The Mystic’s Way Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 29 John 14:7-14 “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” For our Lenten Sundays, Elizabeth and I have been describing ways to personal empowerment in these days of national distress. We saw first how Christ overcame the deprivations of the desert by facing down the Devil, which we learned was to will one thing, only one thing, not many things. Then, I invited Mr. Rogers to visit us, to demonstrate how important ritual is in our lives, because it provides the order that reassures us at the most fundamental levels. We saw next how we are strengthened by acts of devotion, devotion to Christ, to God and to church. Among many possibilities, one way is pilgrimage—long or short, journeys of redemption matter when grief assails us. Then, we learned about the power which comes by bringing God’s Word closer to us, by opening the Bible and entering God’s world. We come to another possible way of personal empowerment in times of public distress—the way of the mystic. If you are “attending” our online worship service right now, you are among those who want to see more deeply into the workings of God’s universe, who want to see past the distractions and the entertainments into ultimate reality. You are a mystic, therefore, although you don’t know it. You may not be among the ecstatic mystics, like Teresa of Avila or like St. John of the Cross, who wrote, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” But you understand what he meant.
You may not be among the spiritual poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot, or like Rainier Maria Rilke, who wrote. . . “I live my life in widening circles/which spread out to cover the whole earth/I may not complete this one/But I will give myself to it./I’m circling around God, around the primordial tower/And I’ve been circling for thousands of years—/And I don’t yet know: am I falcon, a storm?/Or a vast song. . . .” Neither you nor I could have written those words, but you understand what he meant. You do know, I am sure, or you wouldn’t have opened a church website. You know that the essentials of life can never be taken away, as long as there is life. And what are the essentials of life? The answer to that question does not lie on the surface of life. You must lift up the cover, and look in, and see for yourself. That is a mystic’s work. So, if you will accept that fact about you, will you also accept the effort involved in the mystic way? It’s OK, you can do it, you should. More than ever, it’s time to junk ordinary life and find its essence. There is a Christian way to go about it, although Sufis and Kabbalists and Taoists practice their ways. You don’t have to join a monastic order, or practice self-mortification as some mystics in the past have. But you do have to interrupt your routine. The great mystics whose names and writings we know so well may have been impelled by their particular personality or a certain intellectual capacity, but they were no different than us in having to clear the decks for the expansion of their souls. Yes, they probably belonged to the imaginative stratosphere of human society. .. .Yes, they often took drastic steps to accomplish this--amendments to their diets, abandonment of their families, attachment to like-minded communities. For us, so far, that has been out of the question. It’s just that circumstances haven’t favored us that way. It’s not in the cards for people with jobs or families, or both. Nevertheless, we need the silence, we need the space—because the questions of meaning and purpose nag us, they just won’t leave us alone. We are mystics, after all. However, there are specific steps you could take, if you are willing to ask others to cooperate. It will require others to understand when you make time for silence, make room for emptiness. Jesus was at pains to explain to the disciples, often without success, that there were no barriers between him and the disciples (he called them friends, not servants).
And there was no barrier between Jesus and God, whom he called Father. Therefore, there was no barrier between the disciples, or anybody, and God. This was a vision of vital unity—a mystical vision—a beatific vision. Annie Dillard, the great American writer and a mystic in her own right, put her vision in more naturalistic terms—“God is spirit," she wrote, "expressed infinitely in the universe, and God does not give as the world gives.” It is simply to say, God’s appearances are not like any appearances we are used to—God gives to us, not as the world gives, but in silence. Jesus made God manifest in his own person. This was Jesus’ message to the disciples in the Upper Room. You might say, Jesus gave vocal chords to the wordless Word. Or, in visual way of looking at it, Jesus served sort of like the prism through which light breaks out into color. Do we have the will to carve out the time and empty the space, so that we can see our lives “in widening circles that reach out across the world”? Can you feel yourself as being ageless, having “circled for thousands of years around God,” to the extent that you must question your very own being, whether you might actually be “a falcon, or a storm, or a vast song.” Jesus resisted the Devil’s temptations by willing one thing. Are you able, in a single-minded way, to place this mystical imperative in a setting of order and ritual, can you give this imperative body through active love, can you follow the lead offered in Holy Scripture? You know who else had a vision like this, Martin Luther King, Jr. He called his vision “the beloved community.” He could see this vision plain as day, even though it was like nothing else on the surface of things. He lifted up the cover, and looked in, and saw for himself. Lift up the cover, look in, and see for yourself. Jesus himself invites you to, for your sake and for the sake of our poor old earth this week. Rev. Richard Chrisman, March 29, 2020