There’s the way we are, and there’s the way we imagine we can be. Between the two lies a struggle and a dance. If we reject the way we are, we fail to appreciate the immense goodness and potential we already possess. Likewise, if we’re overly attached to what we imagine we can be, we’re never fully grounded in the present - the only place change can take place.
A couple of years ago a friend bought me tickets to what I thought was a traditional writer’s conference, but it was really a Donald Miller conference. Whether through writing, marketing, or inspirational talks, Miller’s whole focus has become to help people live a better story. It’s a noble enough goal.
Take a writer with a gentle sensibility, probing curiosity, and fierce intelligence with, say, a PhD in Creative Writing with a passion for the Christian Mystics, place her, her husband and children in an intentional Mennonite community in rural Ohio full of idealistic vigor, then knead, proof, bake, and cool.
It’s been a trying time. Within my own extended family in the past couple months there has been a failed adoption, several trips to urgent care, a surgery, and a layoff. A line from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing keeps coming to mind: “Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now.”
One of the most well-known and celebrated mystics from the Christian tradition is teacher and preacher Eckhart von Hochheim or Meister Eckhart. He had a wide and varied career, taught some controversial principles, and became touchstone for interreligious dialogue in the 20th century, especially given some of his Neoplatonist teachings.
For some reason, I’ve always been interested in sources of inspiration and creativity – the guy behind the guy in a sense. So if someone is an influential musician, say, I want to know who had influenced them. In college I dug into some of the inspirations for artists like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles, going back into the catalogue of early 20th century masters like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, and so on. I wanted to hear that originating source.
The book traces the Jungian idea of the archetype as manifested in different Christian saints and mystics over the centuries with exercises for personal reflection and transformation. Each chapter provides a brief overview of the particular figure and archetype, such as Catholic social worker and activist Dorothy Day as The Orphan, Mary as The Mother, and St. Francis as The Fool.
After some amount of contemplative practice, and maybe even a deeper awakening experience, we tend to notice how much of our energy is handed over to thoughts, to mind-stuff. After a while, we notice all of it, everything outside of the pure silence is mind stuff, thought forms of one level of another.
In some ways we can think of Dionysius the Areopagite as the Godfather of Christian mysticism. The strands of mystical theology had been there for some time, running through the gospel of John, the Cappadocian Fathers and others, but Dionysius is the first to formulate an explicitly Mystical Theology.
The Kingdom Of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy articulated a simple way of life, and the book served as a principle in the mission of Mahatma Gandhi. Originally, the phrase was taken from The Gospel Of Luke, a direct quote of Jesus, "The Kingdom Of God cometh not with outward show, nor shall ye say lo here or lo there, for behold: The Kingdom Of God Is Within You." Versions of this appear sometimes translate it as "The Kingdom Of God is in the midst of you," or even, "all around you."