Some people might argue that there is no “mystical dimension” in Christianity. Others would say that “there is one”, but that it is “not for everybody”. Others will claim: “we can’t describe ‘mystical’”, so we remain in the dark or worse – with the feeling of ambiguity.
Let me start by defining what I mean here by “mystical dimension”. In front of a phenomena that is very difficult to describe, where two (or more) beings are truly, but mysteriously (and strangely), united, or interwoven, no other word can be applied to it than “mystical”. It is like saying: “hidden”, “difficult to describe”, or “ineffable”.
Let me take two examples that will very easily help us get closer to this dimension in Christianity. Again, this dimension is so fundamental that if we empty Christianity of it, Christianity will not longer qualitfy as Christianity.
I- The first example I will take is Communion.
Two mystical acts were willingly performed by Jesus:
1- at one point in time, He took some bread and said: “this is my Body”.
2- at another no less inexplicable point He said: “eat it”, so “I can live in you and you in me” (John 6).
Lets face it:
1- A loaf of bread is not a human being. Not even a divine Being.
2- Eating a human (or divine) Being is a very strange act. How would you do it? What would happen if you did it?
This is what I call “mystical”: it is something very real, but is difficult to grasp. And it is still very dynamic, active and transformative. Jesus says that the human being, in order to be complete, requires more, needs to be grafted onto another larger being: Jesus. When Paul of Tarsus says: “it is not me who lives, but Christ who lives in me”, he embodies in this expression the very essence of the mystical aspect of Christianity. You’ll certainly agree with me, that this is not just “a secondary aspect” in Christianity. It touches its essence. It is not an optional aspect.
The contact that God wants to make with us is not an intellectual or notional contact. It is a deep, real, transformative contact. First God becomes a human being and takes on a human nature (without changing His Divine Nature). Secondly, He wants us to be united to Him and transformed in Him. On the Cross He will unite Himself with each one of us. This will be performed by the mysterious (mystical) Action of the Holy Spirit, the Master of anything Mystical.
II- Let us take a second example, that precedes “Communion” and is at its core: Baptism. Baptism says St. Paul is to be immersed in Christ, it is to participate to His Death, and therefore experience the transformative Power of His Resurrection. Baptism is a Seed, Jesus in us, who will grow in us – the new being in us, or “the new man”. This Divine Seed, planted in us, needs to grow until it reaches its fullness. All this is “mystical”. It is difficult to grasp. Real, indispensable, unavoidable. It allows us to get so close to Jesus, to get united to Him. And yet even though we struggle to escape from it, we are unable to define it.
How would you describe this necessary union between Christ and us, a union that does not generate confusion, that far from endagering our freedom actually fosters it, as a union that directly impacts on us?
To put it in a nutshell: just ask any fervent Catholic or Orthodox faithful to describe to you what he or she feels right after Communion, right after having received the Body and Blood of Jesus. They will unanimously agree that this very moment is the highest point of the day or the week. That it is indeed a deeply intense moment. The moment when they are the closest to Jesus, to God. The moment when they feel that their prayer has been answered. They often feel peace. They would like this moment to last. I would simply call this moment: a simple, daily or weekly, mystical moment. Real, but difficult to describe. It happens in the deepest part of ourselves, but it remains hidden from our consciousness. Even so, a great peace and stillness “seeps” through to our consciousness. Some real change in our external being does happen if we allow it.
With this we have arrived at the essence of Christianity, at the unbreakable nucleus that constitutes Christianity. Christianity is indeed “mystical” in its essence. So please, let us not hide from this dimension, let us acknowledge it. God, in Christianity is not a remote Being in whom one believes or not. No. He is not a set of Dogmas. He is a Being. United with Him we are more complete. Just try Him.
How would you describe the way we are united with him? The answer would indubitably be: “Mystically”. We are united to Him mystically deep within us – you cannot really grasp it directly – but we are in truth united with Him. He is truly in us, and with us. “dwell in Me” says Jesus. “without me you can’t do anything” (John 15). Quite a statement. It is a mystical statement that shows the mystical dimension of our entire day.
Here is a mystical Prayer:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds, hide me.
Never let me be separated from You.
From the malignant enemy, defend me. At the hour of death, call me; and bid me come to You.That with your saints I may praise You forever and ever. Amen. (St. Ignatius Loyola)
Lets Face “Mystical”
In John Chapter 6, when Jesus starts to say that He is “the Bread” and that that Bread is his own flesh (not “body” but “flesh”) and his own blood, people were shocked. And the good thing is that John, the Apostle, is underlining the fact that people were shocked. John is not avoiding the difficulty inherent in the “mystical dimension” that Jesus is offering: eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
“- Too close!” “- Too intimate!” is what people manage to say at best. John gives us the spontaneous reaction of some people: “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
Did Jesus let the subject drop? On the contrary John does not seem to imply that. Did Jesus say to himself: “ok, this is too difficult for them, I will then stop speaking about this difficult topic, let’s change the subject”, or “let us dilute it a bit and make it milder”? No, He didn’t. Seriously, we should be surprised by the fact that Jesus kept going on.
He just simply continued on His track. He even emphasised the difficulty, and, to a degree, He made it more difficult. He tried to explain, develop, expand:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6)
Later, in that same text of John 6, John will say that, at this juncture, some stopped following Jesus.
Facing the “Mystical Dimension” of our own Faith
At some point each Christian has to face the “mystical dimension” of his/her faith, responsibly, as an adult, and decide which side he/she wants to take. To enter deeply into this mystical dimension, or just drop his Christian faith.
Jesus, assuredly, will not change his plan just because “we don’t like it”, or “we have some difficulty grasping it”. He is ever ready to help, however, if we are opened to Him, if we ask for His help. But He will not bypass the “mystical” dimension.
– What, then, is mystical? – “Mystical” can be surprisingly confusing. But it is real and is deeply embedded in the core of becoming a Christian. When Jesus invites us to “eat his Flesh” (John 6), to “dwell in Him” (John 15), when St. Paul says: “it is not me who lives but Jesus who lives in me”, we are simply in the “mystical” dimension.
We inhabit the three-dimensional world space: 3D. We can add “time” as a fourth dimension. I do not want to add more dimensionsand turn this into a mathematical marathon, but just want to point out the everyday human being that grasping the existence of four dimensions is easy. Hence, 2D comprises looking at a simple photograph. With 3D and if it moves we have we have 3D + time (motion).
The “mystical dimension” is one more dimension that is totally necessary for Christian life.
In order to understand the “mystical dimension”, let me use an analogy, just to open the way to this “new dimension”.
Have you ever watched an episode of “Drop Dead Diva”? It is the story of a twenty-four-year-old girl, Deb, who is an aspiring model (you can imagine her figure), who has a car accident, reaches heaven, and then comes back to earth but in the bigger body of a thirty-two-year-old girl, Jane, who is a lawyer, and has who just died. The soul (and spirit) of one person, Deb, has fallen into the body (and the brain) of another person: Jane.
Note: Of course I am not at all going to address the issue of “is this possible or not”. For Christianity it is simply not acceptable, for one body is designated for one soul only; numerically speaking a particular body body is designated for a particular soul, in a unique and definitive way. I am just taking this TV series case as an analogy. Many people accept this “mystical” game, even if it is not possible to have it in real life, so I just hope it may help us to get closer to the daily Christian “mystical dimension”.
“Transformed”, not “lost”
When Paul says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), of course it is not at all identical to Jane’s case in “Drop Dead Diva”, but it is remotely similar and opens the way to what is more meaningful.
When Jesus grows in us, and becomes more alive (remember the “Spiritual Marriage” or “union with Jesus-God” we saw previously), we still have all our being (our soul is not lost or replaced by Jesus’ one like in Jane’s case). We still have our body, our soul, and our spirit. We don’t lose any part of our being. Our being is renewed, purified, elevated. We have merely been “inserted” and “rooted” in the humanity of Jesus but not lost. We have been “Improved” but not lost.
Our body is in Jesus’ body, our soul, is in Jesus’ soul, our spirit is in Jesus’ spirit. Our entire human nature (body, soul and spirit) is in His human nature. Similarly, our entire human nature – dwelling in His human nature – is united to his divinity. Remember that His human Nature is united to the Divine Nature of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity.
The diagram below will helps us visualise the “new life” in Jesus:
The “human being” – each one of us – on the right is invited to enter into the humanity of Jesus (on the left). In fact, St Augustine about Communion says that we think we eat Him, but in fact He eats us. The three arrows in the diagram show us that our body enters (is rooted) into his Body as are the soul and the spirit.
The word “enters” is, on reflection, a rather weak term to describe what is really happening, that is we are being transformed in Him. Transformation, again, doesn’t mean we lose our humanity, our body, our soul, our spirit. They are enriched, with Christ growing and increasingly taking over the “space within us as He moves and acts through us. We do not lose our will for it is being transformed in His.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus says that when she does good things to her sisters, it is in fact Jesus acting in her who is doing these things. She does not mean that her personality has been undermined, but that Jesus is alive in her and moves her in a higher an newer way. : she doesn’t lose her will, her freedom.
As you can notice on the diagram, Jesus’ humanity (the square that includes His body, soul and spirit) is placed in the Divine Person of the Logos (the large rectangle), the Second Person of the Trinity, and is united to it.
It is like as if a plant is uprooted – “our humanity” (body, soul and spirit) – and is then re-rooted in the Person of Jesus – the Logos Incarnate. Being rooted in Jesus is tantamount to acquiring a mystical person.
The Mystical Dimension of the New Commandment
“One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, «Which is the first of all the commandments?» Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mk 12:28-34)
One could say that as a statement, « you are not far from the Kingdom of God » is rather disappointing, for Jesus did not say: “you are in the Kingdom of God”.
Nobody can question the validity of the two Commandments of Moses; they are not abrogated by Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets” (Mt 5:17). However, at the same time there is a clear difference between the Law of Moses and the ‘Law” of Jesus. Certainly there is no contradiction between them, but there is a superiority, a perfection in Jesus’ Commandment: “I have come […] to fulfil [the commandments]” (Mt 5:17). When Jesus shows the way to the Kingdom to the rich young man, He starts by checking if he has fulfilled Moses’ Commandments, when He says: “did you fulfilthe Commandments?” to which the young man replies: “yes, from my youth”. Jesus here is speaking about Moses’ Commandments, summarised by the two commandments mentioned above. In this case, as mentioned above, Jesus does not say either: “you are in the Kingdom” but He reiterates the statement: still “you lack one thing” (Mc 10:21) in order to enter the Kingdom.
St. John says that Jesus’ Commandment is not new, but it is new “in us” (1John 2:7-8): “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” (1John 2:7-8)
The question now is to try to understand in what lies the newness of the “new Commandment” and how it is “superior”, “more perfect” than the two Commandments.
“I give you a new Commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:41)
Jesus is very clear: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20)
The mystical dimension of our transformation in Jesus, makes Jesus grow, live in us, and act in us and with us: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga 2:20). This is why it is not possible to just “apply” the New Commandment, without being transformed in Jesus, in order to “enter the Kingdom”. This is why St. John in his first letter says that the Commandment is “new in us”. St. John states it very well: “the darkness [in you] is passing away and the true Light [Jesus] is already shining [in you].” (1John 2:7-8)
Without the mystical dimension, that implies real transformation of our being, letting the “new man” in us grow (Jesus in us), there is no Christianity.
The Mystical Instinct
I would like now to speak about the mystical dimension, but as an instinct. I am not alluding to the natural instinct or desire that every human being has to seek God, the divine, but the supernatural desire, i.e. the desire that is the result of a Call from Jesus and a Grace given by God to a specific person, at a specific time in his or her life, and done in a specific way. This, as will be seen, is not an innate instinct but a new grafted instinct that will pervade the very depths of our being and permeate our very lives. St. Paul endorses this when he invites us to be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:25; Romans 8:14). He goes on to mention that in the new spiritual life thus engendered and given by Jesus, there are at the core of our being (our heart) impulses or movements generated by the Holy Spirit. These are akin to a new supernatural instinct grafted onto us. In addition to this, I would like to explore the “instinctual” aspect of it. Do we become like robots? Does being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turn us into spiritual “puppets”. How is our freedom affected? In which sense would we call it “instinct”?
Important Note: This post’s subject is very rich and covers a great variety of connected subjects. Therefore, herein, whenever it is needed, I will allude to previous posts in order to offer the reader every possibility to deepen the subject of his choice.
What is the meaning of “mystical”?
“Mystical” means hidden. By extension it has been applied to all the manifestations of a developed spiritual life, which in turn implies direct connection with God, visions and supernatural phenomena. Very often it is viewed essentially as being closely linked to the discovery and exploration of God’s world, its graces and growth of intimacy with God.With this in mind we should distinguish clearly between what is the core of mysticism, open to everyone, and what is not the core (levitation, stigmata, physical visions,…), given only to some. In order, then, to understand the difference between peripheral phenomena (mystical phenomena) and the core reality, and in order to learn discernment for this please see below.
St Therese of the Child Jesus who is the perfect embodiment of a supremely mystical life (a spiritual life) that gives no evidence of any extraordinary and peripheral graces.
Is it a natural instinct or a spiritual gift?
St. John of the Cross states that the human being desires God in two ways: naturally and supernaturally, i.e. under the influence of a grace given by God. What interests us is the latter because it is this grace that is invited to grow and to help us reach Union with Christ – the Sacred Threshold of the Kingdom.
What is the “mystical instinct”?
How can the “mystical instinct” be defined? Going back to the Fathers of the Church we find that they developed a spiritual doctrine stating that once the spiritual journey is embarked upon, under the action of the Holy Spirit, inner spiritual senses do develop in us; new capacities/senses that are spiritual are gifted to us – pure effects of the grace of God – developing in us a new range of senses that will allow us to find our bearings in God’s world. We can then see God, hear Him, etc… If for the sake of an entirely theoretical explanation, we unite these new senses, blending them together, we can say that this amalgam resembles a new theological “instinct” that guides us toward God, helps us to sense Him, follow Him and serve Him – and thereby allows the new man in us to grow. It goes without saying that these senses, and this instinct, are directly fed by the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. These three alone connect us directly to God.This instinct, it must be remembered, has been given to us in a seminal form during baptism, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit which, together with our collaboration, causes it to grow. This goes to show that the mystical instinct is far from being a purely animalistic instinct, but proves rather that the new organism, embodying this new sense, is now developing. From this we can now imply that it undergoes different phases of growth.
Furthermore, this mystical quality – through the action of the theological acts – connects us with God who has been leading us in the first place. It can be compared to the inter-connection of the eyes, hands, feet, heart and will. With the ensuing growth, the more the new man has the upper hand, the more the Holy Spirit’s impulses are sensed (see Romans 8).
Is being guided by our “mystical instinct” going against reason?
Going against reason is never the case. St. John of the Cross in fact emphatically states: come to terms with reason, common sense should guide us as well in deep spiritual life. But, it must be avowed that the mystical instinct is sometimes beyond reason: it comes from God and goes back to Him. However, the solid base to which we must paradoxically often return is reason. The grace of God will often help us fulfil our daily duties. Is that against reason? No, on the contrary. We are all subject to the universal time-frame of seven days per week and twenty-four hours per day, with no additions possible… our day is universally ordered into times for sleeping, eating, resting, entertainment, prayer, work,… Providentially, rather, this new instinct, with its attendant graces, will help us, exteriorly, to do the same things, but in a vastly improved manner, with greater attention to quality and detail. What is noteworthy here, is that the difference lies in the fact that this instinct will guide us from within to do everything in a completely different way, a way that is connected to God.What, then, can totally attract us with such magnetism to God? Only the Mystical Instinct. Will it force us to act against reason? No, on the contrary, it will move us from within to connect directly with God while we are apparently undertaking our normal routines. The difference lies in the deeper inner world.
Can any human being have it?
Yes, providing he or she has been through a conversion, and spiritual growth has commenced.
Is there a call for a mystical life?
Yes there definitely is. We are all called to follow Jesus. And this journey is by definition “mystical”. Please see the following posts: Is mysticism for everybody? The unavoidable mystical dimension of Christianity (see above). The Mystical Dimension of the New Commandment (see above).
Can it be triggered?
Jesus’ words “I called you, not you called me” (John 15:16) clearly indicate that the initial move is made by God. However, much depends on us. Here is what depends on God. In St. Teresa of Avila Fortitude and Sacred Threshold. A more detailed theological explanation of the difference between “general help” and “particular help” with St. Thomas Aquinas.
Can spiritual growth be further developed ?
It most emphatically can: this new instinct is constantly refined, by the addition of a developing and in-depth discernment. It is to be remembered that God is Spirit and cannot be deceived. We can only learn to discover Him… He is our sole teacher. (See below): The importance of leading a Spiritual Life. Ensuring steady growth. Mapping Spiritual Life.
Can it be hindered?
Of course it can. Ignorance, is one of the main reasons for hindering growth. Spiritual laziness only exacerbates this.
Can one develop it more than others?
Most definitely, as holiness has grades and levels; in fact we could say, with St. Therese, to Jesus: “I want it all, I don’t want half measures.”
Are some temperaments more prone to it?
We all are invited to have a share in it. (see 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 15:15)
Can it be faked?
Unfortunately deviations are possibles. The Devil can easily interfere and the Lord allows this in order to test our obedience to Him. Charlatans exist as well, in the name of religion.
Can it be dangerous?
Anything in the spiritual life not led by discernment (through spiritual direction) can lead to real disaster.
Is the mystical instinct the same as the contemplative instinct?
Some people would consider themselves more contemplatives, and others more active. These distinctions tend to be misleading. Although we cannot deny that some human dispositions are more contemplative, introvert, and others are more active, extrovert, we cannot completely dismiss the contemplative (mystical instinct) dimension in extroverts and the active dimension of spiritual life in introverts. Balance, and communication between the two dimensions is valid for all – the rest encompasses only grades of intensity.
How can I know if I am called to it?
Being personally and directly called to it does differ from the general theoretical statement: all are called to it (please see the Post “A call is a call”).
How can we understand the “instinctual” aspect of it?
“Instinct” means an almost uncontrollable way of thinking or acting – a more spontaneous way of acting. Providing this spiritual instinct grows in us, and grows properly, in the correct direction… we can say that this is the result of God’s new life in us: the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Do we become like robots?
Is being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turning us into a species of spiritual puppet? What happens to our freedom? Of course not. The example of dancing (think of a waltz) sheds an interesting light on the relationship between our free will and God’s impulses. When learning to dance it can sometimes take years of exercise for a learner to master this art. Does dancing require only one of the partners? No, it requires both. Does dancing mean that the lady leads? No, this is not the case. Paradoxically, when you see both dancing you have the impression that the lady is as light as a feather, and that she is following all the hand and body movements of the gentleman, like a puppet. But is she a puppet? Quite the contrary, for over the years of learning she has been deeply transformed. The same applies to us: do we become the robots of the Grace of God? What happens to our free will? The answer lies here: hours and hours of exercise, becoming connected, docile, in harmony with the Divine Partner.
In which sense would we call it “instinct”?
In the sense that this long friendship has seen the development of these virtues to the point that they now seem instinctual rather than painful and implying effort.
How does it relate to fervour?
The more we grow spiritually, the more this instinct grows. But there are phases of growth which follow the normal curve of holiness. See the complete journey of growth here.
How does it relate to spiritual emulation?
Spiritual emulation as well as “mystical instinct`” is the result of a fervent spiritual life.
Will the “mystical instinct” differentiate us from the rest of the crowd?
The Mystic within us sees his “mystical instinct” grow, become surer, more discerning. But in the final analysis, as above-mentioned, it does not go against reason, for it comprises an inner instinct to seek out and connect with God all the time, to keep the Fire of His Love alive in us. Therefore, paradoxically, the “mystical instinct” make us more respectful of the authorities, and allows us at the same time to seemingly blend in with the crowd. If we follow this instinct we will do great things, as Jesus said. Without Jesus we are powerless (see John 15). This instinct, by drawing us closer to Him, will keep us connected with Jesus. And if by any chance we go astray, it will bring us back, with even greater humility.