A New Identity: Grateful Mystic

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February 23, 2018

Consider becoming a grateful mystic. I use mystic as a shortcut description for a person seeing God’s kingdom now and realizing it is more than an assent to beliefs. Answers are cheap and often contradictory. Energy spent discerning real and fake news might be better spent in formulating wise questions for our time. Jesus showed wisdom by asking questions. Who do you say I am? Did you never read the scriptures? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifetime? He asked 183 questions and answered only three of them. Asking the right questions usually requires a quiet space and time for reflection. A mystic embraces paradox and realizes the beauty of meditation to crowd out frantic self-talk that is typically informed by loud voices in media and significant others and that often crowds out the voiceof God. Indeed, myriad competing 21st-century distractions challenge one’s ability to focus on God’s leading.

In the last 40 years there have been many cultural changes and shifts in Christian attitudes. I invite readers to consider that Christian faith must involve a measure of mysticism. I acknowledge that mysticism was frowned upon earlier in my lifetime in this faith group, and, for many, it still is.

But the quest of this time is to live at peace, not just to eradicate physical violence but also bring peace to one’s soul. Gratitude is a first step. Gratitude for what one can have now in this moment. Not yesterday’s rumination. Not tomorrow’s anxiety. If one can be content now (and one can have that peace by communing with Christ), then one will have something very valuable to share with others. If one allows time to reflect and ask questions, then one can grow a capacity to engage without compromise and to critique without lapsing into a tired dualism that mindlessly categorizes sin and people. If one does not allow for roots to grow in quiet times of meditation, then one is prone to being pulled into strong cultural currents that yield a deceitful idolatry.

A mystic allows vulnerability. People who stay afraid of vulnerability will not get far on the journey of faith. A mystic steps out of the realm of certainty to an exposed space. This means stepping away from the planning of tomorrow and the analysis of yesterday. This is the space of now, in this moment. With other thoughts peeled away, one is left with a spirit of gratitude. Being grateful is to acknowledge, indirectly, one’s dependence on another. Gratitude is a healing agent. Romans chapter one refers to people accepting a lie—exchanging truth for a lie. An ultimate untruth is the idea that a person can survive alone—in her own rightness, by her own energy, guided by her own perceptions. Gratitude acknowledges someone else as part of one’s own flourishing.

Gratitude is an automatic corollary to faith. After a spiritual discovery, one cannot help but be grateful.

According to a Buddhist proverb, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.” A ready pupil is one who has willingness to see something new—an assertion, a nuance—and gratitude is an appropriate response from a ready student. Anyone and anything can be a teacher.

This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24 (NKJV)

Gratitude does not stop to ask if the cup is half empty or half full. Gratitude does not yearn for a larger cup. Instead, gratitude just notices that something is in the cup and says, “thank you.” Today is here. I am here. I will rejoice in what the Lord has made. I will take note. Notice.

God reveals Himself to us through what unfolds as our life. These ordinary revelations can be respected and deeply listened to—before reading Bibles, joining churches, and quoting dogmas. Life itself is the primary divine revelation. A person seeking God is like the merchant searching for a costly pearl. One with a thirst for discipleship will be formed and grow. The first step of such spiritual readiness is to cultivate gratitude, as gratitude provides the rich soil that puts a person in a stance to remember how she is not isolated in her correctness or orthodoxy or self- righteousness. Gratitude erases the rugged individualist framework to show that a person always has a dependency on others for sustenance, ideas, and kindness. Gratitude makes way for a strong dependence on God.

When one responds with trust to God’s self-exposure, then one has faith. A genuine act of faith is always in response to a new disclosure. I do not advocate a blind faith, but a trust, based on some evidence. The evidence can come from scripture, but not exclusively. The evidence can come from anything and anywhere and anyone. Paul said,

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.”  Romans 1:14 (NKJV)

After Damascus Road, Paul was awake. A person who is awake will take note of surroundings to see what God is doing and teaching. We are promised the ability to be partakers of the divine (2 Peter 1:4). Eric Anderson’s writing helped me move from faith at a cognitive level to a more holistic trust, one which includes gratitude. How does one go forward as a human to bear the Image of God? How does one exercise constraint and delayed gratification needed to enable a portrayal of God in this society?

Weary of the certitude represented in dueling newsfeeds, people have an innate thirst for integration and a yearning for a way to make sense of what is happening. A wise one needs more than answers; a wise one craves discernment. One thinks there is wisdom in technology, but sometimes one is a slave to her own success. With a growing weariness of social media, one tends to pine for a growing awareness and new outlook.

For many, religion is not the answer and is, instead, looking more and more like an old volcano that is hardened and predictable, having lost the original pliable fluidity and danger and usefulness. Now is the time to untangle the cord of institutional religion to find the original thread. Now is the time for a movement, not a machine.

Now is the time for Christianity to be a catalyst for change, not a cage or a buffer. The power pyramid offers no future. Neither does the bondage of a willful declaration that we are the “good” ones and on the “good” team. Such thoughts drive to self-deception and blindness. We don’t see truth and don’t want to. The project of God is to remove our blinders so that we can see. “I once was blind, but now I see.” This phrase from "Amazing Grace" appeals almost universally to people whether they are religious or not.

Seekers want more than a promise that the winning side will herd the masses into the “Christian” way. Would be disciples are intrigued by a path or a tool or a paradigm that guides yet provides flexibility, to respond to innumerable variables. Too many leaders, with loud, confident, voices and rigid agendas, have been exposed to be hypocrites. More and more people are turned off by the stench. Thus, Christians who want to share in God’s work must include gratitude and humility in any sort of evangelistic endeavor.

For those who are willing to see, the divine self-revelation of creation as image and likeness is evident everywhere. Don Richardson’s classic, Peace Child, records how the Sawi people in New Guinea had some familiarity with the notion of Jesus Christ’s work because they had the ritual of a peace child. Louie Giglio blessed many with his spiritual application of laminin—a cross-shaped intracellular substance that binds life together.

Ellen White’s first chapter in Steps to Christ, “God’s Love for Man,” advises one to learn about God’s great love from nature. We were intended to love. The project of God is not merely to forgive with a mathematical formula but to remove our shackles so that we can be truly what we were intended to be. Christians have spent too much energy wallowing in the notion of total depravity and original sin. We are wired for love, community, reciprocity, and compassion. God’s laws are descriptions of how we were made to live, not arbitrary impositions put in place by a distant sovereign. What is love? Love is saying, “Yes, we belong together.” We can choose to be fair and understanding. We can choose to negotiate. We can avoid violence. People can be won over.

God wants people to flourish now. Humans have an inner yearning for love and community. Numbing addictions, diversionary tactics, or mindless distractions that misdirect energies away from our original purpose easily squelches such yearnings. Reciting the usual list of “worst sins” does nothing about a root of evil that is enmeshed more with selfishness and superficiality. Might I suggest that the stem of evil roots when a person wants to be right and call out the wrongs of others? This may be the primary deterrent to human flourishing. Language, intended to be a gift to humanity, has become a mammoth source for planting evil seeds.

Exiled Russian poet Joseph Brodsky said, “You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots? It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.” In addition to toxic overstatements, slander, and misrepresentations, we also face a language undergirded by triumphalism that hides behind a victim mentality. “I’m right and no one recognizes it and gives me credit.” Instead of being a vehicle for truth, language has become a hindrance. The language has become a roadblock to flourishing.

So, back to my original idea: consider becoming a grateful mystic. Make time for silence. Paradoxically, this allows one to wake up and, in this way, live joyfully amidst slander and misunderstanding.

 

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Ben Waardenburg on Unsplash.

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