McColman on Ordinary and Extraordinary Mysticism
Carl McColman whose The Big Book of Christian Mysticism I am impatiently waiting to arrive so that I can read it on the long plane ride to South Africa defines "ordinary" and "extraordinary" mysticism in his blog post here. I find his definitions very illuminating and similar to my own perspective. This is especially useful for Evangelicals who for some unknown reasons find mysticism threatening.
- Ordinary Mysticism is what I understand Rahner to mean when he says “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” This is, in essence, an experiential spirituality which seeks union with God, in the heart of the mystery of God, which transcends a merely rational or intellectual relationship with God. This mysticism basically has three characteristics: it aims for, and hopes for, the felt experience and conscious awareness of the presence of God, and union with God. But of course, since such experience can only by the gift of God, the seeker must recognize that sometimes God is “known” only in darkness or unknowing — the felt experience of the seeming absence of God. This is where faith is essential, for only a lively and well-nurtured faith can sustain the seeker through times when God seems absent. In addition to experience and faith, the third element of ordinary mysticism is practice: the disciplined engagement with historically recognized spiritual practices, including lectio divina, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, which do not cause the experience of God, but dispose the seeker to be open and receptive to receive whatever experience God may choose to bestow. One who engages in such practices can be called a “contemplative,” even though the highest, most mystical form of contemplation is, itself, purely a gift from God.
- Extraordinary Mysticism, like ordinary mysticism, entails the conscious awareness of the presence of God, and/or sustaining faith in God’s presence even when only aware of God’s seeming absence, and a life ordered to spiritual practices aimed at fostering greater intimacy with God. However, it is extraordinary in the sense that the mystic experiences phenomena or events that cannot be explained by ordinary human science: such as miraculous healings, visions, locutions, levitation, the ability to survive on no food other than the Eucharist, the stigmata, and the body remaining incorrupt after death. Such phenomena, of course, is controversial, and many devout Christians may remain skeptical about such things. I would argue that even a person who is skeptical about allegedly supernatural phenomena may still be an “ordinary” mystic.
I strongly hold that mysticism has a place in Christian spirituality because mysticism prevents Christians from placing God in a box.