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Mysticism and charismatic Christianity

As I've read about church history in the past year, I've come to learn about mystical traditions that have been an essential part of the history of Christian practice. What we call mysticism refers first of all to proper, biblical forms of mysticism, which generally correspond to charismatic Catholicism (and related movements in other churches) in more modern terminology. It may also refer to some types of theology and practice that can be aberrant, speculative, and heterodox, which tends to give mysticism a bad name. But 'mysticism' should be understood primarily according to "mainstream mysticism".

Mysticism is essentially a lifestyle and theology of direct, personal experience with God, and thus, is emotional, passionate, and engages the person intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. It is grounded on a biblical understanding of the fear of God and the love of God, and thus, mystics approach God as a Being to be held in great awe and respect, yet one who reveals himself to us, whose love we can know. This is in contrast to more mechanical, intellectual approaches to worship, and rationalistic approaches to theology (actually, religious rationalism), especially in the Protestant traditions.

A mystic is one who seeks to experience God's presence and love in a real way, thru the Word, prayer, and filling of the Spirit, such that one can experience God in a way that is just as real, if not more real, than experiencing the love of a romantic partner or friend. Worship and prayer are very emotional and passionate, and the worshiper seeks to be united with God in a real and meaningful way, like a person being romantically and physically being united with a spouse. This finds its basis in the lives and prayers of saints in the Bible, such as the prayers of the psalms, the lives of the saints, and New Testament passages about intimacy with God. For example, in 1 Cor. 6:17 St. Paul says, "But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit", and this is said in the context of sexuality and sensuality. Instead of uniting ourselves sinfully, we are to be united with Christ, alluding to the intimacy of marriage and being made "one flesh". This recognizes that God is far different than us, as he is transcendent and holy, and we could never be united with him in essence (only a heretic would claim that), but united spiritually within us.

This kind of spirituality has been practiced since the early church, and is reflected in the lives and writings of the saints - theologians and devotional writers - such as St. Augustine, St. Theresa, St. John Delecroix (St. John of the Cross), and even the Lutheran writer Kierkegaard - writers that I was first introduced to thru a book of devotional classics from my wife's aunt's class at Trinity Seminary. However, Protestant traditions (except Anglicans) have typically rejected this, due to the influence of western rationalism, and have tended much more toward religious rationalism and intellectual, rational, non-emotional expressions of Christianity. Hence their reaction against the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. These are essentially fundamentalist and Protestant evangelical forms of mysticism, with an emphasis on the experiential, emotional, and practical aspects of faith, in directly experiencing God and the filling of his Spirit. But these movements have also been rife with abuses. Later I'll talk more about possible abuses of mysticism.


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