Recently, when I was writing my post on Mystical Christianity, a friend of mine made a comment about the word “mystical.” He wondered if I really wanted to go the “mystic path,” because to him that word implies a distance or a separation from God, as if a person on a mystical path will never arrive because God will always be, at least in part, unknown and mysterious. I can see his point. To someone who is wanting to clear all limitations from our human mind and to know God with the certainty of experience, I can understand that calling a path mystical can seem somewhat ambiguous. But for myself, I love the wondrously vague, magically ambiguous and often ecstatically paradoxical mystical nature of God. And I don’t think that being mystical means that I cannot know God absolutely – I just don’t ever expect that I’ll be able to know God in some way that my mind will be able to grasp and explain with certitude.
A few weeks ago, in a Sunday service at my sweet little St Cyprians Episcopal church, Father Ted said in his sermon: “I believe certitude is a spiritual danger. If we claim to know God’s ways without question, we limit God to the shape of our own minds. As St. Augustine put it 1700 years ago, “If you think you understand [God], [then] it isn’t God.”
I agree with both of them. Anyone who spouts religious conviction with certitude does not feel like God. When someone claims they know God and all others will be condemned to an eternity of hell, like the preacherman on the sidewalk last week, it definitely feels like they are speaking from something that is decidedly NOT God. And it doesn’t even need to be that extreme. Some people are more subtle in their certitude and just think that all those Buddhists, Hindus and Jews might be nice people, but it’s a shame, if they haven’t been saved, they aren’t going to Heaven. Or if the person is a Buddhist they might think Christians, Hindus and Jews mean well and try to be good, but they just don’t yet understand about the nature of Pure Consciousness. Certitude on any path can manifest itself as spiritual snobbery.
However, I don’t think this is what my friend meant when he brought up his concerns with the word “mystical.” Having certitude in this rigid judgmental kind of way is not at all the kind of certitude that my friend is aiming for. He is dedicated to truly knowing God and not placing anything between himself and God. In wanting to end the separation with God, he doesn’t want to place some kind of barrier of mysticality or unknowingness that keeps him from living a life of Oneness with the Divine.
And I agree with him. I want to merge into God and live in the most sweet delicious closeness with the Divine that I possibly can. I don’t want to put any limitations on how deeply I can know God. But in doing that, I don’t want to “limit God to the shape of my own mind” either! So, instead of not placing the barrier of mysticality between me and God, I want to dive through the mystical and JOIN God on the other side with awe and wonder.
God is amazing beyond anything I can comprehend. God’s Love blows my mind – literally. The only way I can hope to begin to “know” God with my mind is to allow it to be blown over and over again so that it can expand ever wider to embrace the wondrous vast mystery of God. And then be blown away again.
God’s Love is so vast and so intimate at the same time. God’s Love is all encompassing and personal, eternal and immediate. God loves ALL of creation and every single being through all of time, past and future – yet somehow God also loves little me right here and right now in every moment of my tiny life. God’s Love is both ancient and reverent like the timeless holy Temples and Holy of all Holies. Yet God’s Love is also fun and modern, silly and giggly, joyful like the deepest belly laugh and bubbling inside of me as a teenage girl crush on God. God’s Love is deeply silent like the most Shivic stillness and profound meditative pure Peace imaginable. And God’s Love is viscerally personal like the Beloved God of Your Being loving you from the inside and the outside at the same time in a Divine Union of the Self that is explosively ecstatic beyond your dreams. And anything that I experience as God’s Love one moment, it is deeper and vaster and MORE the next moment.
God’s Love is so huge and yet It enters my heart in such a beautiful tender way that I overflow. The gratitude and amazement at God’s love is more than my little being can contain and that is why I expand and become bigger. I overflow. This is why I cry every time I enter a church or a shrine or a temple. This is why tears stream from my eyes when I see compassion in action, when I see God’s Love in the world. This is why I cry when I chant God’s name. This is why I cry at every Sunday service. Everyone at my little church knows this by now. When I visit other churches I always get very sweet little ladies who come and put a comforting hand on my back and tell me everything is going to be ok – but really I’m not crying because I’m sad. If only I could somehow share with these sweet gentle women that I’m crying because not only will things be ok, things ARE magnificently gloriously perfect! All I can ever think to say is simply “I love God” and they nod and smile back at me. I’m crying because God’s mystery is SO beautiful that it overflows my heart!
The one thing that I can say I DO know with certainty is that God is LOVE. My mind explodes whenever I try to understand the vastness of that love, and when my mind coalesces again so that I can do things like drive and speak and feed myself, it is just a little bit bigger to contain a little bit more love as I go about my life. So, that much I’ve figured out – God is Love. Therefore, the only way to know God is to love. I can contemplate God and speak about God and pray to God. I can meditate and feel God’s Presence and commune with God. And in all those practices, it is only in the active VERB of LOVING that I can start to know God.
As Father Ted put it: “Jesus never seemed to care very much whether his followers thought alike. But did they love? Did they love God with all of their hearts, and souls, and minds? Did they love each other as they loved themselves?”
In the reading from Matthew’s gospel that day, a lawyer asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” In response Jesus quoted the Shema, the commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” To me, this is what Jesus meant and what all the prophets before him meant, and what all teachers on all paths mean when they say to love God. Loving God is HOW we can come to know God.
God gave us minds for realizations and understandings and insights, but our human minds can never fully know the vastness of God. God cannot be limited to the shape of our own minds. God is a wonderful mystery. And beginning to know God is loving the mystery of God.