What is Mysticism? – 3

The basic thrust of Christian mysticism might be summed up in this way: Everything that is must be in relationship to the mystery of God, and in fact, penetrated by it.  The text from Psalm 46:11: “Be still, and you shall know that I am God,” invites us to open ourselves completely to infinite love, to the reality of who God is; the mystery who penetrates, surrounds, and embraces us at every moment. God is the atmosphere that our spirit needs to breathe in order “to live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Furthermore, there are two classic markers in the Christian mystical tradition: kataphatic and apophatic.  The kataphatic is the affirmative way to God.  The apophatic is the way beyond what we affirm of God, which is about transcendent negation.  The kataphatic focuses on experiences we have in relation to God expressed in such symbols as “savoring the divine sweetness,” or “spiritual marriage.”  Apophatic mysticism stresses divine mystery by reminding us that God is above names, thoughts, feelings, images, experiences, and even existence itself.  Through the negation of all God-talk, self-negation, the negation of experience, and negative union apophatic mysticism enacts Jesus’ command to die to self and even identifies with his abandonment and death of the cross to rise with him to new life in God.  “Negative,” here, means transcendent and mysterious.  “Mystic” comes from the Greek mustikos and is derived from the verb muo or muein, meaning “to close one’s eyes or mouth, hence to keep secret.”(Ordinary Mysticism, 8)  For Dionysius “mystical” refers to the hidden meaning of the scriptures (first usage in Christianity), the Church’s liturgies (second usage), and he is the first to apply it to the experiential encounter with the utterly transcendent reality that God is. (In which the “I” loses itself in God)


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