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.