Seeing and Seeing Again

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By on June 1, 2022

“God does not wait until we die to begin this process of opening to the full vista of God’s Glory awaiting us beyond the veil of our dying.” —James Finley, ‘Turning to the Mystics” podcast

 

The contemporary rediscovery of Christian mysticism is of singular and dynamic importance. The magisterial themes of the best of Christianity as a force for personal, social, and institutional renewal can be traced back to the origins of the Christian mystical tradition.

We use the word “mystical” to refer to knowledge which originates in God. We use the word “mystic” to refer to someone who carries, cherishes, and witnesses to this God-given knowledge. Within Christian life the bearer of this knowledge, which is, in effect, a self-transcending love, is Jesus of Nazareth—the risen and ascended Incarnate Word of God.

 The ascension of the Incarnate Word of God is in itself an inspired and distilled expression of the complete mystery of Christ’s presence within history. The ascension is at the same time a cogent expression of humanity’s birth within God. In God’s good measure of time, humanity is now and forever drawn “upward” into the sphere of divine grace. The entirety of biblical revelation orbits around the sublime mystery of the divine-human encounter. The human journey and the place of our habitation are themselves sacralised, made holy, in the wordless dignity of this divine conversation.

Having said these things, it is critical to see the roots of Christian mysticism (a knowledge born in God) at the heart of our daily lives. God is at the heart of the many finite and temporal ways we know and love one another. To paraphrase James Finley: “God is present in our first stirrings of love … our loves for one another are but echoes of God’s love for us all.”

Like the wind stirring the treetops, our love, in turn, stirs up our hunger for deeper know-ledge, deeper experience. Can one truly love without hungering for more? This restlessness is the living sacrament of God’s indwelling! “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee,” wrote St. Augustine.

I see “God-knowledge” everywhere in daily life. At the kitchen sink watching the dawn rise; standing still in the forest as the stillness becomes teeming with silent and not-so-silent movement; complete courtesy in a complete stranger; the humility of the dying; the courage of the living; in global anguish, angst, and rage in the face of outbursts of human-to-human cruelty. The entire arc of human experience would be utterly unintelligible without Divine Consciousness informing the simplest act of kindness and selfless thought.

Even the profound practice of “holy reading”, known as lectio divina, is at the end of the day simply the practice of an attentive heart. The mystic would say: as we gaze upon the world, we come to know that we too are held in the gaze of God. All things, the mystic would say, are held in a kind of “reciprocity”—as we give, so we receive; as we surrender, so we stand.

All these things, expressed so often in the language of paradox, are only expressions of our experience of the continual round of daily life—with one significant difference: the mystic is continually observing, always watching, bringing care to each action and reaction, drawing divine nurture from the “daily bread” of our life together.

Jesus said: “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:19–20). Along with the ecstatic cry of St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”, we see the living origins of Christian mysticism.

To close this brief thought where we began: “God does not wait until we die to begin this process of opening to the full vista of God’s Glory awaiting us beyond the veil of our dying.”

  • The Venerable Max Woolaver is rector of St. Andrew's, Grimsby. He is also an avid singer/songwriter as well as a retreat leader. Max was ordained in the Diocese of Niagara in 1986 and received his M.Div. from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto; he also studied at the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation.

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