Mystics – Can we learn from them?

I do often find the books written by mystics as mystifying! And so put them down quick; and I don’t think I’m the only one.  People often view mysticism as confused, irrational thinking.

Tantilising insights amidst the paradox

Sometimes I feel mystics intentionally obscure the meaning of something to make it more difficult to grasp. That is when I long for the clear albeit doctrinaire statements of orthodox religion or for that matter the dogmas of materialistic science. At least they do not so obviously contain contradiction and paradox. Yet occasionally I do get glimpses of something in the writing of mystics. This, I can only describe, as giving me sudden deep moments of intuition.

mystics
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Telihard de Chardin – one of the mystics

Still keen to get a handle on the mystics, I recently started reading Hymn of the Universe. Teilhard de Chardin wrote this piece. Experts say his words are part of the treasury of mystical literature.

I sensed here a heavenly perception of the warmth and light of the creative Spirit

“Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light, the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again,  beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and  trembles”

A love and respect for so many people trying to fulfill what he calls the creative Energy.

“The whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them … who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.”

I felt a universal humanity with all its separate parts working together  complementing each other to bring about heaven on earth.

As well as those “despite their error”, “confused or orderly”. “All of them, Lord, I will try to gather into my arms”

Is this not a love for his fellow man whom he asks God to “receive” and with whom he asks “Lord make us one”?

Mystics have more in common despite varying religious backgrounds

Mystics come from different religious backgrounds. They form sub-currents such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Vedanta within Hinduism, and Christian mysticism within Christianity.

A scientist can also be one of the mystics

Teilhard de Chardin comes from a Roman Catholic background. He demonstrates a basic Christian attitude. Of ourselves we are lifeless but the divine life can infill us if we turn to it.

As for us creatures, of ourselves we are but emptiness and obscurity. But you, my God, are the inmost depths, the stability of that eternal milieu, without duration or space.”

Here we have the characteristic of mystical writing – poetry disguised as prose. Little or no attempt to provide rational coherence and structure but rather we get a subjective expression of devotional emotion.

Nevertheless in other of his writing he was a leading proponent of the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way rather than due to the accidents of natural selection. Trained as a paleontologist and geologist as well as a Jesuit priest, he had a reverence for the natural world and a continual awareness of the spiritual.

“Like the pagan I worship a God who can be touched; and I do indeed touch him – this God – over the whole surface and in the depths of that world of matter which confines me.”

But he adds that it is more than the emotion felt by the pagan as he lies prostrate before a tangible divinity. “Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.

This reminds me of the mystical idea of the whole of creation as mirroring the Divine soul operating in the world of people. Where accepted it is shown in the beauty of nature.  Every single thing within the natural order should be cared for because it is an image of the Divine. In each thing we see in the forest, on the mountain and in the sea, something that meaningfully represents the spiritual dimension.

Esoteric secrets or mystical insights available to all

It is difficult to find words to express and describe meaningful insights. And so the perceptions of the mystics are often regarded as ‘hidden secrets’, or ‘esoteric knowledge’ – and for the initiated only. Yet mystics themselves often seem to think that what is out of sight can be found by every person. It is said to be there in all of us, it is just that but we may not yet be able to recognize it.

Likewise according to Emanuel Swedenborg — who also came from a Christian background, and who also had mystical experiences — no matter how well educated and intelligent you are, you need inner enlightenment from the Lord to perceive spiritual matters.

He claimed this inspiration is the illumination that the angels of heaven enjoy and comes to those who are closely linked in their hearts and minds with the spirit of love and truth. The ideas of natural thought are to do with place, time, person or material objects. These cannot provide the deep insights of the mystic.

In his book Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg wrote:

At times I have entered into the state in which angels are, and in that state have talked with them, and then understood everything. But when I was brought back into my former state, and thus into the natural thought proper to man, and wished to recall what I had heard, I could not. For there were thousands of things not on a level with the ideas of natural thought, and therefore only to be expressed by variegations of heavenly light, and thus not at all by human words.”

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Emanuel Swedenborg

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