Between Two Worlds Day 14 (of 40)
Off in the Netherlands I heard a sound
Like the beating of heavenly wings;
And deep in my brain I can hear a refrain
Of my soul as she rises and sings
Anthems to glory and anthems to love
And hymns filled with earthly delight,
Like the songs that the darkness composes
To worship the light.
Dan Fogelberg, Netherlands
I was singing those words on the day that I climbed up into the mountains just inland from the west coast of Greece. Eventually I wanted to end up in Thessaloniki but I had no definite route except to head east and make whatever detours were necessary to see the monasteries of Meteora and to climb as far up Mt. Olympus as a bike was allowed to go.
I rode along the foggy shore of Lake Ioannina for fifteen kilometers before facing the mountains that were to my left. Three roads snaked their way up the mountain, all of them with a beautiful zig zagging pattern of numerous switchbacks. I chose the one that seemed the least frightening. For the next hour I alternated between riding my bike and walking it as some stretches were just too steep for a 54-year old man with fifty pounds of gear on his bike.
Finally, the switchbacks ceased and a whole range of mountains lay before me, much like the Rocky Mountains I had grown up in. For the next five hours I climbed and climbed. I rode through herds of goats, nervously eyed the large mangy sheepdogs who also eyed me, and relished in the psychological and physical strength that was radiating from my body. And I sang, “Off in the Netherlands I heard the sound like the beating of heavenly wings…”
Many years ago I taught a class, “An Introduction to Christian Mysticism” at a church that probably had never heard the term before. I used Fogelberg’s mystical poetry as a way to bridge the experience of mysticism to the language of Christian mysticism (which can sound often foreign and esoteric). What I found remarkable about the participants is that the language of mysticism was foreign to them, but the experiences had been etched into their memories and permeated their souls. Conservative and liberal discovered that they shared common experiences and a relationship with the Divine that was often hidden from each other.
I write this because last week I posed the question, “Might the church be the safe container to teach and lead others to experience of the Sacred through the language of religious mysticism?” One reader wrote, “They’d have to learn it first” which I think my only be partly true. If my experience in the last three churches tells me anything, it is that the language of mysticism is completely new, but the experience of mysticism is widespread. In fact, in my last church I preached a sermon on what a mystic was and I had a dozen people tell me, “That’s me! I’ve been a mystic my whole adult life without knowing it.”
“Anthems to glory and anthems to love and hymns filled with earthly delight…” That’s the language of a uniquely American mystic.
Do you think we might be on to something here?