A mystical sweet surprise...

It isn't quite clear to me when I realized my mystical sensibilities, but they've always been a part a part of this journey.  I just didn't have the words - or encouragement - to openly connect all the dots.  Sometime in Cleveland, however, after discovering the Community of Celebration in Aliquippa, PA - and spending time with the writing of both Joan Chittister and Kathleen Norris - the truths of a mystical spirituality started to become real for me.  And this blessing has been a sweet surprise for nearly 25 years.

Recently, I have found encouragement and insight in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr who has been summarizing part of the mystic's quest in his notes from a European encounter.

Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential for you, as opposed to intellectual. Mystics are not talking about belief systems, but rather a felt sense of Mystery.  A hallmark of mystics is the integration within themselves of what I have identified as the Ego's Four Splits. To create our mental ego, our false self, there are Four Splits that the mind goes through. I'm going to very simply describe the Four Splits for you and show you how, in embracing the way of the mystics and people like Francis, we just might “get it” earlier than at the very end of our lives.

The First Split: Self from Others
The First Split is the split between my self and your self.  “I'm here, and you're over there.”  We would call that dualistic consciousness. We learn to see this way as children, and most of us live with it for the rest of our days.  In the first half of life (and for many, into the chronological second half of life), we spend most of our time just accentuating and accessorizing that separate self.  “This is me. That's you.  I'm better than you; you’re smarter than me. I'm better looking than you; you’re wealthier than me.” It's all about separation, and using the self as the central reference point.  The modern word we use for this Split is the ego. This is the first Split to form, and usually the last to die.

When Jesus commands us to love our neighbor and to love the enemy, he's training us in overcoming this split. What you do to another, you do to yourself. What you do to the neighbor, you do to Christ. “You are one in God, and one in me,” so it becomes what Julian of Norwich calls “Oneing”: overcoming the splits, little by little, so in the end there's just One. As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” The whole point of Christianity is the experience of unity with creation, with the neighbor, with the enemy, and with God. This creates a basis for universal mysticism. God is not so far away. God is not so transcendent. God is not found in glory, but in humility. It really re-positions the spiritual journey. Now the goal is the bottom, not the top.

The Second Split: Life from Death
The Second Split is the split between life and death. We come to this as children, when we first experience loss, perhaps the death of a grandparent or beloved pet. They were alive a moment ago, but are suddenly gone forever. It just boggles the mind. Suddenly, instead of being an integrated whole, life is here and death is somewhere else.

Once you integrate that life and death are one, you are not afraid of death anymore. You don’t waste any more time and energy in a neurotic building, defending and protecting in avoidance of disappearing.  There's nothing to be afraid of, and you can’t avoid it anyway. You are already living the seamless process. Francis says, “Face the first death, and the second death can do you no harm.” He is pointing to the death of the illusion of the separate self (the first death) vs. the death that is ascension to the Beloved (second death).  Francis made a proactive move into death. In other words, he met life at the bottom, at the place of humility, at the place where there was nothing to lose. The place where reality, every moment, is what it is.

The Third Split: Body from Mind
The Third Split is that we separate our body from our mind.  The mind is given pre‑eminence in almost all people. It might take different cultural forms, but this little machine called the mind starts steering and judging, analyzing and fixing, controlling and dominating.  Most people think they are their thinking. That's what contemplation aims to resolve; to let you find the deeper self that exists previous to your thinking about it. The self prior to the judgments you make, the preferences you have. It doesn't matter what you think; your thinking doesn't make it so. You are part of something bigger than your thinking can even hint at. Perhaps it's easier for us to see this in our children with mental handicaps or Down's syndrome.  We can see the divine image in them so easily, almost because they're not their minds.

I'm sure that so many of the problems we have—addiction, obesity, anorexia—they're all this rejection of the body; a result of feeling the body is not good, not holy.  I'm sure sexual addiction also is just a body trying to compensate; feeling so unloved, so disconnected, it tries to connect in False Self ways that don't really work.

There's no point in hating this—which Jesus never does. Jesus shows tremendous compassion for what we later called “the sins of the flesh.” Jesus is only hard on what we call “the sins of the spirit”: arrogance, pride, hypocrisy; these are the sins that really destroy the soul. Jesus is not localizing sin in the material universe (sins of the flesh or sins of weakness). Sins of the spirit and the mind—these are the sins that really separate you from God.  So the alternative orthodoxy that's emerging is orthopraxy instead of verbal orthodoxy: adopting an orthodox, gospel-based way of life instead of just saying the right words and thinking the right thoughts.

Each of Rohr's summaries sings true to me - and invite me to go deeper.  For more information, see: http://secure.lenos.com/lenos/cac/FranciscanMysticism2012/

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