Beginning this series on modern Christian mysticism has been pretty daunting. When you look up the definition of mystic, you don’t have to go too far down on the actual dictionary pages to find words like “occult” and “obscure.” Yikes…
Why is it that this idea of spiritual reality containing depth, power and mystery automatically triggers fear and images of darkness for so many of us raised in the church? How did we lose the theology that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would guide us in ALL TRUTH? (John 16:13)
We either believe that we are beings made up of body, soul and spirit, or we don’t. We believe we are destined for an eternal life that we can’t yet see, or we don’t. We either believe in angels like the ones that spoke to Mary and Joseph, or we don’t. Do we really believe the Bible? These are basic tenets of Christianity, but people get all cagey when you start to talk about them openly.
I am sure there is a long history lesson here about how church culture and beliefs have morphed over the centuries. But that’s not what this post it about. Instead, it's about the more universal human underpinnings that cause us to dismiss and discredit that which we can’t fully understand.
I remember the first time I fully acknowledged the Holy Spirit's presence in my life. I was flooded with power and this feeling of water filling my body. I laid in bed for hours that night, afraid to fall asleep because I thought when I woke up this feeling could be gone. I wasn’t willing to live another day without this tangible experience of the presence of God, even if it meant I never slept again. I finally fell asleep and when I woke up I was relieved to find that I could tap right back in to that flow of the Holy Spirit in my body.
I had been spiritually revived, but I was also WAY out of my comfort zone. I was half thrilled and half furious. I had been raised in a church that ignored the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I was confused why all the well meaning adults in my life had been holding out on me. So I did what many other lost college freshmen have done for years. I got brave, and I called my mama for help. Ok, so actually I emailed my mama.
I was freaked out that she wouldn’t get it. Maybe I was off the deep end. But I pushed through and shared a bit of my experience with her and I then asked her two questions: Is this real? And if it is real, why aren’t people talking about it?
She replied back “Yes. It’s real.” Phew! I was not going crazy
She shared a bit of her own story with me, but what she wrote next I will never forget. She said “Autumn, God’s gifts are God’s gifts. He gives them freely but also as He sees fit. People don’t like that. They don’t like what they don’t understand and can’t control.”
She was right. We are built with self-preservation instincts that have gone haywire. We have gone from “This is new, so I must pay close attention and learn!” to “This is new so I must avoid it at all costs!” It becomes self-perpetuating as we avoid and feel safe. Our brain says “I feel safe now so that danger must have been real.” It’s true that control and mastery feel awesome. But that programming is meant to encourage us to push through learning plateaus and hone our skills until we attain a level of mature confidence and enjoyment in new areas. Not to step into overdrive mode where it is unacceptable to be a beginner or be uncomfortable.
When we limit our experiences and beliefs to what we can fully understand and fully control from the start, we make our lives smaller. We stop growing and we are left unfulfilled. Nowhere is this truer than in our spiritual lives. Suddenly the Bible becomes empty as we let go of power in order to keep things rational and predictable. We forget to risk because we fear disappointment. We begin to feel bored because we are still eternal spiritual beings, whether we like it or not.
What's the antidote to all this compromise and loss of identity? What is our consolation prize for forgetting mystery? We get to feel RIGHT. False Mastery. We get to believe we are in control. If we label all spiritual experiences and exploration as dangerous, if we accuse other spiritual seekers, Christian brothers and sisters, of being cultish, misguided and evil, we get to keep our small boring lives and our false sense of righteousness.
So I’m intimidated. I am nervous to stick my neck out there and begin to openly discuss things I admittedly don’t fully understand. I am afraid of being labeled, like so many others before me, as cultish, misguided and evil. I am intimidated by a voice in my imagination that says “Who are you to say you are some sort of mystic? Who do you think you are?”
It is for those very reasons that I know I must push forward into these uncharted waters. Afraid as I am, I can’t live a small life and force myself to forget what it means to plunge the deep places. I can’t be silenced into compliance by that voice of accusation. There is no standing still. No neutral response. I will either be swept under by the beautiful mysterious depths, or by intimidation and fear of accusation. And that choice is one I CAN control.