What is Mysticism? – 4

Contact with God is the core of Christian mysticism.   Mystical contact or encounter with God is primarily characterized by no experience, by the vacuity of experience—the negativity of experience, which is the absence of experience.  God is found in the negation of experience and even the negation of the negation in the absolute void beyond experience, indeed as THE NOTHINGNESS WHO ABSOLUTELY IS NOT, who remains accessible in our experience but is not identified with our experience.  God cannot be the “object” of any consciousness whatsoever.  This is the apophatic aspect of Christian mysticism, which says God so transcends our knowledge and even being itself that the divine is best described as the nothing.  Subjectively this means our letting go of all, even the ‘annihilation’ of the self, to sink into the God of Jesus Christ—to be crucified with Christ and so risen in the power of the Holy Spirit into the life of God.  Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “If you love God as he is God, as he is spirit, as he is person and as he is image—all this must go!  “Then how should I love him?”  You should love him as he is a non-God, a non-spirit, a non-person, a non-image, but as he is a pure, unmixed bright “One,” separated from all duality; and in that One we should eternally sink down, out of something into nothing.”

Christian mysticism is, fundamentally, the radically transcendent and intimate relationship between God and the human community and individual.  We relate to God through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.  It centers on a continuous, mysterious, and inconceivably close encounter with the divine nihil, the transcendent nothingness and darkness beyond being: God.  We encounter the divine nihil, the divine void of godless nothing, through prayer and detachment.  Prayer, then, is both being void of all thought and feeling and sinking into the divine nothingness.  Daily practice involves detachment, which is living and moving in the world free of all things and for the divine darkness.  John of the Cross describes the path to oneness with God as a journey up Mount Carmel, where the “mount” symbolizes divine oneness.  The path to up the mount, as well as the mount itself, is presented in a rather stark manner: The path of the perfect spirit: nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, and even on the mount, nothing.

This is an ever-deepening participation in the paschal mystery: the dying and rising of Christ.  We are crucified and die with Christ by leaving ourselves behind—with all our thoughts, feelings, and expectations—and by letting God transform us, annihilate us.  This gives way to our rising into an insuperably close union with and in the divine.  It is by the action of the Holy Spirit that we are conformed to the death of the Lord and rise into union with the triune God beyond being, a union that is fulfilled only at the end of time.  As John Ruusbroec says, “We must pass away and die in God…we must deny ourselves and die in God into an eternal life…But when we rise above ourselves and in our ascent to God become so unified that bare love can envelop us at that high level where love itself acts, above and beyond all virtuous exercises—that is, in our source, out of which we have been spiritually born—we will then come to nought, dying in God to ourselves and to all that is our own.  In this death we become hidden sons of God and discover in ourselves a new life, which is eternal.  It is of these sons that St. Paul speaks: “You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).”

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