From the dictionaries:
1. Belief in direct experience of transcendent reality of God, especially by means of contemplation and asceticism instead of rational thought.
2. Belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are directly accessible by subjective experience: belief in séances, astral projection, and similar mysticism.
3. Belief that is not based on evidence or subjected to criticism.
4. belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human understanding or experience, esp a reality perceived as essential to the nature of life
5. (Theology) a system of contemplative prayer and spirituality aimed at achieving direct intuitive experience of the divine
6. obscure or confused belief or thought
The word implies a degree of secrecy; I know or see or comprehend something you do not know and which you might possibly discover for yourself. Such an experience is something which cannot be expressed in words. They are usually transient, passing, unpredictable and cannot be created or entered into except in a passive way when they happen.
Some mystics claim to be able to teach a practice of mysticism through techniques such as meditation.
Some people (such as Borg) have had occasional mystical experiences which convince them of the reality and mysterious existence of God. Some groups of Christians practice mysticism as a way of knowing God; other Christians decry such practice and seek to know God other ways such as from the Bible alone.
Practice the Presence of God
Since Brother Lawrence wrote about and encouraged Christians to Practice the Presence of God there have been those who moved into mysticism such as that defined above but there have also been Christians who have encouraged others to a more consistent and dependable practice which might look like mysticism but is much more practical and satisfying way of life.
“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us with no other choice.”
― John R.W. Stott
“A mystic is a believer who practices the presence of God.”
– AW Tozer. Pursuit of God.
God makes his reality unavoidably plain
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Anyone, Christian, mystic or not can know that God is real and begin to see for themselves what he is like. Indeed, it is inexcusable to ignore the revelation of himself that God has given us in the world he created and even worse to deny the “invisible attributes” of himself that he has made plain. Open your eyes. Look and see for yourself!
While this clear exposition is there before us every day and whatever the circumstances it is true that there will be times when the awesomeness of God the creator strikes, moves and changes us more deeply than usual. Sometimes we need to “stop and smell the roses” to allow ourselves to enjoy the show God has laid out before us. It isn’t that we need to plunge into a special contemplative state or to move beyond reason to a transcendent level of reality or seek a surge of emotion outside the normal. Our lives are often crowded and we allow ourselves to be distracted from the realities before us but God is there and his attributes plain to see nonetheless:
“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”
– C.S. Lewis
This kind of mysticism gives us a direct experience of the transcendent reality of God which is not without rational thought, a belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are directly accessible by both objective and subjective experience, a belief that is based on evidence and subjected to criticism.
In addition, it is available to all, not just to a select few or those who follow a dogma or procedure – it is not a secret! It is not dependent on our mood or circumstances, we do not need to wait for it to come upon us because it is always clearly laid out before us to respond to.
God with us
A Christian may enjoy what looks like a mystical experience as part of their normal lifestyle, knowing God personally, presently, permanently.
At his birth Jesus was given a name Immanuel, which means God with us. While he lived, walked and talked with people around him then God was with them in the form of God the Son in human form, but he knew that eventually he would be nailed to the Cross on which he died so he made a strengthening, comforting promise to his followers:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
So Christians, those who love Jesus and keep his commandments, receive the Spirit of Jesus. They know him as he dwells not simply with but IN them. But this is a mystery for the non-Christian; they neither see him or know him.
This is so very significant and life changing; their attitude to themselves and the lives they live changes to be in accordance with and by the standards of Christ himself:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Our relationship with God is that of Father and son, mirroring the relationship between God and Jesus the Son. When we leave this life we will receive our inheritance, the inheritance of brothers and sisters of Christ, an inheritance of unimaginable wonder, glory, peace and joy.
In the meantime the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, giving us life of an eternal nature and the Spirit of God himself communicates directly, deeply, personally, continuously, permanently – eternally – to our spirit within us, assuring us, guiding us, strengthening us, comforting us. No other relationship we have is as close, deep and personal as this. With everyone around us we encounter communication limits – we can never really and fully understand ourselves let alone each other. But this relationship is different! God’s Spirit within us understands both God and us completely and our spirit is aware of his presence and, while we are not good listeners, can begin to understand God and enjoy his presence more each day.
Here is a level of “direct experience of transcendent reality of God” which Mystics have sought for so long but seem to have missed yet it available to any Christian at any time – but so many of us miss it too, because we do not pray, read the Bible and take time to enjoy God’s presence.
Pray, no matter how routine, dry, powerless or unanswered it seems.
Read the Bible and let it sink in. It is the “sword of the Spirit” and with it the Holy Spirit can dig deep into our thinking and our personality and we learn to perceive him and what he seeks to teach us.
Remember the truth the Bible tells us: when we pray God himself as the Spirit prays with us and for us and when he prays for us he both knows what we need and what God wants for us and brings these prayers directly to the Father – the best, most effective prayers there can be!
He does so much better than we can do because we don’t know what to ask for and how to ask and because he knows what God wants for us.
And goes further: he can teach us how to pray at such depth that words do not suffice. At that time stop talking! Let your spirit enter into the deep “groaning” of God’s Spirit and be lifted into the presence of God, praying without words of your own.
Practice the presence of God!