At the risk of getting burned at the stake I want to talk about mystics today.
I am a life-long Presbyterian steeped in the Westminster Catechism (What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Her forever, of course. ) And, yes, I changed God’s pronoun. That’s what kind of radical I am.
Y’all know I’ve been going to a bible study with the women at the drug and alcohol rehab here in town, Morgan’s Mercy Mansion. I also go to a Thursday morning prayer group over there. But neither of those can compare to the periodic “exorcisms” we have. (Oh, God, she’s an exorcist, too. Run now, while we have a chance!)
The rehab, as I have mentioned before, is run by a church who seems non-denominational if not downright Pentecostal. And the reason I’m not sure of their ecclesiastical position is that those details always fade into the background when you’re just trying to help women escape addiction. By the end of their six-month stay at the Mansion I’m pretty much in love with each woman who graduates from the program. I know how many kids she has, who has lost her kids in a custody fight and the current legal battles some are fighting to stay out of prison. I know how much they love their kids and parents and that they are trying their best to grow into the women God created them to be. I know this.
And if I have to swim against the steam of mainline doctrine, so be it. I would, indeed, paint my hair purple if I thought it would work. These women deserve a better life. Their kids deserve a clear thinking mom.
I have seen a few miracles and I’ve seen heart-breaking relapses. And I have a new respect for prayer.
Every Thursday at 9 a.m. three of the “mentor” ladies from the Winnsboro community meet with the rehab ladies for prayer. No more. No less. We go around the room and find out what each person would like the rest of us to pray about. Then we spend about 30 minutes praying our guts out. We don’t get into hand waving or hallelujahing. Just earnest conversation with God. It’s all very Presbyterian-friendly.
One Thursday a couple of years ago one of the ladies mentioned having a lot of trouble sleeping at night. Conversation ensued and we ended up with all 15 of us going to her room to pray. We filled the small room and held hands. We prayed mostly for God to fill the room with God’s holy spirit and crowd out anything negative so our friend could sleep peacefully. I never expected it to come to anything beyond making our sister feel better and more relaxed by our willingness to listen to her and take her seriously.
Sure enough, the next time we met the woman reported she was able to sleep in peace now. Any psychologist would say it was all in her mind, all in anyone’s mind. Some clergy would agree and tell us we can’t order the spiritual realm to intervene on our behalf like a trained dog, or expect the Creator of the Universe to respond to any little mortal To Do list we cook up.
However, that one experience made it easier the next time we went into someone else’s room to help her sleep. This time we went a step further, speaking a little more boldly, calling on evil spirits to leave the room—even suggesting it could fly right out the window and never return. But it worked because the occupant had no more sleepless nights. And that was our whole aim, anyway.
Then the next time we did one of these room prayers, we were more bold, we ramped up the rhetoric, again suggesting an exit through the window. This time I could feel the presence of evil in the room. It wasn’t a tangible feeling as much as a spiritual awareness of a dark emptiness. One of my colleagues felt it too and went so far as trying to brush something off her arms. We all knew "something" was in the room.
That night, I got a phone call from the third mentor from the community who was there. She was a little hesitant and shyly asked what I felt in the room. I had to confess I didn’t feel much beyond the dark emptiness. But she did. She said the room felt very cold to her while we stood there praying and at the end of our prayers she could feel the coldness brush past her and out the window. She could feel it leave the room.
OK, you can relax now because that was the last of my forays into the spiritual world. I’m not sure what it means, if it does mean anything. But it does seem like an experience that grows, that builds trust upon trust.
I’ve been thinking about the term “mystic.” It’s usually linked with a bunch of other scary words like contemplation or experiential knowledge. When we boil it all down to something I can understand, it just means to have an “experience” with God. And that is one thing we can all relate to. Who hasn’t been struck still at the sight of a sunset or caught up in awe at the stars in the sky? We are all mystics by that criteria.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, whose books I love to buy but never seem to finish, wrote a book called “The Naked Now- Learning to See as the Mystics See.” He also founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. The people I love to hang around with read him more thoroughly than I do. You might say I’m more of a novice hanger-on, savoring any crumbs that fall on the floor. You can sign up for a daily dose of wisdom at their website. I would actually recommend it highly. However, it might be dangerous. It might change the way you look at things.
We don’t all get visions from God or have God speak to us personally. (I have- but that’s another blog. BTW God does, indeed, sound just like James Earl Jones.) What I’ve noticed is that every time we trust God to intervene in our earthly lives it seems like the next time is easier and more powerful. I’m not ready to start speak in tongues. But I am ready to listen to people who claim to have had these experiences. And, yes—to feel a little jealous.
It just seems like whenever you give God an inch She’ll take a mile. I think we’re hesitant to do that because we don’t know where that mile will lead and what will be required of us. We still yearn to touch God’s face but it still scares us to death.
Please, God: I would like to follow you but I’m scared. Could you arrange for the path to be smooth? Maybe not something that would be hard, like becoming a missionary and going off to live somewhere scary like Africa for ten years? Some place where I could still have Starbucks and facebook? Amen.