G-d in experience?

An essential piece of any conception of mysticism is experience. What are we talking about when we use the word experience? Because objections to mystical religion often quickly surface—e.g., the perennial difficulties with experience: discernment and falsifiability/authority. What of enthusiasm?


rusted Image by Craig Steffan
Image by Craig Steffan || CC0

Nuts and bolts

Drawing heavily from Randy Maddox’s work concerning John Wesley’s understanding of experience, I wrote in the theological method section of my Credo—the summary paper required for an MDiv from SPST at that time (2004)regarding a “spectrum” [proto‘mobius’] of experience:

Experience. Our final category, “experience,” is even more complex than tradition. Randy Maddox has identified six ways that Wesley used the term ‘experience’ in his writings. Maddox marks Wesley’s first category of experience as “conscious awareness of being affected by an event or action.”19 This use directly correlates with my expression, ‘self-conscious awareness.’  Wesley’s second use, according to Maddox, is as “sympathetic understanding derived from similar subjective experience.”20 This is a felt-correspondence dimension of experience by which we are able to imagine the present self-conscious awareness of another through familiarity with our own experience of a like circumstance. For example, we are able to imagine how someone is feeling with regard to a particular loss if we have experienced a similar loss. The third category of experience for Wesley, on Maddox’s typology, is “practical skill developed through repeated performance.”21 This category of experience describes a familiarity with a particular action or process through a history of practiced engagement with that action or process. Experienced professionals, crafts-persons or artisans all provide fine examples of this category, i.e., ‘she is an experienced dancer.’ Closely related to the third, says Maddox, is the fourth category of experience, “practical/moral wisdom derived from life-long learning.”22 This category reflects the cumulative effects of living on personal wisdom. The fifth category Maddox defines as a “practical test or trial as a means of determining truth.”23 This folkloric form of “test or trial” stands in distinction to the early scientism that Maddox finds in the  sixth category of experience, “observation of facts or events as a source of knowledge.”24 However, according to Maddox, for Wesley, this sixth category reflected what was thought of as ‘common sense’ as much as the scientific method.25

            My sense of ‘experience’ would include those of Wesley and I do find Maddox’s typology a helpful nuance of the term. However, I resist any tendency to chunk-out or dismember these dimensions of experience to any degree that dissociates their internal and external mutual-interdependence. I would tend to think of experience as a spectrum of perspectives ranging from purely subjective—i.e., self-conscious awareness (category-one)—to purely inter-subjective—i.e., revealed wisdom (perichoretic relation of categories one through six within both individual human beings and humanity; with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts). For example, Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ mediated through archetypes would be one attempted expression of this.

This ‘spectrum’ integrates the internal and external dimensions of experience while favoring neither. I would suggest that this move validates category-one experience and places it in a relational matrix that creates a measure of verifiable authenticity to purely subjective self-conscious awareness, i.e., the move validates our I-ness while creating an organic check against raw enthusiasm.26 Category-one experience meets Karl Popper through the guise of Wesley’s “Christian conferencing.”27

Christian conferencing

End notes

19-24 Maddox in Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation, Gunter, et al., 108-112.

25 Maddox quotes Wesley, “No, but by my common sense. I know it by the evidence of my own eyes and ears. I have seen a considerable part of it; and I have abundant testimony, such as excludes all possible doubt, for what I have not seen.” Maddox in Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation, Gunter, et al., 112.

26 Far from being subsumed into a totalitarian bondage, the teleological nature of the inclination to be in relation with God, i.e., to care, is realized in true human identity. As Martin Buber writes, “As a Person God gives personal life, he [sic] makes us as persons become capable of meeting with him and with one another. But no limitation can come upon him as the absolute Person, either from us or from our relations with one another; in fact we can dedicate to him not merely our persons but also our relations to one another. The man who turns to him therefore need not turn away from any other I-Thou relation; but he properly brings them to him, and lets them be fulfilled ‘in the face of God.’” Cf., Martin Buber, I and Thou, Ronald Gregor Smith, trans. (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1958), 136.

27 Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, Tennessee: Kingswood Books, an imprint of Abingdon Press, 1994), 212-13.


I know. In defense, I was all seminaried-up.


V0006233 John Wesley. Mezzotint by J. Faber, junior, 1743, after J. W


We’ll unpack this a bit next time.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has employed a serial approach to outline Spiral Dynamics Introduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key


V0006233 John Wesley. Mezzotint by J. Faber, junior, 1743, after J. W





Second-hand religion?

‘Mysticism,’ so what? [pt. 2]

The institutional form[s] of second-hand religion may fittingly be thought of as a “dead man walking.” Please allow me to explain.


an ark meme 500
Spiral Dynamics, page 145

‘Forms’ and being/doing church

Sadly, in my lifetime the Church (the one on the ground in ordinary neighborhoods near and far) has essentially ignored much, if any, teaching, or even discussion, of mysticism (that is, experiential spirituality). At the same time, without identifying them as such, Church has integrated many cataphatic mystical practices (affirmative ‘forms’) into the very fabric of being a local church. Brad J. Kallenberg has written a helpful book that offers insight on this embodied way of understanding faith formation: Live To Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age.


Live To Tell

People like forms

So, these past many decades the Church has largely bypassed any direct talk/teaching with respect to mysticism, especially apophatic (negative) theology. As they have traditionally been wont to do, local churches have quietly embodied cataphatic mysticism (that is, affirmative, express, devotional, lived practices)—e.g., discursive prayer practices; hymns, sacrament, and worship forms; scripture reading/study/reflection; serving the poor, sick, oppressed, and imprisoned; relating in intentional Christian small-group; and growing in generosity, empathy, and compassion. This helps explain why, even while struggling mightily, the Church is still serving society with essential utility through its embodied forms. However, our present life conditionsthat is, in our E.P.I.C. [experiential; participatory; image driven; connected] and V.U.C.A. [volatile; uncertain; complex; ambiguous] societyurgently call for a more holistic church teaching and witness (cf. Divine darkness). 


mystical seat
Image by Michele Caballero Siamitras Kassube || CC0

A college try?

It’s not as though theology hasn’t tried. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834 C.E.), [often referred to as “Father of Modern Liberal Theology”] took a mystical view and defined faith in experiential terms, e.g., a feeling of absolute dependence—an immediate self-consciousness of being in relation with God. And, while in his classic, The Courage To Be, Paul Tillich (1886 -1965 C.E.) argues that mystical theology ultimately fails to provide the courage to be, even he defines faith in a way that may be experienced—e.g., “Faith is the state of being grasped by the ground of being-itself.” [TCTB, page 172] 


Ark -Image by Jeff Jacobs
Image by Jeff Jacobs || CC0

Building an ark?

These past five weeks, I’ve been alluding to the assertion that holistic spirituality helpfully transcends the second-hand religion on offer in most local American churches. Admittedly, as Kallenberg’s work (unintentionally) demonstrates, many/most Christians would not need to add any consciousness of mysticism to faithfully practice the second-hand Christianity they’ve been taught. This fact is the basis for my first reason a mysticism movement is needed in Christianity—e.g., cataphatic and apophatic mysticism that is intentionally/actually preached/practiced in local churches. A religion of mental assent to a set of propositions rarely leads to any actual experience of G-d, or transformation. In a society increasingly distrustful of all institutions, dogmatic religion by fiat rings very hollow to many. 

Someone thoughtfully remarked in a recent on-line conversation on this theme:

Faith without Experience is very hard to sustain.


Image by Simon Steinberger || CC0

Epistemology problem

How do you know things? Did/does the bulk of your knowledge come to you first or second-hand? While people generally do like forms, dogmatic religious forms, Google, and cable news all offer second-hand reality [SHR]. These can be very helpful at times, yet regardless of the source, most kinds of SHR are rapidly losing traction within our present [E.P.I.C./V.U.C.A.] life conditions. We don’t trust the information given to us by “elites” or “institutions” as we once did. Derek Thompson wrote this week in The Atlantic:

What Americans young and old are abandoning is not so much the promise of family, faith, and national pride as the trust that America’s existing institutions can be relied on to provide for them. (here)

Alternatively, the epistemological authority and the very currency of mysticism is first-hand, personal experience. Immediate experience is able to provide a vehicle to common-ground for discourse in a fractured church and society. We need to reconnect. Mysticism could provide a practical way to cut through SHR and bridge our divisions.

Mysticism, for the good of Christ’s body

So, my first reason, ‘dead church walking,’ calls for creating an environment in the local church that includes an organization-wide expectation that G-d is present and that “church” is about cultivating transformation and true humanness through encounters/experiences of G-d. A community whose members routinely experience G-d’s Presence, and the attending transformation, will be a community of natural evangelists able to organically inspire and engage the persons they encounter in their livessomeone said: like a hungry beggar who finds food and is now able to show others where they can find food, too.




Mysticism, for the good of our social body

My second reason is perhaps more secular and socially pragmatic. It matters not which side of the cultural and political divides one finds themself these days. Pick a side and you’ll find an information bubble describing reality in ways that totally disallows the information that is being put forth as reality by the opponent’s info-bubble. Tribalism, poisonous partisan political polarization, culture of outrage, it goes by many names. We barely trust our own second-hand doctrines and institutional dogma. Any thought of finding much credibility in the other’s ideological views is unthinkable at this point. Politicians seem determined to exacerbate these dynamics.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Politics used to get worked-out on ground level. The political process of our society was formed in people having candid conversations at work, school, post office, or grocery store, for instance. However, in these treacherous partisan times this has become far too risky and has slipped away. We need to reconnect. We need to be willing to hold each other’s hands with empathy and compassion as we walk together. We can learn to be mystics and communicate with each other through our own experience and a sensitivity to each other’s experience, and the common ground experience creates. Even better, this move can organically lead us to finding ways to shared experiences of G-d.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Apologies. Please pardon, I ran a bit long [normally 800 words, this week 1055]. 

Note: This blog page has employed a serial approach to outline Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key


mystical seat

‘Mysticism,’ so what?

typewriter 640


Joy of writing

I’ve really been enjoying writing the blog lately. Feels like I may be near to making some kind of point. I do agree with Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner, Matthew Fox, Richard Rohr, and others who have issued an urgent call to create a culture of mysticism within present-day Christianity. In due course I’ll explain why I feel this is of crucial import given our present life conditions. First, I’d like to begin with two cataphatic (positive) spiritual practices that you may not be familiar with. The first relates to a question that came up this week. Perhaps you’ve wondered, too.


YHWH – the tetragrammaton

“God” is a three-letter poem

Why write G-d instead of God? By writing, “G-d,” I mean to indicate, or point to, what Pseudo Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Paul Tillich, et al., have referred to as the “God beyond God”—by which they meant God beyond the God of theism. I write the term that way to pay homage to that, that which is beyond language, so the reader knows of my open appreciation/fondness for non-discursive (apophatic) spirituality.

In seminary we learned that there are, at least, a couple of ways to indicate non-discursive designations for God: writing “G-d” is one way, and writing “[  ]” is another. On the latter, yeah, those are empty brackets, an indication of the fact that no one knows/remembers how to pronounce G-d’s nameYHWH (Yahweh).

The book of Genesis tells us that through God’s “ruach,” or Spirit (or wind), God breathed everything into existence.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the [ruach] Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. [Genesis 1.1-2, KJV]

Spirit as God breathing, creating.


Some rabbisspeculating regarding pronunciationsay that ‘Yah’ is the quiet song we sing when we inhale and ‘weh’ is the soft refrain we answer as we exhale. I really like that way of thinking about, and pronouncing God’s name. If one accepts this pronunciation, it means accepting the cataphatic mystical practice of uttering God’s name constantly, 24/7, all day and all night every day of one’s life.

Ready, breathe in: Yah, breathe out: weh; Yah, weh [in, out]; Yahweh….

With this understanding, simply becoming mindful of our breathing effectively ushers us back to awareness of G-d’s Presence. Saint Paul’s,pray without ceasing.”


buffaloes 500 Image by Jeff Bingham


A herd of buffaloes? 

Now, this one may sound/seem a bit strange/odd. Perhaps so, however, in my three experiences with it, this practice is powerfully illuminating. To my knowledge, I was the first to preach this simple variation on fasting as a transformative spiritual discipline. While it may seem like a nice little theological thought-experiment, seeing it that way completely misses the point. This is a mystical teaching, therefore it must be experienced. I will leave it to your imagination as to how I may have personally discovered the transformative power embedded in actually doing/experiencing this. 


This experience taps into the power money has on us in our society. Money holds various kinds/degrees of power over each of us, and, it also has power to influence and color our social interactions and business transactions. Perhaps it’s time for a quick reprise of a video we’ve seen in an earlier blog post: 



OK, spelling out the practice. You’ll need $30 minimum [or, if that’s low for you, then enough budget for one entire day making your regular stops for coffee, newspaper, gum, transportation, lunch, dry cleaners, snacks, drinks, and so forth]. The idea is to go one whole dayor as many days as it takes to spend the budget.

The catch is the $30 minimum [or sufficient higher budget] is all in loose nickles. Yep. A bag of buffaloes. The only rule is you must make all your routine daily transactions using loose nickles.

Pay close attention to how you and those in the environment react to you/your business.


counting coins


As you pay for something, try counting the coins onto the counter. Then switch and count the coins directly into the hand[s] of the cashier.

Be mindful and pay close attention as you pay for things with nothing but nickles.

Sounds crazy, maybe. Think, though, at worst some inconvenience/embarrassment, perhaps. Maybe a bit of a hassle allowing a little extra time for transactions. Try it out anyway. See for yourself. I’d really love to hear how it went for you, what you experienced.


an ark meme 500
Spiral Dynamics, page 145

Our urgent need for mysticism 

Next week, Second-hand religion? (Mysticism, so what? [pt. 2]) why I feel it’s so crucially important that we create a mystical movement within Christianity right now. 

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has employed a serial approach to outline Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key


buffaloes 500 Image by Jeff Bingham




chairoscuro fantasy 500 Image by Stefan Keller
Image by Stefan Keller || CC0


A technical term within the art realm, chiaroscuro deals with a relationship between light and dark. Shadow, the interplay of light and form, allows the artist to convey depth in a two-dimensional illustration. Analogously, we, as humans, are only able to discursively perceive the divine to what we might think of as a two-dimensional degree. The disciplined integration of the apophatic [dark/negative] and cataphatic [light/positive] dimensions of mystical spirituality allows the pilgrim a three-dimensional journey on to union of the soul in love with G-d, e.g., “perfection”John Wesley (17031791 C.E.).


light from dark 500

untitled image by Michael L. McKee || copyright 1990

Light from darkness

Last week we considered Jesus’ mystical way of teaching (here), that is, using the experience of the hearer as source of authority. We’ve been thinking about divine darkness and spirituality that, by negation, deviates from the conventional way of religious affirmation/devotion. This week we’ll consider the other, far more familiar, approach to mysticism, e.g., cataphatic, or positive theology. 

Calling love, front and center!

I’ve written previously regarding one of my favorite mystics, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Through Bernard love became the very essence of the spiritual life in Christianity. Bernard’s (Love) mysticism marked the turning point for love within Christian spirituality and set the mystical benchmark of Christianitya reference point by which we may orient ourselves and humanity. In May I wrote (here):

Wisely, in On Loving God, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (10901153 C.E.) begins his four degrees of love where we all begin, the love of self for one’s own sake. Again, trauma can effect this as we all know of people who do not appear to love themselves. At the very least, Bernard’s developmental schema declares that love of self is the beginning and basis of growth in Love. The first degree is a gift from G-dotherwise how could we experientially know how generous, faithful, gracious, encouraging, and hopeful ‘Love’ is? Bernard’s first degree of Love identifies a mystical reference point that scripture had previously leveraged, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18; Matt 22:37—39]

G-d showed us in our experience what love is and Jesus’ experience (story/life) showed us how to express love: Love one another as I have loved you. [John 13.34]


light-bulb 500
Image by Colin Behrens || CC0

Light from light

Jan van Ruusbroec (12931381 C.E.) was a synthetic mediator of the forms of mysticism widely in play before and during his time. He wrote in positive fashion to present the finest aspects of the Christian spiritual tradition. From the most humble strivings (asceticism) he called “the active life;” through myriad stages of longing for God [“blind stirrings”/”yearnings”The Cloud of Unknowing/Saint John of the Cross], he collectively called ‘the interior life;” to the highest most intimate state of union with the Divine that he called the contemplative or “God-seeing life.” The Trinity formed what was, for Ruusbroec, the essence of the spiritual life. This (mystical) understanding of Trinity represents a holistic twofold (in||out) movementthat is, inward toward interior darkness, and outward toward incarnation, the generation of the Son by the Father in the breathing out of the Holy Spirit as their bond of love. Trinitarian mysticism is the participation of the spiritual pilgrim in these two movements.  

Experiencing G-d

Saint Bernard pointed us to direct experience of G-d’s presence through the gift of the first degree of love (‘love of self for one’s own sake’). Ruusbroec pointed us to direct experience of G-d through holistic engagement of the Divine nature (Trinitarian mysticism).

As a mystical teacher, John Wesley directed us (toward another gift of G-d) to a different immediate experience of G-d’s presence. Just as G-d’s fingerprints are on our natural love for our own self, those same fingerprints cover many life occasions. We all have a built in detector for them. Allow me to try to demonstrate, please watch this brief video:



Did the girl discovering her human connection in nature warm your heart? (Try this)

Of course, these specific videos aren’t capable of producing the desired experience in every person. My hope is that they come close enough to help everyone see what I mean. For John Wesley it wasn’t a video, it was the reading of a commentary on Paul’s letter to the  Romans. One evening at a Bible study on Aldersgate Street, John Wesley’s heart wasstrangely warmed.”

Growing in devotion

Intentional practices like discursive prayer and practicing the Presence of God are affirming/devotional means of grace. Even positive/affirmative spiritual disciplines often have a negative, or absence component, like fasting, for example. We can experience G-d and grow spiritually by negating our ordinary experience—e.g., intentionally abstaining from food to grow in empathy/solidarity with the poor. 

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has employed a serial approach to outline Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key


chairoscuro fantasy 500 Image by Stefan Keller

Jesus, the mystic

Jesus holy spirit
Image by Gerd Altmann || CC0

‘Divine darkness’ [cont.]

Last week we began unpacking the history of the way of negation (apophatic way). We began with Pseudo-Dionysius (5th or 6th century C.E.) and the image of ‘Divine darkness.’ Prior still, Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 C.E.) was perhaps the earliest Christian proponent of apophatic theology, and though he never used the term ‘mystical,’ he’s widely regarded as the founder of mystical theology. 

Reaching even farther back in the West we find Plotinus (203-270 C.E.) mystically reimagining Plato. Proclus (412-485 C.E.), by systematizing Plotinus’ thinking (Neoplatonism), actually laid the philosophical foundation for Pseudo-Denys to begin a formal stream of Christian negative theology.

In the East, perhaps the earliest written expression of apophatic thought is found in a foundational Taoist text, Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.E.). The text begins,

“Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself. Even the finest name is insufficient to define it. Without words, the Tao can be experienced, and without a name, it can be known.”

Pseudo-Dionysius’ “One” from, The Divine Names, rhymes with Lao Tzu’s, “Tao.”


Lao Tzu Riding_an_Ox
Lao Tsu riding an ox

Radical negation

Meister Eckhart (c. 1260c. 1329) continued in the stream of apophatic mysticism pioneered by Pseudo Dionysius, albeit taking it to far greater extremes of negation. Eckhart indicated his radical commitment to having empty hands and mind arguing that the apophatic spiritual journey leads past even the Persons of the Trinity. In sermon number forty-eight, Eckhart wrote that the mystical path journeys:

“….into the simple ground, into the quiet desert, into which distinction never gazed, not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.”

In his negative theology, Eckhart attempts to clear existence away saving only a space for the (unqualified) Divine Image to occupy. There was nothing esoteric about Eckhart’s mysticism as he preached it in worship to all. His attempt to reconcile God’s Transcendence and God’s Immanence resulted only in dynamic tensionas any dualism is limited to do.

The Cloud of Unknowing (fourteenth century) [TCoU](anonymous author) belongs with Eckhart and Pseudo-Dionysius in the more radical branch of apophatic theology. However,  TCoU, like Saint John of the Cross, is quite practical in distinction to the earlier more theoretical forms, and is more of a mash-upadding Bernard (Love mysticism), Ruusbroec (Trinitarian mysticism). TCoU‘s design is to help spiritual pilgrims find modes of contemplation that are not bound by the limitations of discursive meditation. TCoU inverts the legacy understanding that love is the result of mystical contemplation. Rather  contemplation is the result of love/desire for the Divine (“blind stirrings” from God).

Not too difficult to imagine from where the ‘cloud’ imagery was drawn. (e.g.Psalm 97.2; Mark 9.7)   




“as one having authority”

In a nighttime conversation (John 3.1-12) with Nicodemus, an influential religious leader, Jesus said (verse 11), “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.”

We, also, recall that Jesus garnered astonishment, regard and favor from the people for teaching ‘as one having authority’ [cf. Mark 1.22; Luke 4.22; Matthew 7.28-9]. These scripture texts describe Jesus’ teaching as drawing on immediate experience and not the dogmatic words of tradition, as did the “scribes.” The power of Jesus’ mystical way of teaching that is, drawing on the immediate experience of those he taughtstruck fear in the hearts of the religious leaders/authorities [Mark 3.6]. Because of its populist power, one might argue it’s this mystical aspect of Jesus’ prophetic ministry that really got him killed [Mark 12.1; Mark 12.12]. Allow me to demonstrate how mystical prophetic teaching works. Please imagine you’re an audience member as you watch this brief video:



Notice, the speaker in the video (educator and activist, Jane Elliot) makes appeals to no authority save one. She makes no appeal to history, law, or to the academy (and the corresponding authority that attends its myriad disciplines, e.g., scientific research, etc.). Similarly, (except for her final question) Elliot makes no appeal for a warrant of authority from ethics, justice, morality, or religion. Elliot’s prophetic words are offered as a mystic would teach in that she draws her warrant for authority from within the experience of the hearers in her audience. I learned the hard way using this video in a local church. Speaking the truth in love through this immediate/intimate channel is capable of generating powerful populist identification, and, in Jesus’ case, even violent responses from prevailing aristocratic powers. Jesus’ experience with the ruling powers of his time (e.g., his condemnation/crucifixion) bears witness to the potency of prophetic vision offered through a mystical mode of teaching (over mere religious fiat).

Looking ahead

Next time, mysticism, scripture, and we’ll begin our look at (positive) cataphatic forms of mysticism.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key

Lao Tzu Riding_an_Ox


Divine darkness

Peace - Image by Johannes Plenio
Image by Johannes Plenio || CC0

“Divine darkness!” Um, what? 

‘Divine darkness?’ I used that image last week (The point of peace) and offered a quote from Bede Griffiths to help illustrate. But what does the expression indicate? This week we’ll begin unpacking the history of just what that phrase means. We’ll see that far from some ethereal, esoteric, altered-state woo-woo, rather, mysticism is quite practical and immediately accessible.

You are a mystic! Everyone is a mystic. It’s just that rarely has anyone ever told us that, much less, taught us how to awaken to our intrinsic connection with the Divine. I note: Please see the daily meditation of Franciscan monk, Friar Richard Rohr (here: CAC); of late he’s been teaching on the mysticism topic specifically (week one summary here) (and week two summery here).


Image by Susan Cipriano || CC0

The earliest use of the term mystical was offered by Pseudo-Dionysius (5th or 6th century CE) [also denoted as Pseudo-Denys]. He first wrote of ‘divine darkness’ in The Mystical Theology. Chapter One begins with poetry:

What is the divine darkness?

Trinity!! … where the mysteries of God’s Word lie simple, absolute and unchangeable in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence. … Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen they completely fill our sightless minds with treasures beyond all beauty.

“Darkness.” “Hidden silence.” Sightless minds.” Pseudo-Dionysius’ way of negation shows that union with the Divine involves laying every thing, thought, and image aside and approaching the majesty of G-d with hands and minds that are absolutely empty of all things, material and non-material. Pseudo-Denys invites us to think of a sculptor removing everything but the desired form, e.g., the Divine. 

In a profound sense, mysticism is an intuitive manner of reverse engineering. Action, contemplation, and the practices of mystical spirituality lead the pilgrim to the goal of union of the soul in Love with the Divine. [Spoiler alert], the rich spiritual irony is, you are already in union with the Divine. You always have been and always will bealways already.


Saint John of the Cross
Statue of Saint John of the Cross || CC BY 2.0

Carmelite friar, priest, and mystical Doctor of the Church, Saint John of the Cross [SJotC] (1542-1591) expounded beautifully on divine darkness. Drawing on the negative theology stream of Pseudo-Denys, SJotC charted the course to Divine union in Love with God.

Last week I quoted Bede Griffiths as he was talking about transcending sense and reason in one’s spiritual approach to G-d. SJotC‘s, The Dark Night of the Soul [TDNotS] is mystical poetry and its exposition. The first stanza of TDNofS poetically grounds Griffiths’ claim:

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

‘On a dark night, … My house now being at rest.” and “Divine darkness.” “…transcending sense and reason in one’s spiritual approach.” Union by way of negation.


Image by Bouf16 || CC0

Spiritual currency 

I’ve written previously that Mystical = Experiential. The currency of mysticism is experience. This key distinction stands in stark contrast with what is generally more conventional, dogmatic, institutionally religious approaches to spirituality. In a time when our cultural zeitgeist’s reliance on institutional dogma and religious (and all) authority is in disfavor/decline, and lived experience is taken as more genuine and authentic, the institutional church must take note. In the words (with regard to being Christian) of a well renowned twentieth century mystical theologian:

“In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” —Karl Rahner

Educator and church leader, Leonard Sweet, has offered a relevant acronym regarding our times: E.P.I.C., with the ‘E‘ signifying we are now very ‘experiential’ oriented, and the “P” to remind us of our  ‘participatory’ nature. The zeitgeist has also been referred to as V.U.C.A.—that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. (here

“The crises we find ourselves in as a species require that as a species we shake up all our institutions—including our religious ones—and reinvent them. Change is necessary for our survival, and we often turn to the mystics at critical times like this.” —Matthew Fox (here)


next week
Image by Gerd Altmann || CC0

Looking ahead

Next time we will continue unpacking ‘divine darkness’ through consideration of other renowned mystics who have lived and written, from within their contexts, about their journeys with G-d. We will also see that not all mystics take the (apophatic) way of negation. We’ll begin to explore the myriad other ways that mystics describe their paths to the experience of union in Love with the Divine. Finally, and most significantly, we’ll begin a brief examination of how the Bible and Jesus fit into mystical spirituality.

Next week: “Jesus, the mystic.”

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral Dynamics, introduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key






The point of peace



‘Peace,’ a feature of the Divine … 

In the Center for Action and Contemplation daily meditation published on July 29, Friar Rohr relates the teaching of Life School faculty member, Dr. Barbara Holmes. Writing about “God’s Abiding Presence,” Rohr quotes at length from Holmes’ book, Joy Unspeakable [Fortress Press, 2nd ed. (2017)]:

Holiness is a concept that makes ordinary people nervous. . . . The holiness that Jesus describes has less to do with pious character traits and more to do with the hosting of God’s abiding presence. It is not effort but invitation that opens the human spirit to the possibility that God may sojourn with us.

While often misunderstood as moral purity, actually, ‘holiness’ is Christian discipleship jargon for wholeness, that is, not-two (both/and). Rohr continues quoting Holmes’ Divine union by “invitation” thought:

The human task is threefold.

  • First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning.
  • Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace.
  • Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.


Point of peace


“…God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.”

It’s not a question of G-d’s Immanence, G-d is Present. How do I know? My own experience has shown me. Then, too, my experience is affirmed by the Divine-immanence recounted in the Christmas narrative (G-d Emmanuel), the consistent witness of the Holy Spirit, as well as the writings of many mystics down through the ages. 

The pertinent question is: are we conscious of G-d’s Presence?

Clare Graves/Spiral Dynamics [SD] worldviews aside, is the reality of G-d’s Immanence an ordinary part of your consciousness? If so, then you know that offering a coherent witness and testimony as to G-d’s Presence with language (or nondiscursive means) is no mean feat. 


Say I Am You


[SD] Excursus

In Graves’ and SD developmental terms, the first point in Holmes’ ‘three-fold task’ finds a spiritual grounding for a developmental corollary: e.g., the opening of (exiting) RED [CP] to (entering) Blue [dq] note: this introduces here a more nuanced way to distinguish/designate a specific developmental stage.

So, for example:

  • PURPLE/red [BO/cp] = exiting/overwrought PURPLE2nd stage: human-bond, tribal values
  • Red [cp] entering/naive Red, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • Red [CP] = mature Red, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • RED/blue [CP/dq] = exiting/overwrought RED, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • Blue [dq] = entering/naive Blue, 4th stage: order values
  • Blue [DQ] = mature Blue, 4th stage: order values
  • BLUE/orange [DQ/er] = exiting/overwrought BLUE, 4th stage: order values

“Overwrought RED” is an apt description of the individual’s realization of the limits of the individual. “…turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning,” describes, in spiritual terms, an opening to human development beyond an exclusively self-referential values system. Not nearly as poetic as the mystics, yet a basic grasp of SD language and the RED to Blue developmental transformation (in spiritual terms: conversion) does offer a dynamic point for Spirit, Graves, and SD to meet narratively.




Images of non-duality

Objectivity and subjectivity are not-two.

Heaven and earth are not-two.

The sacred and profane are not-two.

I’ve previously related my möbius way of describing the non-duality of Reality, that is, seeing through the not-twoness of interior/exterior perspectives (e.g., the co-emergent dynamic of subjectivity and objectivity). Similarly, all dualities are a construct, a differentiation of language, especially the sacred/profane division. Our (quadrant) holism mnemonic helps us keep these concurrent, dynamic relationships top of mind.


Quadrant model


Intersection of soul and Spirit 

Holmes is arguing that union with G-d and peace are found in the honest reckoning and holistic embrace of both our light and our shadow. Recall, Saint Paul reminds us: “we live and move and have our being” in G-d [cf. Acts 17.28]. I am taking the human ‘soul’ to be that aspect of a person that integrates body, mind and spirit (good and bad) in relation to Spirit.  The human soul is the point of human/Divine interface. A visualization:


Intersection diagram 4


Divine darkness

In The Marriage of East and West, Bede Griffiths writes:

There is no objective world outside us as opposed to a subjective world within. There is one Reality, which manifests itself objectively outside us and subjectivity within, but which itself is beyond the distinction of subject and object, and is known when the human mind transcends both sense (by which we perceive the ‘outside’ world) and reason (by which we conceive the mental world of science and philosophy) and discovers the Reality itself, which is both being and consciousness in an indivisible unity. (pg. 24)


Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral Dynamics.


SD Worldview Color Key

Intersection diagram 4