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Mystical spirituality way ahead for Church?

By Paul Titus

Is mystical spirituality the path the church must take to come to terms with the understandings of modern science and touch people in our secular society? Methodist hymn writer Bill Wallace believes it is.

He says as the cultures of the world have become closer and more aware of each other and the world faces ecological crises there is a growing understanding of the connectedness among people and with the earth. The sense of oneness and unity of all things is the essence of mysticism.

“When I was brought up science put everything in separate boxes. This provided some useful techniques to explore reality but contemporary science holds that everything is connected. For example, the genome is the sum total of humanity’s genes. The genome connects us all to all of our human ancestors and our non-human ancestors.

“The atoms in our bodies come from the stars. They were created in an ancient time in the history of the cosmos. It is an illusion to say things are totally unconnected and this is the same thing the mystics say. We are all interconnected and we need a spiritually that reflects this reality rather than a spirituality that emphasises separation.”

Bill distinguishes religion, spirituality and mysticism. Religion is concerned with knowing about God, spirituality is concerned with personally experiencing God, and mysticism is concerned with being one with God. Spirituality is the essence of religion, and mysticism is the essence of spirituality.

More and more people are seeking that of God within themselves, he says. More and more people, especially the young, call themselves ‘spiritual’ and are interested in growing spiritually but are not necessarily interested in organised religion. More and more people realise that God or Spirit is that which operates within the world and our hearts as the engine of evolution.

“Mysticism poses a problem for religion because it encourages people to experience everything as one and connected. It provides an experience that is direct and not mediated by Scripture nor by the tradition and authority of the Church. It is no wonder then that mystics have been rejected, condemned, punished and at times killed by the Institutional Church.

“Many people have had forms of mystical experience such as the boundary between themselves and others dissolving, or the boundary between themselves and plants and animals dissolving. The ultimate form of this experience is when the boundary between themselves and the cosmos and God dissolves.

“The mystical experience of oneness is greater than words though the mystics do try and communicate it with other people. It is an experience of the mystery of God that is beyond any dogma or formulation but it might be conveyed by poetry, for example. This can be particularly difficult for Protestants of accept because our spirituality is so rational and mystery is an experience beyond reason.”

Despite this elusiveness and the tendency for some mystics to reject the world, Bill believes mysticism can be compatible with the church and lead to people being more engaged and active in the world and their communities.

He cites Jesus’ transfiguration experience (Mathew 17:1-8) in which Jesus was enveloped by light on the mountain top but then went down to the world to serve people.

While mystics may transgress accepted boundaries of the society, their awareness of our inter-connectedness leads to a place of compassion, the link between the prophetic and the mystic.

“This should lead to a freeing up of Christian worship and an emphasis on empowering people. Jesus didn’t come to set up institutions, he came to empower people. The churches should help people become independent and then grow to become inter-dependent.

“This is a problem the churches face because they have tended to make people dependent. Today many people don’t want to be in that dependency relationship so they reject the spirituality of the church.

“Churches will have to become like semi-permeable membranes in which ideas and people are allowed to come in and go out. They will let go of some beliefs and incorporate others. They may not fit all the criteria of traditional beliefs but they will have a sense of mystery which can transform their lives.”