My second semester at VFCC, there was a series of chapels which dealt with the section of Christian theology known as apologetics. I attended this elective series pretty faithfully, and enjoyed every single one of them. One in particular, however, really altered my thinking and, subsequently, my reading.
A young man by the name of Trevor Gordon Hall taught us that day about Christian mysticism, something of which I, in all my nineteen years of being an Assemblies of God congregant, had never heard and was immediately suspicious. Whenever I heard the term mysticism, the individual using it often meant “new-age.” However, I learned that day that a mystic is any person attempting to encounter God. Starting with that definition, I didn’t just become a mystic that day, but I had been one for some time.
From there, Trevor spoke of the great mystics such as Meister Eckhart, St. Theresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton. He talked about different practices, such as contemplation and lectio divina. I felt swept up in a world where people had not only encountered God, but also sought to continue that encounter every day of their lives. Their finite attempts to comprehend and articulate their experiences always fell short of the mark, but it left me with near certainty that they had experienced something far beyond what little I knew of God.
Why you should check out some mystics (and some mystics you should check out):
1) Your walk with God, though far more than just an individual one, is very much an interior walk. Christianity is very much a communal religion (hence the communion of saints), but we all have our own faith to work out. Reading the mystics will help you find a deeper exploration of God.
2) It’s part of your heritage as a Christian. Whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, all of us have a connection to these men and women who sought to encounter God as part of our faith. Looking at them and asking, “How did you come to know God?” will yield some very surprising and beautiful answers.
3) Change the way you go about your day. Many of the practices outlined by the mystics require not only a hunger for the living God, but also time commitment and focus. Setting aside time for meditation, or praying an Orthodox rope, requires discipline.
So go check out the mystics! Here’s some books I found useful:
- The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism by Bernard McGinn.
- New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (heck, ANY of his books would be great!)
- The Interior Life by St. Theresa of Avila
- Christian Meditation by James Farley
- Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola