Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What is a Mystic?

Quote from "Wizards' Duel":

"Well, the legends never said he had a family and we are all children of Herocnian. He wasn't part of the regular nobility—he was a mystic."

"A what?" Zincu wrinkled his nose. Aepheus used the strangest words. "You and your religious stuff. What's a mystic?"

Aepheus laughed. "And you and your questions! Are you always so full of them? Must you understand everything?" He snorted. "I don't know what a mystic is, not really."

"But you just used the word! That makes no sense." Zincu flicked a small piece of ice at him.

"Well, I mean, I know a vague sense of what it means, enough to use it, but I don't really know what one is. Mystics are people who go live off in the middle of no-where and ask questions that don't have answers while looking for unity with the gods."

Zincu chuckled. "You're right, that makes absolutely no sense. How you can use a word and not know what it means, I don't know!"

"They have a feel to them, though, mystics do. A way of being quiet and saying things that even if you can't understand them, you know eventually you will if you think about it long enough. My grandmother is perhaps as close as I've ever been to someone like that. Ask her about it."


As requested, I'm finally going to attack this question. First briefly about mysticism in general and then more specifically Christian Mysticism… it's origins and how it's not a contradiction of terms. I'm no expert, but since this blog is named after the work of a very famous Christian mystic (St. Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle) I do feel a certain social responsibility to explaining myself.

The thing is, while everyone has a feeling about what mysticism and the mystic are, most of us don't really know. I remember the first time I tried to come up with a definition on my own, and realized I couldn't do it very well. I've met mystics, heck, I want to be one, but defining them is difficult.

Mystics do certain things, things that baffle us. They live in monasteries or on mountains. They meditate a lot. They say esoteric things that end up profound. Yet, mystics are also regular people around us, people who look quite normal, but when you get talking with them suddenly surprise you. What are they about really? And how can you strive to become one, if you don't know what one is? Even stranger, while religions vary hugely across the world, why do all the mystics seem to be cut out of the same cloth? Does that make mysticism a sort of pagan religion? It's no wonder there's so much confusions over it!

Wikipedia defines mysticism as "the pursuit of achieving communion, identity with, or conscious awareness of ultimate reality, the Other, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight." What matters to the mystic is experiencing God, seeing him face to face in an intimate and personal way. The goal of a the mystic is unity with God, a setting of his (or her) whole being into resonance with the Divine Being. This is a lofty and very difficult goal, and people throughout time and across all cultures have sought it, and left behind for us various clues about how we might too seek it.

No one can tell you how to get there though, because each mystic journey is an imitate relationship with God. Others have left us hints and guidelines, but this is something that ultimately must be experienced.

The desire to reach a reintegration with God, a oneness with what is and was and will be, is so universal in the human mind and heart that every major religion out there has a mystic tradition. Mysticism is not Buddhism, although Buddhism is one of the most famous mystic traditions out there. Each mystic tradition holds fast to the theology of the religion that it comes from, with both canonical and added teaching they use to guide themselves, but all mystic traditions admit that theology is not the point. The point is meeting the divine, soul to soul, and being drawn into the eternal.

All that just to say a mystic is someone who wants to know God in direct experience.

Mysticism is incredibly simple and incredibly complex all at once.

Bear with me with all the paradoxes... mysticism often speaks in paradox and it is really and truly hard to explain it without using paradox. Next in this series of posts will be Christian Mysticism… what does it look like, what's it's history, it's character, and it's major teachers. Then, briefly, an overview of other mystic traditions around the world, and finally how it all relates to writing. This will take me a while, but I'll try to be consistent for once.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fasting from Joy

Today "dawns" (if you can call it that) an endless gray. The sky weeps, pouring out its endless tears on my tired soul. Today I move in a fog as heavy as that that covers the mountains and enfolds the lake. Today I want to stay in bed forever. Everything, especially the writing looks hopeless. Somehow its always the writing that does that first, a precursor to all of life looking wet and gray.

And as I look at the stack of laundry on the floor contemplating the difficult task of getting dressed, comes to me something quite unrelated.

"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."

I get up, put on my clothes, make my breakfast. I realize, today I am fasting. I'm fasting from joy.

I'm fasting from hope, from belief, from faith in a future. Today I am hungry for joy, for the feeling that life will work out for the best, for the feeling that what I do matters. Yes, today I'm hungry.

Today I write without joy, without hope, without grace.
And perhaps that hunger will remind me that I serve Someone greater. Perhaps my Father will use that hunger so that on some day in the future I will feast on joy until I cannot hold another bite.

Today, a bit of lent in the season of Easter is a promise that one day I will fast no longer.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This is the Night

The Exsultent (Easter Proclamation)

Christ be our light!

Rejoice, heavily powers! Sing choirs of angles!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, or King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!

Rejoice, O Mother church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin
to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slaver
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin
and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ
broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave
you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God
to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night
dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings u peace, and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavily Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which enever sets find this flame still burning:
Christ that Morning Star, who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Death, Energy, and Childlike

There is something renewing about channeling positive energy, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. It "wakes" me in the midst of the stupor of seasonal depression. I'm not so much sad this time of year (although there is that) as sleep. My body and mind shut down, are slowed to a crawl. They say it is the lack of sunlight… but I think its more than the sky is overcast. I think the length of days is also part of it. I don't know for sure.

All I know is that channeling energy wakes me. That could mean cleaning the room or taking a walk, both things which get me moving, but are extremely hard to do. Or it could mean writing a good scene… the sort that speaks to me, reminds me of why I'm doing this. And of course I could pray. Not that I would do that… that might heal me.

I do wonder if negative energy has the opposite effect. I've been stuck for nearly a week on revising my first novel. The chapter I keep starting and letting go is my first ever character death. Rowling describes murder as losing a part of your own soul when you do it. I think that's fairly insightful. I think when you kill someone, part of you dies with them. The largest thing I've ever murdered is a box alder bug… or maybe a large cockroach, but I don't even do that often, I can't stand the crunch. I can bring myself to kill anything easily except mosquitos.

So yeah, killing characters is unpleasant for me. I know they don't exist… but see, I use my imagination for more than my craft. I use it also for prayer, and I do wonder if that blurs the lines of reality a little for me. I tend to do that with a lot of things. I'm a peasant by the modern world's standards. If I feel out of place, scared, or threatened, I'm likely to do the sign of the cross or splatter holy water on my room. Evil spirits make me nervous, and I do think I've encountered a couple, as well as some possible angels. Who knows for sure, but I do suspect I have. When some of your best friends are dead, you're bound to be a bit strange… and by that, I mean they died before I was born, but I know them through the power of Christ that lets us be friends and connect with the whole "Body of Christ" even those who have passed on.

I'm hopelessly medieval, and I don't care. I can't even say I'm against indulgences, having gotten a couple before. (Don't worry, I didn't pay for them with money, but rather prayer and hard work. They're more like Boy Scout badges than anything else, anyway. I've got the little certificates to prove it.)

While I know my characters don't exist, I also feel responsible for them. Sending Drackun to hell, however briefly before he's released, doesn't sit well with me. I think perhaps that's why I'm stalling.

It is in play that we face and deal with our reality. That's why the psychologist think kids should play, and I guess I never grew up. I don't mean the physical side of that, but emotionally I think at times I'm still about twelve or thirteen, standing there among the roses saying to God, "Give me a moment to see the world as I might if I were without sin" and feel as if I'm flying. I'm the same kid that cried over severed worms and burnt ants. For me, play is serious business. It awakens those feelings and energies I've not faced or shy away from, and makes me look at them straight in the face. Sure, playing is still fun, but it also scares me, because I scare myself.

As a scientist, part of me sits back and watches myself, noting each feeling, each experience, and saving it for the proper moment when I'll need it. But the part of me caught up in it shivers like a rabbit under the mouth of a wolf. That's the part of me, apparently in control of Drackun at the moment. Even if I've written this death twice already… even then… I don't want to kill him again. I like him, and his death is fairly unpleasant and undeserved. Worse, he doesn't find peace and happiness before he dies, but still is in an unfinished state, struggling with both love and hate.

In short, he's like most of us. He's not ready to die.

God takes people who are unready all the time. I wonder how He feels about that. I mean, I know Drackun gets to go to heaven eventually, when Zincu balances the world and all… but I just hate killing him too early, no matter what. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, my empathy? It makes my life inconvenient a good deal of the time. I don't know. All I have is questions, and a character scheduled for termination.

Is there anything more child-like than praying for the strength to write a death scene? Maybe I'll make it to heaven yet. At the hazard of feeling about eight and playing with my toys trying to rescue Luke before Megatron finishes grinding his face off to make him tell the location of the rebel base, only they're not doing so hot since only my brother Leo knows where the bad guys base is, and so my toys need to pray about it, let me just say: Oh Lord, help me write this scene, finish this book, and glorify you through my writing. I am, ever childlike, your servant, and wish to serve you through my stories. If it be your will, help through this revision. Amen.