Christian mysticism

ZEN

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ZEN

 

Is Zen religion?

Or is a belief in something spiritual?

Or even ancient teachings on how to live life?

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China during the 6th century as Chan. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan. The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word dzjen, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which can be approximately translated as “absorption” or “meditative state.”

Zen emphasizes insight in Buddha-nature and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefits of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher. The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogacara, the Tathagatagarbha Sutras and Huan, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal. The Prajnaparamita literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential.

The history of Chan in China can be divided in several periods. Zen as we know it today is the result of a long history, with many changes and contingent factors. Each period had different types of Zen, some of which remained influential while others vanished.  (a) The Legendary period, from Bodhidharma in the late 5th century to the An Lushan Rebellion around 765 CE, in the middle of the Tang Dynasty. Little written information is left from this period. It is the time of the Six Patriarchs, including Bodhidharma and Huiheng, and the legendary “split” between the Northern and the Southern School of Chán; (b)   The Classical period, around 950 CE. This is the time of the great masters of Chan, and the creation of the yu-lu genre, the recordings of the sayings and teachings of these great masters; and (c) The Literary period, from around 950 to 1250, which spans the era of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In this time the gongan-collections were compiled, collections of sayings and deeds by the famous masters, appended with poetry and commentary. This genre reflects the influence of literati on the development of Chan. This period idealized the previous period as the “golden age” of Chan, producing the literature in which the spontaneity of the celebrated masters was portrayed.

Four phases in the history of Chan: (1) Proto-Chan (c. 500-600) In this phase, Chan developed in multiple locations in northern China. It was based on the practice of dhyana, and is connected to the figures of Bodhidharma and Huike. Its principal text is the Two Entrances and Four Practices; attributed to Bodhidharma; (2) Early Chan (c. 600-900)  In this phase Chan took its first clear contours. Prime factions are the Northern, Southern and Oxhead Schools; (3) Middle Chan (c. 750-1000) In this phase developed the well-known Chan of the iconoclastic Zen-masters. Prime factions are the Hongzhou school and the Hubei faction; and (4) Song Dynasty Chan (c. 950-1300). In this phase Chan took its definitive shape, including the picture of the “golden age” of the Chan of the Tang-Dynasty, and the use of koans for individual study and meditation.

When Buddhism came to China from India, it was initially adapted to the Chinese culture and understanding. Buddhism was exposed to Confucianist and Taoist influences. Chan has been referred to as a “natural evolution of Buddhism under Taoist conditions.” Buddhism was first identified to be “a barbarian variant of Taoism”.

Judging from the reception by the Han of the Hinayana works and from the early commentaries, it appears that Buddhism was being perceived and digested through the medium of religious Daoism (Taoism). Buddha was seen as a foreign immortal who had achieved some form of Daoist non-death. The Buddhists’ mindfulness of the breath was regarded as an extension of Daoist breathing exercises. Taoist Te a practice termed ko-i, matching the concepts, while the emerging Chinese Buddhism had to compete with Taoism and Confucianism.  The first Buddhist recruits in China were Taoists. They developed high esteem for the newly introduced Buddhist meditational techniques, and blended them with Taoist meditation. Representatives of early Chinese Buddhism like Sengzhao and Tao Sheng were deeply influenced by the Taoist keystone works of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Against this background, especially the Taoist concept of naturalness was inherited by the early Chan disciples: they equated – to some extent – the ineffable Tao and Buddha-nature, and rather than feeling bound to the abstract “wisdom of the sutras”, emphasized Buddha-nature to be found in “everyday” human life, just as the Tao.

The actual origins of Chan may lie in ascetic practitioners of Buddhism, who found refuge in forests and mountains. Chan was repressed in China during the 1960s in the Cultural Revolution, but subsequently had been re-asserting itself on the mainland, and has a significant following in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as among Overseas Chinese.   Although it is difficult to trace when the West first became aware of Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism, the visit of a Japanese Zen monk to Chicago during the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is often pointed to as an event that enhanced its profile in the Western world. It was during the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the number of Westerners, other than the descendants of Asian immigrants, pursuing a serious interest in Zen began to reach a significant level.

Zen teachings can be likened to “the finger pointing at the moon”. Zen teachings point to the moon, awakening “a realization of the un-impended interpenetration of the dharmahatu”. But the Zen-tradition also warns against taking its teachings, the pointing finger, to be this insight itself.  There are two different ways of understanding and actually practicing Zen. These two different ways are termed in Chinese pen chueh and shih-chueh respectively. The term pen chueh refers to the belief that one’s mind is from the beginning of time fully enlightened, while shih-chueh refers to the belief that at some point in time we pass from imprisonment in ignorance and delusion to a true vision of Zen realization: “Our enlightenment is timeless, yet our realization of it occurs in time.” According to this belief experiencing a moment of awakening in this life is of central importance.

Dogen, the founder of Soto in Japan, emphasized that practice and awakening cannot be separated. By practicing shikantaza, attainment and Buddhahood are already being expressed. For Dogen, zazen, or shikantaza, is the essence of Buddhist practice. Five forms of zen have been discerned: (1) Bompu Zen, aimed bodily and mental health; (2) Gedo Zen, practices like dhyana, Yoga and Christian contemplation which are akin to Zen, but not Buddhist; (3) Shojo Zen, the Hinayana, aimed at one’s own liberation; (4) Daijo Zen, the Mahayana, aimed at attaining kensho and the realization of Zen in daily life; and (5) Saijojo Zen, in which practice is enlightenment.

Central to Zen-practice is dhyana or meditation. The Zen tradition holds that in meditation practice, notions of doctrine and teachings necessitate the creation of various notions and appearances that obscure the transcendent wisdom of each being’s Buddha-nature. This process of rediscovery goes under various terms such as “introspection”, “a backward step”, “turning-about” or “turning the eye inward”.

During sitting meditation, practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza postures, using the dhyana mudra. To regulate the mind, awareness is directed towards counting or watching the breath or put in the energy center below the navel. Often, a square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used. This practice may simply be called sitting dhyana, which is zuochan in Chinese, and zazan in Japanese.

In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.  Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found throughout the “Principles of Zazen” and the “Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen”. In the Japanese language, this practice is called Shikantaza.

Intensive group meditation may be practiced occasionally in some temples. While the daily routine may require monks to meditate for several hours each day, during the intensive period they devote themselves almost exclusively to the practice of sitting meditation. The numerous 30–50 minute long meditation periods are interleaved with short rest breaks, meals, and sometimes, short periods of work should be performed with the same mindfulness; nightly sleep is kept to seven hours or less. One distinctive aspect of Zen meditation in groups is the use of a flat wooden slat used to keep meditators focused and awake. In the Japanese language, this practice is called Sesshin.

Koan-inquiry may be practiced during sitting meditation, walking meditation, and throughout all the activities of daily life. Koan practice is particularly emphasized by the Japanese Rinzai School, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the teaching line.

A practice in many Zen monasteries and centers is a daily liturgy service. Practitioners chant major sutras such as the Heart Sutra, the Lotus Sutra (often called the “Avalokiteshvara Sutra”), the Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness, the Great Compassionate Heart Dharani and other minor mantras.

The Butsudan is the altar in a monastery where offerings are made to the images of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. The same term is also used in Japanese homes for the altar where one prays to and communicates with deceased family members. As such, reciting liturgy in Zen can be seen as a means to connect with the Bodhisattvas of the past. Liturgy is often used during funerals, memorials, and other special events as means to invoke the aid of supernatural powers.

Chanting usually centers on major Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteshvara and Manjusri.  According to Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are beings who have taken vows to remain in Samsara to help all beings achieve liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Since the Zen practitioner’s aim is to walk the Bodhisattva path, chanting can be used as a means to connect with these beings and realize this ideal within oneself.

Though in western Zen the emphasis is on Zen-meditation, and the application of Zen-teachings in daily life, Japanese Zen also serves a function in public religion. Funerals play an important role as a point of contact between the monks and the laity. Statistics published by the Soto school state that 80 percent of Soto laymen visit their temple only for reasons having to do with funerals and death, while only 17 percent visit for spiritual reasons and a mere 3 percent visit a Zen priest at a time of personal trouble or crisis.

Contrary to popular image, literature does play a role in the Zen-training. Zen is deeply rooted in the teachings and doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism. Unsui, Zen-monks, “are expected to become familiar with the classics of the Zen canon”. What the Zen tradition emphasizes is that enlightenment of the Buddha came not through conceptualization, but rather through direct insight. But direct insight has to be supported by study and understanding of the Buddhist teachings and texts. Intellectual understanding without practice is called yako-zen, wild fox Zen, but “one who has only experience without intellectual understanding is a zen temma, “Zen devil””.

The Zen-tradition developed a rich textual tradition, based on the interpretation of the Buddhist teachings and the recorded sayings of Zen-masters. Religion is not only an individual matter, but “also a collective endeavor”. Though individual experience and the iconoclastic picture of Zen are emphasized in the western world, the Zen-tradition is maintained and transferred by a high degree of institutionalization and hierarchy. In Japan, modernity has led to criticism of the formal system and the commencement of lay-oriented Zen-schools. How to organize the continuity of the Zen-tradition in the west, constraining charismatic authority and the derailment it may bring on the one hand, and maintaining the legitimacy and authority by limiting the number of authorized teachers on the other hand, is a challenge for the developing Zen-communities in the west.

Modern scientific research on the history of Zen discerns three main narratives concerning Zen, its history and its teachings: Traditional Zen Narrative, Buddhist Modernism, Historical and Cultural Criticism. An external narrative is Nondualism, which claims Zen to be a token of a universal nondualist essence of religions.

 Kathy Kiefer

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HEALING INFLUENCED BY MYSTICAL PRACTICES

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HEALING INFLUENCED BY MYSTICAL PRACTICES

Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity.  It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The attributes and means by which Christian mysticism is studied and practiced are varied and range from ecstatic visions of the soul’s mystical union with God to simple prayerful contemplation of Holy Scripture

Mysticism” is derived from the Greek μυω, meaning “to conceal”, and its derivative mystikos, meaning ‘an initiate’. In the Hellenistic world, a “mystikos” was an initiate of a mystery religion.   “Mystical” referred to secret religious rituals and use of the word lacked any direct references to the transcendental.

In early Christianity the term “mystikos” referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative. The biblical dimension refers to “hidden” or allegorical interpretations of Scriptures.  The liturgical dimension refers to the liturgical mystery of the Eucharist, the presence Christ at the Eucharist. The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God

That part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of a direct and transformative presence of the Christian God.

Some would argue that “presence” is more accurate than “union”, since not all mystics spoke of union with God, and since many visions and miracles were not necessarily related to union. He also argues that we should speak of “consciousness” of God’s presence, rather than of “experience”, since mystical activity is not simply about the sensation of God as an external object, but more broadly about  …new ways of knowing and loving based on states of awareness in which God becomes present in our inner acts.  It has also influenced the understanding of mysticism as a distinctive experience which supplies knowledge.

The root of the notion of “religious experience” was even traced back to a German theologian Friedrich Schleremacher, who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of “religious experience” was used by Schleiermacher to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular critique. It was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential.

Related to this idea of “presence” instead of “experience” is the emphasis on the transformation that occurs through mystical activity:   This is why the only test that Christianity has known for determining the authenticity of a mystic and her or his message has been that of personal transformation, both on the mystic’s part and—especially—on the part of those whom the mystic has affected.

Other critics point out that the stress on “experience” is accompanied with favoring the atomic individual, instead of the shared life on the community. It also fails to distinguish between episodic experience, and mysticism as a process, that is embedded in a total religious matrix of liturgy, scripture, worship, virtues, theology, rituals and practices.

The privatization of mysticism – that is, the increasing tendency to locate the mystical in the psychological realm of personal experiences – serves to exclude it from political issues as social justice. Mysticism thus becomes seen as a personal matter of cultivating inner states of tranquility and equanimity, which, rather than seeking to transform the world, serve to accommodate the individual to the status quo through the alleviation of anxiety and stress.

Mystical experience is not simply a matter between the mystic and God, but is often shaped by cultural issues. For instance, in the late Middle Ages, miracles attending the taking of the Eucharist were not simply symbolic of the Passion story, but served as vindication of the mystic’s theological orthodoxy by proving that the mystic had not fallen prey to heretical ideas, such as the Cathar rejection of the material world as evil, contrary to orthodox teaching that Christ took on human form and remained sinless. Thus, the nature of mystical experience could be tailored to the particular cultural and theological issues of the time.

The idea of mystical realities has been widely held in Christianity since the second century AD, referring not simply to spiritual practices, but also to the belief that their rituals and even their scriptures have hidden (“mystical”) meanings.   The link between mysticism and the vision of the Divine was introduced by the early Church Fathers, who used the term as an adjective, as in mystical theology and mystical contemplation.

In subsequent centuries, especially as Christian apologetics began to use Greek philosophy to explain Christian ideas, Neo-Platonism became an influence on Christian mystical thought and practice via such authors as Augustine of Hippo and Origen.

Jewish spirituality in the period before Jesus was highly corporate and public, based mostly on the worship services of the synagogues, which included the reading and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the recitation of prayers, and on the major festivals. Thus, private spirituality was strongly influenced by the liturgies and by the scriptures (e.g., the use of the Psalms for prayer), and individual prayers often recalled historical events just as much as they recalled their own immediate needs.

Of special importance are the following concepts:  (a) Da’at  (knowledge) and Chokhmah (wisdom), which come from years of reading, praying and meditating the scriptures; (b) Shekhmah,  the presence of God in our daily lives, the superiority of that presence to earthly wealth, and the pain and longing that come when God is absent;  (c)  the hiddenness of God, which comes from our inability to survive the full revelation of God’s glory and which forces us to seek to know God through faith and obedience;  (d)  “Torah-mysticism”, a view of God’s laws as the central expression of God’s will and therefore as worthy object not only of obedience but also of loving meditation and Torah study; and (e) poverty, an ascetic value, based on the  apocalyptic expectation of God’s impending arrival, that characterized the Jewish people’s reaction to being oppressed by a series of foreign empires.

In Christian mysticism, Shekhinah became mystery, Da’at became gnosis, and poverty became an important component of monasticism.   The Christian scriptures, insofar as they are the founding narrative of the Christian church, provide many key stories and concepts that become important for Christian mystics in all later generations: practices such as the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities that take on importance for both their ritual and symbolic values. Other scriptural narratives present scenes that become the focus of meditation: the Crucifixion of Jesus and his appearances after his Resurrection are two of the most central to Christian theology; but Jesus’ conception, in which the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation. Moreover, many of the Christian texts build on Jewish spiritual foundations, such as chokhmah, and shekhmah.

But different writers present different images and ideas. The Synoptic Gospels (in spite of their many differences) introduce several important ideas, two of which are related to Greco-Judaic notions of knowledge/gnosis by virtue of being mental acts: purity of heart, in which we will to see in God’s light; and repentance, which involves allowing God to judge and then transform us. Another key idea presented by the Synoptics is the desert, which is used as a metaphor for the place where we meet God in the poverty of our spirit.

The Gospel of John focuses on God’s glory in his use of light imagery and in his presentation of the Cross as a moment of exaltation; he also sees the Cross as the example of agape love, a love which is not so much an emotion as a willingness to serve and care for others. But in stressing love, John shifts the goal of spiritual growth away from knowledge/gnosis, which he presents more in terms of Stoic ideas about the role of reason as being the underlying principle of the universe and as the spiritual principle within all people. Although John does not follow up on the Stoic notion that this principle makes union with the divine possible for humanity, it is an idea that later Christian writers develop. Later generations will also shift back and forth between whether to follow the Synoptics in stressing knowledge or John in stressing love.

In his letters, Paul also focuses on mental activities, but not in the same way as the Synoptics, which equate renewing the mind with repentance. Instead, Paul sees the renewal of our minds as happening as we contemplate what Jesus did on the Cross, which then opens us to grace and to the movement of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Like John, Paul is less interested in knowledge, preferring to emphasize the hiddenness, the “mystery” of God’s plan as revealed through Christ. But Paul’s discussion of the Cross differs from John’s in being less about how it reveals God’s glory and more about how it becomes the stumbling block that turns our minds back to God. Paul also describes the Christian life as that of an athlete, demanding practice and training for the sake of the prize; later writers will see in this image a call to ascetical practices.

The texts attributed to the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest post-Biblical texts we have, share several key themes, particularly the call to unity in the face of persecution and internal divisions, the reality of the charisms,  especially prophecy, visions and Christian gnosis, which is understood as “a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to know Christ” through meditating on the scriptures and on the Cross of Christ. (This understanding of gnosis is not the same as that developed by the Gnostics. who focused on esoteric knowledge that is available only to a few people but that allows them to free themselves from the evil world.) These authors also discuss the notion of the “two ways”, that is, the way of life and the way of death; this idea has biblical roots, being found in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Torah.  The two ways are then related to the notion of purity of heart, which is developed by contrasting it against the divided or duplicitous heart and by linking it to the need for asceticism, which keeps the heart whole/pure. Purity of heart was especially important given the real threat of martyrdom, which many writers discussed in theological terms, seeing it not as an evil but as an opportunity to truly die for the sake of God—the ultimate example of ascetic practice. Martyrdom could also be seen as symbolic in its connections with the Eucharist and with baptism.

.Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian humanist, argued that reason is the most important aspect of human existence and that gnosis (not something we can attain by ourselves, but the gift of Christ) helps us find the spiritual realities that are hidden behind the natural world and within the scriptures. Origen, who had a lasting influence on Eastern Christian thought, further develops the idea that the spiritual realities can be found through allegorical readings of the scriptures, he focuses his attention on the Cross and on the importance of imitating Christ through the Cross, especially through spiritual combat and asceticism. Origen stresses the importance of combining intellect and virtue in our spiritual exercises, drawing on the image of Moses and Aaron leading the Israelites through the wilderness, and he describes our union with God as the marriage of our souls with Christ the Logos, using the wedding imagery from the Song of Songs

Inspired by Christ’s teaching and example, men and women withdrew to the deserts of Sketes where, either as solitary individuals or communities, they lived lives of austere simplicity oriented towards contemplative prayer.  These communities formed the basis for what later would become known as Christian monasticism.  Mysticism is integral to Christian monasticism because the goal of practice for the monastic is union with God.

Kathy Kiefer

HEALING AND MYSTICAL INFLUENCES

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HEALING AND MYSTICAL INFLUENCES

What makes this so important?   Must I learn from it to better myself?

The Eastern Church then saw the development of monasticism and the mystical contributions of Gregory of Nyssa, Evagnius Ponticus and Pseudo-Dionysius.   Monasticism, also known as anchoritism (meaning “to withdraw”) was seen as an alternative to martyrdom, and was less about escaping the world than about fighting demons (who were thought to live in the desert) and about gaining liberation from our bodily passions in order to be open to the Word of God. Anchorites practiced continuous meditation on the scriptures as a means of climbing the ladder of perfection—a common religious image in the Mediterranean world and one found in Christianity through the story of Jacob’s ladder—and sought to fend off the demon of acedia (“un-caring”), a boredom or apathy that prevents us from continuing on in our spiritual training. Anchorites could live in total solitude (“hermits”, from the word erēmitēs, “of the desert”) or in loose communities (“common life”).

With the Renaissance came the Protestant Reformation, which in many ways downplayed mysticism, although it still produced a fair amount of spiritual literature. Even the most active reformers can be linked to Medieval mystical traditions.  Martin Luther was a monk who was influenced by the German Dominican mystical tradition of Eckhart and Tauler as well by the Dionysian-influenced Wesonmystik (“essence mysticism”) tradition. He also published the Theologia Germanica, which he claimed was the most important book after the Bible and Augustine for teaching him about God, Christ, and humans.  Even John Calvin, ejected many Medieval ascetic practices and favored doctrinal knowledge of God over affective experience, has Medieval influences, namely,  Jean Gerson and the Devotio moderna, with its emphasis on piety as the method of spiritual growth in which the individual practices dependence on God by imitating Christ and the son-father relationship. Meanwhile, his notion that we can begin to enjoy our eternal salvation through our earthly successes leads in later generations to “a mysticism of consolation”.

The Spanish had Ignatius of Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises were designed to open people to a receptive mode of consciousness in which they can experience God through careful spiritual direction and through understanding how the mind connects to the will and how to weather the experiences of spiritual consolation and desolation, Teresa of Avila, who used the metaphors of watering a garden and walking through the rooms of a castle to explain how meditation leads to union with God; and John of the Cross, who used a wide range of biblical and spiritual influences both to rewrite the traditional “three ways” of mysticism after the manner of bridal mysticism and to present the two “dark nights”: the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul, , during which the individual renounces everything that might become an obstacle between the soul and God and then experiences the pain of feeling separated from God, unable to carry on normal spiritual exercises, as it encounters the enormous gap between its human nature and God’s divine wisdom and light and moves up the 10-step ladder of ascent towards God. Another prominent mystic was Miguel de Molino, the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism. No breath of suspicion arose against Molino until 1681, when the Jesuit preacher Paolo Segneri, attacked his views, though without mentioning his name, in his Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell’ orazione. The matter was referred to the Inquisition. A report got abroad that Molino had been convicted of moral enormities, as well as of heretical doctrines; and it was seen that he was doomed. On September 3, 1687 he made public profession of his errors, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Contemporary Protestants saw in the fate of Molino nothing more than a persecution by the Jesuits of a wise and enlightened man, who had dared to withstand the petty ceremonialism of the Italian piety of the day. Molino died in prison in 1696 or 1697.

Eastern Christianity has especially preserved a mystical emphasis in its theology and retains a tradition of mystical prayer dating back to Christianity’s beginnings.

As part of the Protestant Reformation, theologians turned away from the traditions developed in the Middle Ages and returned to biblical and early church sources. Accordingly, they were often skeptical of Catholic mystical practices, which seemed to them to downplay the role of grace in redemption and to support the idea that human works can play a role in salvation, and which also seemed to come from post-biblical sources and practices. However, Quakers, Anglicans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Pentecostals and Charismatics have in various ways remained open to the idea of mystical experiences.

Historically, Christian mysticism has taught that for Christians the major emphasis of mysticism concerns a spiritual transformation of the egoic self, the following of a path designed to produce more fully realized human persons, “created in the Image and Likeness of God” and as such, living in harmonious communion with God, the Church, the rest of world, and all creation, including oneself. For Christians, this human potential is realized most perfectly in Jesus, precisely because he is both God and human, and is manifested in others through their association with him, whether conscious, as in the case of Christian mystics, or unconscious, with regard to spiritual persons who follow other traditions, such as Ghandi.  The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of this transformation in terms of theosis or divinization.

Christian mystics have been described as pursuing a threefold path corresponding to body, mind, and soul (or spirit). The three aspects later became purgative, illuminative, and unitive in the western churches and prayer of the lips, the mind, and the heart in the eastern churches. The first, purification is where aspiring traditionally Christian mystics start. This aspect focuses on discipline, particularly in terms of the human body; thus, it emphasizes prayer at certain times, either alone or with others, and in certain postures, often standing or kneeling. It also emphasizes the other disciplines of fasting and alms-giving, the latter including those activities called “the works of mercy,” both spiritual and corporal, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

Purification, which grounds Christian spirituality in general, is primarily focused on efforts to, in the words of St. Paul, put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8:13). This is considered a result of the Spirit working in the person and is not a result of personal deeds. Also in the words of St. Paul,  “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Epistle to the Philippians 1:6). The “deeds of the flesh” here include not only external behavior, but also those habits, attitudes, compulsions, addictions, etc. (sometimes called egoic passions) which oppose themselves to true being and living as a Christian not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Purification is seen as an awareness of one’s own imperfections and finiteness, followed by self-discipline and mortification.   Because of its physical, disciplinary aspect, this phase, as well as the entire Christian spiritual path, is often referred to as “ascetic,” a term which is derived from a Greek word which connotes athletic training. Because of this, in ancient Christian literature, prominent mystics are often called “spiritual athletes,” an image which is also used several times in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. What is sought here is salvation in the original sense of the word, referring not only to one’s eternal fate, but also to healing in all areas of life, including the restoration of spiritual, psychological, and physical health.

It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self-compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.

The path of illumination, has to do with the activity of the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind, giving insights into truths not only explicit in scripture and the rest of the Christian tradition, but also those implicit in nature, not in the scientific sense, but rather in terms of an illumination of the “depth” aspects of reality and natural happenings, such that the working of God is perceived in all that one experiences. Underhill describes it as marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

Contemplation (or Mystical Contemplative Prayer) in the Western tradition, refers to the experience of oneself as in some way united with God. The experience of union varies, but it is first and foremost always associated with a reuniting with Divine love, the underlying theme being that God, the perfect goodness, is known or experienced at least as much by the heart as by the intellect since, in the words 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” Some approaches to classical mysticism would consider the first two phases as preparatory to the third, explicitly mystical experience, but others state that these three phases overlap and intertwine.

Mystical Contemplative Prayer is the blessing for which the Christian mystic hopes. No human effort can produce it. This form of prayer has three characteristics. (a)It is infused (i.e. filled with enthusiasm or desire.) (b) It is extraordinary (i.e. indicating that the intellect operates in new way). (c) Moreover, It is passive (i.e. showing that the soul receives something from God, and is conscious of receiving it.) It can manifest itself in one of four degrees. The four degrees are the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, ecstatic union, and transforming deifying union.

Mystic Evelyn Underhill recognizes two additional phases to the mystical path. First comes the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. Purgation and illumination are followed by a fourth stage which Underhill calls the dark night of the soul.  This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. This dark night of the soul is not, the Divine Darkness of the pseudo-Dionysius and German Christian mysticism. It is the period of final “unselfing” and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. Her fifth and final stage is union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose.

Within theistic mysticism two broad tendencies can be identified. One is a tendency to understand God by asserting what He is not and the other by asserting what He is. The former leads to what is called a pophatic theology and the latter to cataphatic theology.

Some mystics are said to have been able to perform miracles. But for many mystics, the miracles occurred to them. In the Middle Ages, one common form of mystical miracle, especially for women, was the Eucharistic miracle, such as being able to eat nothing other than the communion host.

Genesis 15 begins, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:” but even the reference to Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden is subject to an interpretation which includes the mystical encounter between flesh and blood and God: between God and his spoken word, between God and His wisdom, teachings, Self-revelation, and of His relation to us as His creatures.

Numbers 12:6 includes the Lord speaking from a pillar of fire which had come down, “And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.'” The Lord then goes on to state that with Moses, He speaks mouth to mouth, not in figures as with others who are present. This with many other examples expresses the various means by which God may be encountered by His creatures—not as an overwhelming union of absorption, but in a relationship which preserves the identity of each, while focusing upon the intimacy possible.

The Christian mystical practices are rooted in the experiences of the Jewish patriarchs, prophets and other encounters found in the Jewish Canon of Scripture: Visions, dreams, angelic messengers, divine inspiration, miraculous events, and wisdom all are of the more profound examples. Just as Old Testament prophets seem rooted in a direct consciousness of the Divine Presence (e.g. Ezekiel), the less profound such as are to be found in several psalms (e.g. Psalm 73:23-26), none-the-less, suggest a similar mystical awareness.

The influences of Greek thought are apparent in the earliest Christian mystics and their writings. Plato (428–348 BCE) is considered the most important of ancient philosophers and his philosophical system provides the basis of most later mystical forms. Plotinus (c. 205 – 270 CE) provided the non-Christian, neo-Platonic basis for much Christian, Jewish and Islamic mystics.

Kathy Kiefer

HEALING AND MYSTICAL INFLUENCES

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HEALING AND MYSTICAL INFLUENCES

What makes this so important?   Must I learn from it to better myself?

The Eastern Church then saw the development of monasticism and the mystical contributions of Gregory of Nyssa, Evagnius Ponticus and Pseudo-Dionysius.   Monasticism, also known as anchoritism (meaning “to withdraw”) was seen as an alternative to martyrdom, and was less about escaping the world than about fighting demons (who were thought to live in the desert) and about gaining liberation from our bodily passions in order to be open to the Word of God. Anchorites practiced continuous meditation on the scriptures as a means of climbing the ladder of perfection—a common religious image in the Mediterranean world and one found in Christianity through the story of Jacob’s ladder—and sought to fend off the demon of acedia (“un-caring”), a boredom or apathy that prevents us from continuing on in our spiritual training. Anchorites could live in total solitude (“hermits”, from the word erēmitēs, “of the desert”) or in loose communities (“common life”).

With the Renaissance came the Protestant Reformation, which in many ways downplayed mysticism, although it still produced a fair amount of spiritual literature. Even the most active reformers can be linked to Medieval mystical traditions.  Martin Luther was a monk who was influenced by the German Dominican mystical tradition of Eckhart and Tauler as well by the Dionysian-influenced Wesonmystik (“essence mysticism”) tradition. He also published the Theologia Germanica, which he claimed was the most important book after the Bible and Augustine for teaching him about God, Christ, and humans.  Even John Calvin, ejected many Medieval ascetic practices and favored doctrinal knowledge of God over affective experience, has Medieval influences, namely,  Jean Gerson and the Devotio moderna, with its emphasis on piety as the method of spiritual growth in which the individual practices dependence on God by imitating Christ and the son-father relationship. Meanwhile, his notion that we can begin to enjoy our eternal salvation through our earthly successes leads in later generations to “a mysticism of consolation”.

The Spanish had Ignatius of Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises were designed to open people to a receptive mode of consciousness in which they can experience God through careful spiritual direction and through understanding how the mind connects to the will and how to weather the experiences of spiritual consolation and desolation, Teresa of Avila, who used the metaphors of watering a garden and walking through the rooms of a castle to explain how meditation leads to union with God; and John of the Cross, who used a wide range of biblical and spiritual influences both to rewrite the traditional “three ways” of mysticism after the manner of bridal mysticism and to present the two “dark nights”: the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul, , during which the individual renounces everything that might become an obstacle between the soul and God and then experiences the pain of feeling separated from God, unable to carry on normal spiritual exercises, as it encounters the enormous gap between its human nature and God’s divine wisdom and light and moves up the 10-step ladder of ascent towards God. Another prominent mystic was Miguel de Molino, the chief apostle of the religious revival known as Quietism. No breath of suspicion arose against Molino until 1681, when the Jesuit preacher Paolo Segneri, attacked his views, though without mentioning his name, in his Concordia tra la fatica e la quiete nell’ orazione. The matter was referred to the Inquisition. A report got abroad that Molino had been convicted of moral enormities, as well as of heretical doctrines; and it was seen that he was doomed. On September 3, 1687 he made public profession of his errors, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Contemporary Protestants saw in the fate of Molino nothing more than a persecution by the Jesuits of a wise and enlightened man, who had dared to withstand the petty ceremonialism of the Italian piety of the day. Molino died in prison in 1696 or 1697.

Eastern Christianity has especially preserved a mystical emphasis in its theology and retains a tradition of mystical prayer dating back to Christianity’s beginnings.

As part of the Protestant Reformation, theologians turned away from the traditions developed in the Middle Ages and returned to biblical and early church sources. Accordingly, they were often skeptical of Catholic mystical practices, which seemed to them to downplay the role of grace in redemption and to support the idea that human works can play a role in salvation, and which also seemed to come from post-biblical sources and practices. However, Quakers, Anglicans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Pentecostals and Charismatics have in various ways remained open to the idea of mystical experiences.

Historically, Christian mysticism has taught that for Christians the major emphasis of mysticism concerns a spiritual transformation of the egoic self, the following of a path designed to produce more fully realized human persons, “created in the Image and Likeness of God” and as such, living in harmonious communion with God, the Church, the rest of world, and all creation, including oneself. For Christians, this human potential is realized most perfectly in Jesus, precisely because he is both God and human, and is manifested in others through their association with him, whether conscious, as in the case of Christian mystics, or unconscious, with regard to spiritual persons who follow other traditions, such as Ghandi.  The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of this transformation in terms of theosis or divinization.

Christian mystics have been described as pursuing a threefold path corresponding to body, mind, and soul (or spirit). The three aspects later became purgative, illuminative, and unitive in the western churches and prayer of the lips, the mind, and the heart in the eastern churches. The first, purification is where aspiring traditionally Christian mystics start. This aspect focuses on discipline, particularly in terms of the human body; thus, it emphasizes prayer at certain times, either alone or with others, and in certain postures, often standing or kneeling. It also emphasizes the other disciplines of fasting and alms-giving, the latter including those activities called “the works of mercy,” both spiritual and corporal, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

Purification, which grounds Christian spirituality in general, is primarily focused on efforts to, in the words of St. Paul, put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8:13). This is considered a result of the Spirit working in the person and is not a result of personal deeds. Also in the words of St. Paul,  “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Epistle to the Philippians 1:6). The “deeds of the flesh” here include not only external behavior, but also those habits, attitudes, compulsions, addictions, etc. (sometimes called egoic passions) which oppose themselves to true being and living as a Christian not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. Purification is seen as an awareness of one’s own imperfections and finiteness, followed by self-discipline and mortification.   Because of its physical, disciplinary aspect, this phase, as well as the entire Christian spiritual path, is often referred to as “ascetic,” a term which is derived from a Greek word which connotes athletic training. Because of this, in ancient Christian literature, prominent mystics are often called “spiritual athletes,” an image which is also used several times in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. What is sought here is salvation in the original sense of the word, referring not only to one’s eternal fate, but also to healing in all areas of life, including the restoration of spiritual, psychological, and physical health.

It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self-compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.

The path of illumination, has to do with the activity of the Holy Spirit enlightening the mind, giving insights into truths not only explicit in scripture and the rest of the Christian tradition, but also those implicit in nature, not in the scientific sense, but rather in terms of an illumination of the “depth” aspects of reality and natural happenings, such that the working of God is perceived in all that one experiences. Underhill describes it as marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

Contemplation (or Mystical Contemplative Prayer) in the Western tradition, refers to the experience of oneself as in some way united with God. The experience of union varies, but it is first and foremost always associated with a reuniting with Divine love, the underlying theme being that God, the perfect goodness, is known or experienced at least as much by the heart as by the intellect since, in the words 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” Some approaches to classical mysticism would consider the first two phases as preparatory to the third, explicitly mystical experience, but others state that these three phases overlap and intertwine.

Mystical Contemplative Prayer is the blessing for which the Christian mystic hopes. No human effort can produce it. This form of prayer has three characteristics. (a)It is infused (i.e. filled with enthusiasm or desire.) (b) It is extraordinary (i.e. indicating that the intellect operates in new way). (c) Moreover, It is passive (i.e. showing that the soul receives something from God, and is conscious of receiving it.) It can manifest itself in one of four degrees. The four degrees are the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, ecstatic union, and transforming deifying union.

Mystic Evelyn Underhill recognizes two additional phases to the mystical path. First comes the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. Purgation and illumination are followed by a fourth stage which Underhill calls the dark night of the soul.  This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. This dark night of the soul is not, the Divine Darkness of the pseudo-Dionysius and German Christian mysticism. It is the period of final “unselfing” and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. Her fifth and final stage is union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose.

Within theistic mysticism two broad tendencies can be identified. One is a tendency to understand God by asserting what He is not and the other by asserting what He is. The former leads to what is called a pophatic theology and the latter to cataphatic theology.

Some mystics are said to have been able to perform miracles. But for many mystics, the miracles occurred to them. In the Middle Ages, one common form of mystical miracle, especially for women, was the Eucharistic miracle, such as being able to eat nothing other than the communion host.

Genesis 15 begins, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:” but even the reference to Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden is subject to an interpretation which includes the mystical encounter between flesh and blood and God: between God and his spoken word, between God and His wisdom, teachings, Self-revelation, and of His relation to us as His creatures.

Numbers 12:6 includes the Lord speaking from a pillar of fire which had come down, “And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.'” The Lord then goes on to state that with Moses, He speaks mouth to mouth, not in figures as with others who are present. This with many other examples expresses the various means by which God may be encountered by His creatures—not as an overwhelming union of absorption, but in a relationship which preserves the identity of each, while focusing upon the intimacy possible.

The Christian mystical practices are rooted in the experiences of the Jewish patriarchs, prophets and other encounters found in the Jewish Canon of Scripture: Visions, dreams, angelic messengers, divine inspiration, miraculous events, and wisdom all are of the more profound examples. Just as Old Testament prophets seem rooted in a direct consciousness of the Divine Presence (e.g. Ezekiel), the less profound such as are to be found in several psalms (e.g. Psalm 73:23-26), none-the-less, suggest a similar mystical awareness.

The influences of Greek thought are apparent in the earliest Christian mystics and their writings. Plato (428–348 BCE) is considered the most important of ancient philosophers and his philosophical system provides the basis of most later mystical forms. Plotinus (c. 205 – 270 CE) provided the non-Christian, neo-Platonic basis for much Christian, Jewish and Islamic mystics.

Kathy Kiefer