In connection with my preparation for a retreat I’m giving on the theme of Praying with the Mystics, I’m re-reading an piece by Brother David Steindl-Rast called Thoughts on Mysticism as Frontier of Consciousness Evolution. The piece is as good as I remembered it and I was particularly struck by the following words:
“We have to rediscover God from within. And there we discover God as the one to whom we belong. That is all. Before we know anything about God, we know God. This is true for every one of us. We know God as the one to whom we belong.”
Absent an experience of God, an experience of communion with the divine, God is only what other people tell us. And if God is only what other people tell us, we can only know about God, which is a lot different from (and a whole lot less meaningful than) knowing God. As Steindl-Rast goes on to say, we can profit from the experience of other people, but that can not substitute for own own experience.
This is why, as Steindl-Rast suggests, all religious traditions start from mystical experience.” Although the word “mystic” scares some people (they think mystics are strange or special people, somehow different from the rest of us), the term is properly applied to anyone who has had a deep and abiding awareness of the presence of God, a direct and personal encounter with God, with the love of God.
We can talk about God all day long, but absent that personal encounter, we can never know God as the one to whom we belong.
[Note: The Steindl-Rast piece appears as Chapter 7 in Human Survival and Consciousness Evolution (ed. Stanislav Grof).]