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Mystic Spirituality: Twelve Touchstones - Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2! Click here for Part 1!

colorful sunset vista of mountaintop across huge valley plain - Great Basin National Park, Nevada, USA

So what do Mystics converge on, other than the four principles from Part 1?

It can be tempting here to try to point to some doctrine or set of spiritual answers, but that’s not the Mystic way. It’s not we don’t believe in answers per se, it’s just that they’re ancillary to, and far less interesting and helpful than, questions. Thus, we can say the convergent Mystic tradition is defined by (5) the art of spiritual questioning. And as we often find, questioning can often elicit two or more seemingly contradictory answers, as in the debate explored in Part 1. So holding tension of truths, or (6) embracing complexity, also defines the Mystic tradition. And this embrace is impossible without (7) a posture of love toward all people and all Creation, so this too is defining. [2] Questioning, complexity, love – I doubt you could find a true Mystic anywhere that didn’t observe at least these principles.

Beyond this, there is no clearly convergent Mystic theology, the way that there might be in, say, Jewish Mysticism. And no Mystic would claim to have the capital-T-Truth, because that is humanly impossible, and because such disingenuousness would also undermine our radical openness toward the gamut of spiritualities. Still, like many Mystics, I have my own interpretation of what else we might be converging on. It seems to me we are all (8) exploring the mysteries of Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred, broadly defined. I think this suggestion leaves ample room for questioning, complexity, and love while also being a real suggestion.

dusty desert cactus road toward mountain - Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona

Even after getting this far, there may remain folks for whom these definitions are not enough. They may say, “This all sounds like insubstantial hooey to me. Which Mysticism do you – Brian – belong to? What do you believe?” And as a mystic, I would have to respond by first asking, “Why do you feel you need to know?” Some people may want to see if I assent to what they do, to see if I’m on their team in our polarized society, or aboard their particular vehicle to paradise. Others may want to see whether I assent to anything – assent to the whole enterprise of assenting – thus warranting credibility as a serious, rational person. Whatever the case, why such a chasing after certainty, as after wind?

We all do this – we all want some solidity to hold onto in this life. Part of the mystic way is to try to (9) accept uncertainty as inevitable, and even part of the fun; instead of chasing, simply resting into the wind and letting it carry us. In fact, as scholar Karen Armstrong reminds us, this is how even Western culture understood (and how the Mystic tradition has understood) the word belief for millennia: as (10) faithful action even in the face of inescapable doubt (Middle English – bileve; Latin – libido, Greek – pistis). Only since the Enlightenment have we – secular and religious alike – construed it to mean "assent to an exclusionary proposition," which is itself an even more recent and static notion than the original, adventurous motto of said Enlightenment – “dare to know.” Even while accepting the limits of comprehension, Mystics embrace this audacious curiosity, at least when framed as a quest for deeper questions rather than answers. Thus we (11) seek both understanding and the unknown. [3]

serene trek through sagebrush toward sunlit canyon - Sun Lakes Dry Falls, Umatilla Rock, Washington

Yet for all our relentless questioning, Mystics know the world needs people who (12) stand for a vision of justice, peace, and ecological and spiritual wholeness, and must thus be ready to stand for beliefs. Personally, there is much I do assent to, even while holding the questions and the complexity, and holding love for all who assent otherwise. No matter who you are, as you continue reading this series and exploring this blog, I think you’ll find we don’t assent quite so other-wise after all. Even if we do, I think we’ll find much to learn from each other.

To recap (from Part 1 as well) – though there is so much more to it than this short “definition” and your own may differ, for me, the Mystic tradition at least means:

  1. seeking both solitude and solidarity

  2. seeking both the wondrous and the workaday

  3. seeking both custom and casual intimacy

  4. seeking both rootedness and relationality

  5. the art of spiritual questioning

  6. embracing complexity

  7. a posture of love

  8. exploring the mysteries of Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred

  9. accepting uncertainty

  10. faithful action even in the face of inescapable doubt

  11. seeking both understanding and the unknown

  12. standing for a vision of justice, peace, and ecological and spiritual wholeness

Looking at this list, we might now say, “These touchstones of Mystic spirituality… aren’t these just the touchstones of spirituality in general?” Yes, that’s exactly the point! If you’re fully engaging in the spiritual life at all, you’ll hopefully be engaging with all of these practices and principles, and definitely at least some. That’s especially true if you decide to work with me as a spiritual guide, where we explore the questions and more:

To see some of how I’m engaging with these questions myself:

Check out the next posts on Celtic Spirituality!

To learn more

[1] Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (Hampton Roads Publishing: 2010)

[2] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad: 2009)

[3] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (Knopf: 2009, 2001)


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