Monday, April 19, 2010

The Practical Mystic

Mysticism is typically construed as being the faith of the esoteric, a faith full of odd chants and visions, of obscure dreams and convoluted ritual. Mystics are the folks who sit upon mountaintops wearing loincloths, muttering mantras in an ancient language as they delve into the stern and secret truths of the universe.

As I read through the writings of George MacDonald, I'm reminded again of how totally inaccurate that perception of mysticism is. Mystics are earthy folk. Thomas Merton certainly was, as was the delightful Jallaladin Rumi. For all of his passion and all of the depth of his engagement with Spirit, Christ, and Creator, MacDonald's deep sense of the reality of his faith does not pull him from connection with being.

Instead, it grounds and centers him, in both creation and in the practical needs of day to day existence. Take, for instance, the way he counsels those who are feeling distant from God:
"Troubled soul, thou art not bound to feel but thou art bound to arise. God love thee whether thou feelest or not. Thou canst not love when thou wilt, but thou art bound to fight the hatred in thee to the last...for the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feeling: Do thy work."
As someone who has experienced many times that dark night of the soul, MacDonald has the way out quite exactly right. Don't anguish. Don't navel-gaze. Don't force it. Just do what must be done. It's an approach to faith that speaks to the here and now, to action in the meatspace reality of our being.

His delight in things as they are extended to his view of miracles. He doesn't reject them, mind you. He just sees such glory in the created order as to view all being as miraculous:
In all His miracles Jesus did only in minature what His Father does ever in the great. Poor, indeed, was the making of the wine in the...pots of stone, compared with its making in the lovely growth of the vine with its clusters of swelling grapes--the live roots gathering from the earth the water that had to be borne in pitchers and poured into the great vases..."
That fundamental wonder at all being is something that mystics of all religious persuasions seem to share. It is, once again, a pleasure to find a brother who shares my joy in experiencing the First Book.