“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner
Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.
Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death.
Much as I love the faith of my inheritance, much as I am still a devoted Christian, I’d rather see institutional Christianity cease entirely than continue to deny this relational, transformative force in the world. Recently I was asked to define what I mean by Christian, and out splurted this: A Christian is someone who considers Jesus a teacher, and Christ the essence of the created universe. Jesus is an “experienced something” walking around in the world, worthy of my respect, relationship, and emulation. Jesus is a story I live inside. That there are many other worthy stories is part of the wonder of it all.
Forget belief. Believing isn’t the point. Nor is following a prescribed set of rules or performing a set of rituals. The point is experience, opening ourselves to transformation, to awe, to becoming agents of change, to loving. The point is becoming. I sincerely hope that Christians won’t be the last to figure this out.
Please join me this week for these exciting events:
On Thursday evening, April 20, 6:30-8:30, I’ll be in conversation with Susan Power, author of Sacred Wilderness and member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, about the role of imagination in the life of faith. Join me at Wisdom Ways for Playing in the Sacred Wilderness: Fiction, Imagination, and Faith.
The MN Historical Society Press has re-released Kathryn Kysar’s anthology, Riding Shotgun: Women Write about their Mothers, this time in paperback. I’ll honor my mother, who died a year ago, by reading my essay, “Enough,” at Magers and Quinn on Saturday, April 20 from 7-8 p.m.
Here’s the link in case you missed the latest issue of Pen Feathers, my (very occasional) newsletter.
Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions continue through June on second Fridays, 1:30-3:30, at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again
October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
6 thoughts on “Mystic or Bust”
Ms. Andrews, your post today lifted my heart and gave me hope. For several days, I’ve been researching where to place my memoir in order to query, Written on the Reverse, a journey to the Feminine Face of God, in the welter of Amazon books. In my studies for ordination, I read Karl Rahner, but I’d forgotten or not read this particular quote.
I teach spiritual writing and use your book to help guide me, but this post sprang into my struggling mind and gave me a new direction to search. Thank you thank you thank you.
Thank you for your kind comment, and for helping others write about their inner lives. I wish you all the best in the hard work of putting your story into the world.
Thanks for this beautifully clear statement on mystical experience:
“You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death.”
You’re so welcome, Tom.
Wonderful piece Elizabeth! I highlighted the third paragraph and posted it to our Outsider Spiritual Memoir Group on FB. Thank you!
THank you so much, Valarie. I’m glad to know there are spiritual memoir groups on FB!