I have been surprised recently by several requests to speak on the subject of mystical faith. An episcopal church in Tennessee mentioned that when I come in March for an all day seminar, they hope I’ll address the mystical way of looking at prayer and faith. A small group in Texas scheduled me for a Skype seminar in April and requested only one topic: reading the Bible with a view for the mystical.
For a short time, I was writing a book online at a separate blog called “The Bible of Unknowing.” I had a lot of fun with it and had written up most of the book of Genesis looking for mystical views of God in the text. I pulled the blog and resolved to finish the book “someday.” A few people have emailed and mentioned they hated that I did not keep the project up.
I’m interested to know your level of interest: is the theme of the mystical something you are really curious about? And in this post: what sorts of readings cause us to overlook the mystical themes in the Bible?
First, I’ve said more than once that my interest in a mystical way of viewing God was reawakened when Vine of David published Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age in 2009. Prior to Levertoff’s book, I had gone through an extended period in my life reading a little in certain devotional Christian classics with mystical themes (Augustine, Bernard, Julian of Norwich, Cloud of Unknowing, etc.). I had come to appreciate a few themes in kabbalistic literature without in any sense of the word being knowledgeable about kabbalah nor buying into the whole mythology.
Second, I’ve been closely studying Mark of late which is an apocalyptic gospel. And apocalyptic is very similar to mysticism (the views have much overlap). I should write a post on “Apocalypticism and Mysticism: Comparison and Contrast.”
Third, it might help if I define mysticism. The basic definition is an experiential kind of faith that seeks union with God, who is viewed as mysterious and beyond knowing in the full sense, by means of experiencing lesser forms of his being through which he mediates himself to us. See my recent post “Mysticism [or Apocalypticism] 101” for a bit more.
What sorts of misreadings cause us to miss the mystical that is in the Bible?
I call them mystic-blockers. They are unspoken assumptions about the nature of God, faith, and the Bible that cause readers to overlook the mystical themes that are present everywhere in virtually all the sacred writings, from Torah to history to wisdom literature to prophets to apostles.
The first one, I would call the simplistic and anthropomorphic view of God. He is the “great, old man on the throne.”
In this misreading, people see the texts in Genesis, for example, in very non-mystical ways. Forgive what could be blasphemous, but let me sadly read for you a mental translation of what many people are seeing when they read Genesis:
In the beginning, the Old Man in heaven created the heavens and the earth . . . Now the White-Bearded One said, “Let there be light and there was light.”
The God of Israel is not Zeus. Anthropomorphic descriptions of him are carefully balanced by a continual reminder that he is beyond knowing, his paths beyond searching out. The mystical Jewish view wisely knows him as the Ein Sof, the Without End. My favorite (though definitely imperfect) Christian mystical writing says he dwells in a Cloud of Unknowing.
You can miss that in Genesis 1. You can miss the fact that God himself does not come down and create.
His Spirit is hovering. His Word (Memra, Logos, Dibbur) creates (“he said, ‘Let there be…'”). His Image dwells in man.
Genesis tells us you can experience union with God by recognizing him in Creation. His Spirit is here. His Image is here. We can see what his Word has done.
Another mystic-blocker is the false assumption that experiencing revelations of God’s Direct Being must be visual.
Moses had some very visual experiences, as did Ezekiel. And for our positivist, modernist way of thinking, “seeing is believing.”
Therefore, many assume that, like Moses or Ezekiel, we must see the Glory or the Chariot in order to have a mystical experience.
I appreciate the Fourth Gospel (and Levertoff’s awakening me to it and Raymond Brown’s confirmation of it in his majestic commentary on John) and the way it describes Union with God on so many levels. And seeing is not the only level by any means.
We have the life that is from above. We know that Yeshua is the only one who came down from heaven. We know that the Love of God is, as Levertoff says, concentrated in Messiah. If we have seen Yeshua we have seen the Father, the Ein Sof. We know that God’s love has been concentrated in one moment of time, for God so loved, which is in the aorist tense, a one-time past event is being referred to. God gave his only Son. He, the Father or Ein Sof, is the only True God and Yeshua is the one whom you sent. Yeshua has manifested his name. Yeshua shared Glory with him before the foundation of the world.
Union with God is not just visual. It can be experienced in a deep sense of love or in knowing that Yeshua shares the Glory or in a contemplation of the Giving of the Son. And it happens here on earth between people too. The love of Yeshua is in the disciple-community so that loving one another as Yeshua loved is to manifest his Presence on earth.
Once your mind is awakened to the notion that God in his Direct Being is beyond knowing and that he sends myriads of Emanations of his Being to us, you will see mysticism all over the Bible.
It is in the Word, Presence, Glory, Image, and Spirit. It is in his Acts in history to correct and lead the world toward redemption, which we read about in the historical narratives. It is in Wisdom and Worship in the writings. It is in the Visions of the prophets and in Future Hope described by them. It is in Yeshua, the greatest revelation of the Father, the sum of all the Sefirot or Emanations of God’s Being.
And in Acts and the epistles we see that the Living Presence of Yeshua (the Paraclete or Comforter) is with us and runs through us like Life through a Vine.