Pursuing God requires training in and the practice of contemplation. Pursuing it presumes renunciations, often radical ones (e.g. leaving family, abandoning property, renouncing marriage), as well as ascetic disciplines (e.g., fasting, vigils, intellectual study, psychological exercises). So, mystics go through great periods of training in prayer and disciplined self-knowledge—thus, ascetic practice. What did the mystics do all day long? Most of their time was spent in prayer. Prayer was part and parcel of their daily experience. They became recognized experts in prayer and contemplation because they had prayed and contemplated daily, often for long hours and often for long years at a stretch. In many ways their lives were full of nothing but the unremarkable everyday routine of being religious. The everyday center for the mystic is prayer: Contemplative awakenings occur in the normal routine of Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, and silent contemplation. Christian mystics seek God and God alone. They are single-hearted, searching for the pearl of great price, intent only of the reign of God. As such, they settle for nothing less than God. This, through God’s grace, gives them immense freedom. Therefore, mystics tend to challenge stereotypes of God, prophetically critique oppressive and illusion-inducing religious structures, and oppose those currents in society that would choke off desire for God.
But the mystical life is more than experiences of prayer or challenges to idolatry and religious and political authority. Meister Eckhart speaks of rediscovering one’s eternal identity within the divine ground. He is more interested in breaking through to Truth, in the realization of mystical identity, than any experiences. Jean Gerson says, “Mystical theology is an experiential knowledge of God that comes through the embrace of unitive love.” Evagrius of Ponticus describes mysticism this way: “Like torrents to the sea, minds return to [God, and] he completely changes them into his own nature, color, and taste; in his endless and inseparable unity, they will be one and no longer many.” And, John Cassian says it is all about becoming God. the goal is that “every love, every desire, every effort, every undertaking, every thought of ours, everything that we live, that we speak, that we breathe, will be God.” The journey is about the ordinary stuff of life: loving, striving, thinking, speaking, breathing. This is living as God in the world—continuing the incarnation. This is every Christian’s vocation.