Mystic Mondays May 2, 2016
I remember over twenty years ago watching my father-in-law eat a whole mango. No one dared bother him when he was leaning over the sink sunk in a near state of ecstasy.
From a distance I would watch him as he would peel the skin from the juicy orange flesh with one of his many sharp paring knives. Then with the skill and precision of a surgeon (he was a surgeon himself) he would slice into the fruit making nearly perfect wedges of equal width and length. The sticky juice would run down his hands and onto his forearms as he slid each wedge into his mouth with a quiet moan each time.
With the wedges gone one would think that would end his lustful enjoyment of the fruit. But the best was yet to come. My father-in-law would then suck on the seed rolling it around in his mouth as if we was a teenager enjoying his first French kiss.
I promised to introduce you to this ancient world of religious mysticism that I believe is returning to our Christian traditions and to our culture. It’s really kind of ironic that churches are often considered a bit old-fashioned and out of touch with today’s culture when the “new spirituality” is actually a return to that “old time religion.” Case in point: Saint Teresa of Avila is a Christian mystic from the 16th century. What makes a mystic is a deep, almost addictive, desire to experience God. Not just to believe in God, but to taste, touch, see, and feel God. Notice how Teresa employs the language of the senses and a soft eroticism when speaking of God here:
When my mouth touched His I became invisible,
the way the earth would if the sun
took it into
The ecstatic death I know. (…)
How do we make love to God;
how does the soul make love to God?
Teresa is talking about getting lost in experience of God just like my father-in-law got lost in the eating of a perfectly ripe and juicy mango and just like couples get lost in the beauty of making love.
It’s interesting that in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) it says that Adam “knew” his wife, meaning that he had sexual intercourse with her. Mystics are those who take the language of “knowing” God a little more literally than others. Mystics aren’t just interested in knowing God as if God was an acquaintance you met once. Mystics want to know God the way Adam knew Eve and the way lovers know each other.
I can remember the first event that propelled me toward this deep lustful desire to know God. I was riding my bike up over the Old Toll Road in Northern California, a favorite ride that I enjoyed a handful of times every summer. The road was all dirt and gravel and rose about 1500 feet from the valley floor where Clear Lake rested peacefully. On the other side of the mountains were the vineyards of the Ukiah Valley.
I had developed a predictable ritual over time. I would reach a certain point at the top where a broad clearing among the oak trees allowed me to look down over the valley. There I would stop, take out a little food, pop open my water bottle and just before consuming my reward for climbing I would look through the clearing 1500 feet below me, take a cleansing breath, and say “Thank you, God.”
But this time it was different.
Just before saying “thank you” I got lost. Rather than being the observer to all the beauty before me and below me I became part of the scenery. There was no separation between me and the vineyards below me. It was as if I was part of a painting crafted by some master artist who knew exactly wanted She wanted in the masterpiece to make it perfect. For a moment (I’ll never be sure how long it lasted) there was no time, no past or future, no separation between the objects I was apparently looking at and me. All was one. And then it was gone. Just like that I returned to being the observer and the vineyards once again returned to being the observed.
But I will never forget that feeling of being lost in the presence of God, Life, Nature, the Sacred (whatever language we need to use). For a moment I was making love to God. For one moment set in all eternity I knew God, I really knew God. And I am pretty sure all that knowing was consensual. God wanted it as much as I did!