Stories for Mystics

Stories are fairly foundational to different Christian traditions so I think it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the stories that have been most important to Christian mysticism over the centuries. Stories that are most frequently referenced include Jacob’s ladder, Moses and the burning bush, Moses receiving the ten commandments, the throne visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Song of Songs, the transfiguration of Jesus, the visions of Peter and Paul, and the throne vision of John.

The common thread here is that most of these stories describe events that are typically classed as theophanies, that is, manifestations of the divine One that defy easy description. The Song of Songs is the one obvious exception, but when it is recognised that that love poem has traditionally been interpreted allegorically as describing the intimate relationship between God and (collectively or individualistically) with God’s people, it can be seen it follows the same theme. A common feature is reference to God’s glory and the seer’s experience of overwhelming awe.

There are other theophanies in scripture of course, which suggest other potential sources of inspiration, but these seem to be the ones to focus on. The transfiguration is particularly important for the hesychast tradition. The mystic is one who seeks to behold the unapproachable and indescribable light of God first hand, just like the prophets and apostles. But the experience doesn’t end there. After the mountaintop experience there is the descent back to the plain, where what has been experienced gets translated into everyday action.

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