.”
“Those are great ways to pray,” my mentor said. “But prayer is much more than ritual. It’s communication with God—talking and listening with the Creator much like you do with loved ones.” His eyes caught mine. “You wouldn’t talk to your spouse or best friend with rote words,” he said. “Rather, you spend time with them each day, conversing, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows, working through problems and finding solutions. It’s the same way with God. The Creator wants to have a personal relationship with you.”
My mentor then asked, “Are you willing to go deeper in your relationship with the Divine? Can you set aside twenty minutes each day to sit quietly and let yourself rest in God’s Presence? Can you be still and know God?”
I took up my mentor’s invitation and found the daily practice of spending time in the quiet with God—what I call “Quiet Time”—has been transforming, life-giving. It’s the most important part of my day.
Find the Path that’s “Just Right” For You
Like Goldilocks in the house of the three bears, we have to find the way that’s best for us to spend time alone with God.
For some, meditation on scripture works. For others, finding a word or phrase to center ourselves helps create the space that allows our minds to sink into our hearts. Other people love to take walks in nature and find God through creation.
In my recent Webinar, Who You Are Is How You Pray, I explored the many styles of prayer. I invited the participants to try some on. I invite you to do the same so you can find the form of daily prayer that’s “just right” for you.
Once you find those ways of praying—the ones that are life-giving for you—incorporate them into your daily life. Experience God guiding, inspiring, and giving you the tools to live a life of inner peace and balance.
These practices keep us in the Divine Flow—the topic of my upcoming book, Finding Flow—Spiritual Practice to Reclaim Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness.
This Is How We Do It
Here’s how you might establish a place and time for your daily quiet time:
- Create a special place in your home to be alone with the Creator each day.
- Find pictures and symbols or bring in pieces of nature that allow you to experience your sacred space with God.
- Set your alarm clock a half an hour earlier than usual. Get up, light a candle, and sit with God for twenty minutes.
- When your mind wanders, ask God for a word, phrase, or image to center you. Let it become an anchor for your thoughts as you create inner space for yourself and the Creator.
- Breathe in God’s love and guidance in whatever shape and form you experience it.
- If nothing comes, that’s fine. You showed up. Rest in the quiet each day.
Reclaim the ancient tradition of contemplation and meditation in your life. Restore your inner peace—a peace that flows in and through you. Let daily Quiet Time lead you to wholeness.
—brian j plachta
Want to Dive Deeper Into Nature?
Join me this Tuesday, August 31 for the Zoom Webinar:
HOW DOES GOD SPEAK TO US THROUGH NATURE?
-nature as spiritual practice
A Finding Flow—Simple
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
7:00 pm – 8:45 pm (Eastern US Time)
- How is nature medicine for our souls?
- What Wisdom does the Creator wish to reveal to us through our experiences in nature?
- How can we learn to understand what nature desires to teach us?
Join me for this free Zoom Webinar to explore these questions and others.
During the webinar you’ll discover:
- How to become aware of Nature’s divine presence in your life
- What makes an ordinary experience in nature extraordinary
- How you can listen and understand the language of Nature
- Spiritual practices that can help you hear God’s Wisdom revealing itself to you through nature
Click the link below to learn more and register.