“The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or [s]he will not exist at all.”
—Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations
Dearest monks and artists,
In a week we begin our 14-week online companion journey through my book The Love of Thousands: How Angels, Saints, and Ancestors Walk With Us Toward Holiness. When we speak of the saints, we do not refer to people inaccessible to us and our lives, but to friends of the heart who dwell beyond the veil between worlds. They call us to our own paths of holiness.
This is an adapted excerpted from the book:
At the heart of mysticism—no matter which tradition we are speaking of—is a profound sense of God’s intimate and transforming presence in our lives, which always expands our capacity for love. I am often asked how a person knows whether they have had a genuine encounter with God, and my response is that if the experience leads to greater love for other, for self, or for God, then we can know that we have met the Holy One in some way. We experience these moments of connection through our own practice and through opening our hearts to listen. But equally as important is through divine grace, which always extends out toward us, always seeking to be in communion with us. Sometimes mystical connection is not what we are seeking, but it is visited upon us regardless.
Fourth-century Orthodox mystic Gregory of Nyssa talked about epektasis, which is a Greek word meaning “stretching forth always,” based on Philippians 3:13, where Paul talks about always stretching forward toward God. It refers to the continual yearning, which is never satisfied in this life. We all have this core desire to reach toward God, but we often mistake it for something else and try to fill it with things like drinking, shopping, drug use, or any other addictive behavior.
While some have sudden moments of grace or epiphanies into the divine nature and call, like St. Paul at Damascus, those tend to be the exception in the mystical life. Mystics commit themselves to extensive practice in prayer and meditation, spiritual reading, and meeting with a mentor or soul friend in an ongoing way. As theologian Bernard McGinn says,
“Mysticism is a process. It requires preparation. It also involves a moment of some kind of direct consciousness of God. And then it involves the effects of all the elements of the process on that person’s life. It’s meant to be transformative—to make people different, both in themselves and in how they relate to other people. I prefer the word ‘consciousness’ to ‘experience’ because consciousness involves thinking and loving and decision-making, as well as experience and feeling.”
The paradox of the mystical experience is that it requires preparation and the discipline of showing up for an encounter with the Divine, but ultimately, the experience is grace and freely given. We do not earn it or work hard enough to achieve it. We open our hearts to it, and grace explodes.
Join us for this online journey with the angels, saints, and ancestors, where together we will engage in practices to see the invisible ones more clearly and to cultivate our loving presence in the world. I will be hosting weekly live Zoom sessions with guided meditations, there are weekly bonus guest teacher interviews, scripture reflections, visio divina practice, and songs with gesture prayers to embody our journey!
This Monday January 8th, Simon and I are leading our monthly Contemplative Prayer Service. We be joined by special guest Jamie Marich who will share their gifts with us. Join us!
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner – Donegal, Ireland