Awakening Mystics In A Material Culture

Awakening Mystics In A Material Culture

Our culture has spent several hundred years removing the mystical from our assumptions about reality. Those who still believe in heaven think of it almost exclusively as a distant place up there where people go when they die. Present earthly reality is assumed to be material and governed by natural cause and effect. Heaven is the distant domain of the non-material. Earth is the present domain of the non-spiritual.

Those who still believe that we are somehow still spiritual, have begun to think of our spirituality more as an inward function of our emotions, our yearning for significance and connection, or the deeper aspects of our intellect. Spirituality is thus reduced to psychology and self-help. Love, joy and peace are reduced to theological abstractions. Faith is reduced to mental positivity instead of being the evidence of things unseen.

The Bible, however, remains a very mystical book. Angels visit and sometimes take on human form. Axe heads are made to float. The sun is made to stand still in the sky. Philip is instantly translated from one geographic spot to another. Miracles abound. Signs and wonders are normal. The entire material universe finds both its origin and continuation in the voice of God. And this is the mere content of the book, nevermind that the book itself is thought to be holy and inspired, breathed out by God.

I think God is very interested in helping us repent of our post-enlightenment materialism. This is why God loves to touch us in ways that affect us: spirit, soul and body.

We are plunged into the material water of baptism, yet something deeply spiritual is happening. We take the bread and the cup, chewing and swallowing and savoring these very material elements of communion, yet we are receiving that which is spiritual. A woman makes love to her husband, and in this physical act, a spiritual union is consummated. This is a sacramental view of our faith that assumes a reality where heaven and earth are integrated in mystery and miracle and mysticism.

And as a sacramental people, we speak of the presence of God with the expectation of experience. More than being theologically aware of God’s omnipresence, we become experientially aware of God’s manifest (unveiled, revealed) presence. He touches us.

He touches us and sometimes we become very heavy and still.

He touches us and sometimes we cry or we laugh.

He touches us and sometimes we tremble.

He touches us and we are affected as with wine.

He touches us and our muscles crunch or jerk.

These very real and very concrete material experiences resulting from the presence of God teach us that heaven and earth intersect and overlap more than we tend to think they do. These experiences awaken us to heavenly reality and awaken us to the mystery and wonder of God. These experiences transform us by renewing our mind, freeing us from the small thinking that would place the miraculous in the category of the abnormal.

To quote Sting: “We are spirits in a material world.”

I would take this further: We are spiritual and material beings designed by God to live in the intersection of heaven and earth.

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