Two approaches to Christian mysticism

In correspondance to a collegue, I recently suggested that “…there are some very distinct differences between (1) Christians exploring mysticism for the first time and (2) mystics exploring Christianity for the first time. One of my criticisms of Emergent was that they largely failed to recognize this, believing themselves to be catering for both when in truth it was largely the former, not the latter.”

Furthermore, in relation to the first type I said, “In my experience, many people new to mysticism are usually deconstructing, not reconstructing, and unstable theologically. Fowler and others are behind my thinking here. Emergent instincts towards egalitarianism are not always sound in such contexts. As such I tend to side with neo-monastics and neo-anabaptists who argue for the reintroduction of the catechumenate, that is, for extended periods of initiation.”

I realize this goes against the grain of what some have been teaching. But I am wondering what you think.

8 thoughts on “Two approaches to Christian mysticism”

  1. > Fowler and others are behind my thinking here.
    They’ll catch up Matt. They just need time. 🙂
    And do you think FAQ or Q&A is a better term for Catechism?
    I’m considering something similar at Imagine, but incorporating a much broader question set because of the diversity in the local area.
    It may be that a site like http://stackoverflow.com offers a good model for open expansion of question sets.

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  2. 1/ Ya, ya
    2/ No, what I’m referring to is more along the lines of mentoring. It involves FAQs but extends significantly beyond it. Time wise too. By extended period I mean up to a year or even more.

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  3. Mysticism on its own gives an experience of something ‘other’. But what that ‘other’ is has to be weighed. My own understanding (as a Christian who has a strong rational streak in addition to experiencing God more mystically) is that any given spiritual experience can be from God, from Satan or from ourselves. To work out which of these 3 it is can be challenging, hence the need to have some kind of framework to evaluate the experience.

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  4. Exactly. A peak experience is not automatically a God experience. We can get awfully romantic about this. Grounding is important and that’s where mentors / a mentoring community can be invaluable.

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  5. Hey Matt, I’m beginning to ache for some roots in more ancient Christian spirituality myself, mysticism included. I hope I am ‘reconstructing’ and not just ‘deconstructing’, as you say. I’m exploring the Orthodox mindset, and perhaps I will jump on that boat eventually. But I know it will be a long process, and I need to give it time.
    http://cmbryan.com/blog

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  6. Chris, yes it is often a long process. And lest it be misunderstood, I don’t want to devalue deconstruction either, for its an inevitable part of the deepening process. We all go through it to some degree. All I want to say though is, be realistic about where people are at and don’t expect them to all eb operating at the same level. We need to move away from the cookie cutter production line mentality of popular evangelicalism and give people the space to work at their own pace. I’m not convinced emergent has successful done this, particularly with respect to the second group, mystics exploring Christianity for the first time.

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  7. I agree that we discover and rediscover God the Father as an undivided and indivisible Whole, a pure consciousness that fills all time and permeates all space. This makes our purpose not to find God, but to realize God’s presence and to understand that this all pervading consciousness is always with us. Life flows up from the inside where the Divine Presence is springing up from within us. When we realize this, we recognize that this all-pervading consciousness is responding to us from every person, thing or event that transpires.We meet God again and again for the first time

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  8. Catechumenate resurrection sounds like a great idea! Echoes of Robert E Webber perhaps? His books on Ancient-Future Faith and Ancient-Future Worship, amongst others are well worth the read. As stuffy as it may sound, a little bit of rote learning wouldn’t go astray as far as the basic tenets of the faith are concerned. I doubt we would evolve into parrots by reciting some seminal questions and inspiring Scripture passages… however, we may well avoid aping the latest theo-faddish ideas that seem to proliferate amongst “the faithful” these days.
    Not meaning to sound particularly unkind in my comments, but I really do think that,if done carefully, this could be one way of making The Way (God calling and us walking… to borrow a term from Eugene H Peterson) a bit less commodified and consumer-orientated. Yesterday, I had somebody ask me if I could “pull God” i.e. influence God, to get them the house they wanted to buy… after all I was a Christian, wasn’t I, and had some cred with the creator, didn’t I? Fortunately this was someone I knew well enough to have a good laugh with. I said that I didn’t pull God… I didn’t believe in Genie Jesus, Jeannie Jesus, or Shopping List Jesus, but that God loves and provides. (However, I didn’t mention that I used to believe in that unholy trinity… well, sort of… until I matured a bit after a few God-lovingly-allowed scrapes on the faith path).
    My friend has drawn from a wide variety of religious spectra to construct an impressively bright and optimistic spiritual framework… even including a belief in Christ… well, some kind of Christ because I know she had a stint with a well known Pentecostal denomination… but Feng Shui still holds a lot of sway with that girl, as do rainbows, karma and the 10 Commandments. A little more of The Golden Rule wouldn’t go astray, in my estimation of her purpose-driven life.
    My point is, that something of Brian McLaren’s Secret Message of Jesus approach would do more good than harm. Yes, the Good News and relationship with God is available to all, but there is something to be said for earnest seekers being directed to firm faith foundations and the concept of maturing character over time.
    However, I do also believe in approaching a new era of catechetical training with a sense of care, a sense of holism, and very importantly, a sense of creativity. A variety of teaching and learning dynamics would have to be explored and enjoyed… after all, it’s transformation, not just information that we’d be interested in.
    Hey, this thread has just given me a great idea… maybe I have my next education/community building project looming bright before me… creative catechumenate resurrection (or perhaps with a title sounding a bit more “cool for cats”?!

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