What is mysticism? To the average western Christian, this is a term that perhaps conjures magic and sorcery; all things unholy. There is little doubt that a simple mention of the term would be enough to send some Evangelical pastor into a fit of rage on his Pathos blog. (Shoot first and ask questions later seems to be the MO in some circles.) But what is Mysticism? In its most simple definition it refers to the mystery that is God. That’s right – mysticism simply refers to the fact that despite our best efforts God escapes the ability of our finite mind to grasp Him. God remains a mystery, and mysticism is an approach to understanding God that begins with this simple yet profound understanding.
When we speak of mystical theology, we are speaking of the inherent limitation of theology. We speak of the fact that our best efforts to formulate a description of God fails miserably short and we are left with the understanding that God is ever more beyond us “higher than the heavens are above the earth – past finding out.” Our best efforts to understand the Divine Mystery brings us to the ineffable void and we stare into the darkness of mystery aware of our finiteness and the infiniteness of God. In fact Christian spiritual masters and fathers of the days past felt that this was the very point of the Divine Mystery. To bring us to our knees in futility and frustration and reach beyond our intellect into a direct experience of God. God cannot be understood, but He can be known.
What we are discussing here is apophatic theology, in other words it approaches God from the position of what we cannot say about God. That sound’s a bit tricky at first, but it is a rather logical conclusion. When I say that God is “past finding out”, as the scriptures do, I am saying that the vast infiniteness of what God is lays beyond what I can say about Him. In other words you cannot compare God to anything that exists. You can’t say “God is as big as space and as long as time”, because as nearly infinite as those things are, God is greater still.What we are left with is saying that God is not limited to space and that God is not limited to time. We essentially acknowledge that our largest and most perfect concepts, terms and mental constructs fail miserably at describing God who is “higher than the heavens are above the earth.” In fact (to practice this approach a little) notice that the description “higher than the heavens” is apophatic; it is essentially saying that God is greater than and therefore not equal to the height of the heavens. (Take a moment and breath). What we can say about God is that God is beyond what we can say. He is beyond what we are “able to ask or THINK” says St. Paul. Our attempts to describe God only remind us of the futility of the effort. We stand gazing into the Divine mystery and are compelled to step beyond understanding and embrace knowing.
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