Mystic Mondays August 15, 2016 (Vacation Post)
Something is happening. And I have a feeling that what I am experiencing is only the “spark that gets the fire going” as the old camp song goes.
I have been getting glimpses of this in recent years and with each new sighting I become more convinced that we are watching the future unfold before us.
What I am talking about is the growing phenomenon of religious mysticism re-entering our conversations, language, and spiritual experience. This past week I have been enjoying some time at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian-affiliated conference center and retreat destination. This is the fourth time I have flown off to Ghost Ranch in the last five years, drawn to the soulful landscapes of this part of northern New Mexico and the creative offerings around spirituality, art, worship, and sacred connection.
What has been true each time I have come was especially true this time—Ghost Ranch is less a place to reinforce one’s Presbyterian identity and more a magnet for the cutting edge of American spirituality.
It started with a four day singing conference on the Glory to God hymnal of the Presbyterian Church. While that sounds rather traditional, one of the things that came out of our time together was a group consensus: Those of us who have followed the music of the church for the past thirty plus years noticed something. The new hymnal has a new emphasis that points to the re-emergence of religious mysticism. More and more of the songs are written as if they are love letters to God or are about the experience of God’s presence. This is a big deal. We have gone centuries where many of our hymns have been written as ways to teach about the character of God, but don’t capture the intimacy of falling in love with God.
I took that new recognition of our shifting Presbyterian tradition with me as I joined a class in progress on spiritual activism. It was there that the song lyrics, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” played in my heart. On the first day I sat with a group as we sang along with two Sufi Muslims who have traveled the world playing the music of the Sufi mystics. In the room were Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Despite our various traditions we all sang and swayed to the seductive rhythm of the two talented Muslim musicians as they sang love letters to God.
The next day we were treated to a one-hour reading by Mirabai Starr who is famous for her translations of the writings of St. John of the Cross, one of the fathers of Christian mysticism. What was especially quizzical was her description of herself as she opened up her talk. “I am a Mary loving, Jewish, Buddhist, mystic Hindu,” she said. And then added, “It’s been great. No matter where I go everyone can relate to a piece of me.”
I share this with you because years ago I served on interfaith councils. We were at the cutting edge of initiating conversations, dialogue, and relationships between religions. But what characterized those councils was the awareness that we were in different places and needed to learn to listen to each other in order to understand each other better and thus create greater harmony between religions and in our world.
Something is different now. In the past our different religions were barriers to deep and intimate relationships. We had to work at it to find commonality. Now, those of us exploring the mystical arms of our religions feel like we are brothers and sisters on the same path. We are drinking from the same divine cup. We are experiencing the same life-giving, transforming, loving Presence even if we get there through a variety of different names, spiritual practices, beliefs, and traditions.
I have felt it for years. The re-emergence of our mystical traditions may be the medicine that will heal our long-standing divisions, lack of understanding, and distance from each other.
I saw it this week at Ghost Ranch. Jew, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim all sat together and all experienced the same intimate Presence. We were tasting the same honey. We were not even interfaith partners. We were just brothers and sisters–all who had fallen in love with the same God, the God of many names.