Cultivating a Mystical Life

I have appreciated the writing of Carl McColman, so was happy when my friend Richard forwarded to me a post written by McColman about a talk he recently gave in Atlanta.  In the post, he shared his response to a question asked by an audience member about “best practices” for those who want to develop a more mystical spirituality.  His answer is well worth reading in its entirety (which you can do here), but I particularly appreciated McColman’s summary list of “ingredients for a truly mystical life.”  Here is the list and an excerpt of what he said about each item.  You might consider what role each of these has (or could be developed) in your own life.

  • Silence — silence is the foundation of mysticism. We need meaningful amounts of attentive silence, each and every day. …[T]hat’s a necessary first step to finding to limitless silence that expands beyond the “noise” of our thoughts, imaginations and feelings.
  • Liturgy — we need a structured form of daily prayer. … But not everyone needs a daily liturgy as complex as what you’ll find in a monastery. There are other ways to become established in regular prayer. What’s important is that we pray, and that we pray every day. And a daily liturgy, of some form, is an essential tool for keeping such daily prayer alive and real, especially over the long haul.
  • Embodiment — Prayer and silence can sometimes leave us stuck in our heads. The mystical life is a full-bodied life, which pays attention to labor, to rest, to health and even to appropriate ways in which we discipline ourselves (for example, exercising regularly or going on a diet)…. Therefore, our spirituality needs to have a material as well as a psychological component.
  • Community — Christianity is not a do-it-yourself spirituality; neither is Christian mysticism. We need each other. We need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we even need to work on loving our enemies. Mysticism often appeals to introverts (I’m one!), and so this is sometimes the hardest part of the spiritual life for us. But Jesus is clear: he said where two or three (or more) are gathered, he is present. Of course he is present with us individually, too. But his point is that we should not neglect intimacy with God found through community.
  • Justice — Again, Jesus is clear. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Feed my sheep.” “Feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, set the prisoners free.” Christianity is clear in its commitment not only to heaven-after-death, but to working for the reign of God (which is to say, the heart of love) here in the present.
  • Interspirituality — not everyone is called to do interfaith dialogue or interspiritual work in a formal way. But we are all called to be  hospitable toward others, and especially in this day and age, “others” includes those who do not share our faith. ..
  • Humility — …Authentic mystical experience tends to increase humility rather than pride: the “experiencer” is often left with a profound sense of unworthiness after having encountered such vast love. Many of us, meanwhile, are called to be mystics of unknowing, where our is faith shaped not by extraordinary experience but by deep faith and lively trust. No matter what our relationship with God may look like, we are all called to walk humbly with God.

 

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