Archive for Saturday, June 12, 2004

Faith forum

June 12, 2004


What is mysticism?

Reality beyond human living

The Rev. Judy Long O'Neal, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, 245 N. Fourth St., and co-director of Martha & Mary's Way, a Lawrence interfaith ministry:

The word "mysticism" itself suggests an immediate connection to "mystery," a word derived from the same root. More profoundly, mysticism calls for the capitalization of Mystery. In the simplest of definitions, mysticism is the gift and/or practice of union with the great mystery, divine reality, God. This definition is based on several assumptions: There is a reality beyond that of profane human living; there is otherness with which humans can be in relation; and humans have the capacity for immediate union with the divine. I think of mysticism as the complete, intentional engagement of the divine spark in each of us with the universal spark, the ultimate light and love of God.

Each of us has the capacity for mystical experience. We may have fleeting moments of experiencing something other than the reality we perceive with our physical senses. We may know intuitively or sense a depth and dimension of experience we cannot identify or name. Such experience is beyond language or explanation. Mystical moments may emerge from amazing aural or visual experiences. They may be given breath in poetry, nature, music, art and relationships. Mysticism, then, may be understood as the disciplined practice of entering and sustaining these experiences.

Tragically, mystical experience is most often discredited by family systems, cultural norms and religious institutions, yet it retains a prominent place in the ongoing history of all major religious traditions. Whether understood through the classic, ancient writing of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, the Hindu belief in the divine self or soul, the study and practice of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism, the Buddhist search for nirvana, the ecstatic dance of Sufism or the experiences of contemporary Christian mystics, we are clearly confronted with the Mystery that engages us and invokes our response.

Send e-mail to the Rev. Judy Long O'Neal at

Remembering divine inheritance

Charles Gruber, Lawrence resident, practices Zen Buddhism, Sufism and Judaism:

When faith meets a clear mind, mysticism is one by-product. Faith lends direction. A clear mind is the new canvas upon which our divine aspect may be projected. Clearing the mind can require practice and patience and guidance and time. Yet history is rife with people who awaken in an instant. Whether the awakening is momentary or eternal is not the issue.

It is awakening that mysticism addresses. To describe what one awakens to is a slippery task. It might be better to use the sensory approach. When my wife bakes an apple pie, the aroma in the kitchen stirs a keen sense of anticipation in my taste memory. Sometimes, when I experience a moment of dejvu, or clarity or synchronicity or coincidence, I experience a keen sense of anticipation in my intuitive memory.

My intuitive memory holds the soaring dreamscape of my pre-beginnings. It holds the entirety of the score for my future. It is never faulty. My access to this intuitive faculty is sometimes self-limited, sometimes self-denied. But the intuition itself is perfected; it is the face of the divine.

In the end, for me, mysticism is the experience of remembering my divine inheritance. Forgiveness is remembering my human inheritance. Even if the remembering is only momentary, it is sacred. As my mother used to say, "You're entitled."

Send e-mail to Charles Gruber at

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