Mystic Mondays May 23, 2016
I am not sure yet, but I can imagine the name of this weekly blog changing/evolving/shifting to something new. There is a small part of me that whispers, “C’mon, Brian, you need to show that you know what you are doing. Don’t be so wishy washy.” But there is a larger voice, even a wiser one I think, that reminds me I have stepped into a lifetime pilgrimage. I have chosen to follow the unfolding movement of whatever this thing is that tells us religion (as we know it) is dissolving away in favor of a new spiritual consciousness and way of being together. No one really knows what they are doing in this time.
At the end of the Lenten pilgrimage where I wrote from the theme “Between Two Worlds” it became crystal clear that my particular voice was to honor the raw spiritual experiences that so many are expressing and to re-introduce the ancient tradition of religious mysticism. I am absolutely convinced that the shift we are experiencing can be captured and understood by re-inserting the language of mysticism into our conversations again.
But something this week told me that my title has me coming in from the wrong side of the dialogue. Actually, I don’t think my small revelation will change much about my writing and its content. The reflections will end up being pretty much the same. What is different is that I can’t lose sight of the fact that it is experience first, mysticism second.
Let me explain. I am feeling the same struggle on Sunday morning with regard to preaching. For centuries in the Protestant tradition people have come to hear a preacher expound on some pithy scriptural text. The Bible held authority in their lives. Many of them may have even held that the Bible was the actual words of God. Given these assumptions the Bible came first; experience second. I have always worked hard to tie the words, the themes and the stories of the Bible to people real life experiences. But increasingly I can feel that it is not the Bible that holds ultimate authority in a person’s life; it is their experiences. I have been known to present sermon series where I first started with a shared experience, value, or social issue and THEN tie it back to the Bible. What I am doing when I do this is acknowledging the authority of a person’s life over the authority of the Bible.
The point is this. Over the years I have discovered that when I preach I don’t try to shape and mold people’s lives to look like the Bible; rather I use the Bible to shed light on and deepen people’s experience of life.
Which is why it hit me this week–I may have fallen back into the old pattern of assuming a religious tradition first and honoring experience second. I was ready to introduce you to the world of religious mysticism like a college professor whose duty it is to teach a subject despite the interest, readiness, and experience of his students.
I could feel it, but I wasn’t able to name it until I sat with a woman this week in the final days of her life. The conversation was deep. She wanted to talk about death and her remaining lessons. We touched, we laughed, we shared tears. We spoke as if her coming send off was just as common and just as exciting and terrifying as walking down the aisle for the first time. It’s moments like these that remind me of why I do pastoral ministry. There is no other profession where I am given the privilege and the access to a person’s most vulnerable and sacred moments of life. I am truly blessed.
I realized then that I didn’t want to talk about mysticism. I wanted to talk about life. I wanted to talk about the soul. I wanted to talk about that Sacred character who shows up in moments like this.
The truth is religious mysticism gives us a language to know why dying is not just dying; it is an invitation to participate in some divine sacred unfolding–even in death.
I do believe that the tradition of mysticism is experiencing a resurgence. But seriously–who really cares about mysticism! What we care about are our experiences. What we care about is what we feel. What we care about is how the world tastes, smells, looks, sounds and feels (which, BTW, is what mysticism is all about!).
Experience first, mysticism second.
Mystic Mondays, as a title, might fade away. But the blog is here to stay.