( This is a repeat of a previous post but I believe it could be helpful in your Lenten Journey.)
I don’t exactly know why, but a few years ago I felt a real spiritual unction to study Christian Mysticism. My first thought was to look at the experiences of the monks of the desert. These Desert Fathers fled to the parched lands of Egypt to escape the “one size fits all” Christianity of Constantine’s Empire. The Abbas of the desert wanted to experience God as they thought He wanted to be experienced. That experience would not come as a result of legislated belief at the point of the sword of a Roman Legion. That kind of belief was no belief at all, for such a faith had to be discovered within their own souls. They could experience God in a mysterious way in their desert monasteries, and then direct others by sharing these experiences. God is a mystery, and He is best seen in a mystical way. In the desert they would find the Spirit that had apparently left the organized church, and indeed, they did. They were the first mystics.
Many factors prohibited this mystical movement from being the major driving force of the church. All throughout history there have been famous mystics. Notable ones are, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Loyola. I wanted to learn as much from them as I could, but in the middle of that experience something happened to my own way of thinking. Suddenly, the idea of certainty of belief was replaced with a deep, abiding appreciation for the mysterious nature of God. After all belief in God is mystery, not certainty, and can best be understood through the eyes of the mystic.
I don’t claim to be a Christian mystic at the level of the people I have mentioned, but I do contend that thinking as a mystic can open new panoramas of faith. These panoramas can lead to a much broader view of the work of God, and a more intimate involvement with Him. Things like meditation, Lectio Divina, silence, and icons have taken on a new meaning in my life. They have become invitations to spiritual portals that I never knew existed.
Major realities I discovered by embracing Christian Mysticism:
· God does live within me
· God really speaks to me (not audibly)
· God protects me at all times
· God gives me strength beyond my ability
· God owes me nothing
· Evil wins sometime
· Suffering is a spiritual discipline
· Scripture is the Word of God and it still lives
· Silence is the loudest prayer
· Silence is a portal to God
· There is more than one right answer
My journey into mysticism has not so much brought me closer to God, as it has helped me to understand how far I have to go. Jubilantly, I can say that I am not alone on the journey. He is with me! The mystical, monastic journey brought me to the desert of my soul, and there I found the face of God. I continue to travel through that desert with the traveling companions I have discovered. Thanks for reading this story and the other stories that I have written about these mystics who have become my friends.
The Desert Fathers were a movement of men (and some women) who chose to flee from all distractions of life by seeking the barrenness of the desert. These men lived in a time that they thought that life in the world was so complicated that only by retreat could they experience the fullness of God’s presence. In this setting they could deal with self and only self. The photo in this post is of a present day desert monastery in Egypt. It was in this type of setting that the early fathers sought oneness with God. I will begin to post some of the “sayings” of these holy men in this blog. I will share my thoughts on what we can learn from these men and invite you to do the same.
It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.’
Are any of us patient and dedicated enough to devote three years to what would seem an impossible task? My first answer would be-no. The journey that God has given me in New Orleans has given me cause to rethink that answer. Arriving shortly after the city had received its devastating blow, it was evident that growth would be slow, patience would be required and most of all deep commitment would be necessary. In our fast pace, instant world Abba John teaches a great lesson.
Let God work out the timetable
Do you allow God to work in His time or do you insist that He work in yours?
- Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What You Should Give Up This Year (blackpressusa.com)