I’ve identified myself as a mystic but up until now haven’t tried to explain what God means to me in concrete terms. Explaining God is a difficult thing to do. The definition of a mystic is someone who has experiences of the unknowable aspect of God. Unknowable generally means unexplainable. All the prophets and many Christian saints have had mystical visions. With few exceptions, these people heard what God had to say and tried their best to make practical sense of that message for all believers. In this essay I take up that task.
“I see Him and He sees me.” This saying isn’t mine. I don’t know where it came from. I associate it with St John Vianney (1786-1859). A good friend of mine who had deep knowledge of Franciscan material said that John Vianney didn’t say it. John Vianney and I have something in common (besides the fact that we’re both Third Order Franciscans). John Vianney was a great fan of Eucharistic Adoration. I’ve spent a fair amount of time alone with the Blessed Sacrament.
I’ve spent a few moments considering how to explain the Eucharist as a Sacrament to fundamentalist Christians and gave up on that idea. When I was a fundamentalist, I went to an Episcopal church. I dismissed the rather elaborate version of the Lord’s Supper as ‘ritual’. After that initial mystical experience doing yoga at age twenty, I went back to the same Episcopal church and took communion. What was previously ritual was now liturgy. It was like someone had thrown a switch in my heart. I will leave the understanding of the difference between ritual and liturgy to the fundamentalists.
In many Episcopal churches and most all Roman Catholic churches, a small part of the consecrated bread and wine is put aside and kept in the church for use communicating sick and dying parishioners. This ‘reserved sacrament’ brings a holy presence to the church where it is kept. When I was a new Franciscan, I spent a fair amount of time in this church or that visiting the reserved sacrament. That time in my life, when I was a new Franciscan, was a time of serious change. It was in one of these visits that I came to the conclusion that ‘He sees me and I see Him’.
Mystics are first and foremost disciples. The essential aspects of living life as a disciple revolve around obedience and humility. Jesus calls and a disciple responds with ‘Yes Lord’. The path of discipleship can be difficult.
Jesus called a number of Galilean fishermen to be disciples. For most of Jesus’ disciples answering that call meat that they would:
- Leave home, family and job
- Wander around Judea and Samaria and other areas with Jesus
- Strive as best I could to understand and implement Jesus’ teaching
- Experience Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection
- Become an apostle and evangelist for a new religion
- Die a martyrs death in a foreign land
This list doesn’t describe how hard it can be to live the life of a disciple, but it’s probably close. There are other disciples who never leave home, whose entire spiritual battle is inside their own persons and inside their own communities.
Humility and Obedience are spiritual graces. They are gifts from God. But the life of a disciple is a life of service. Service without humility and obedience looks like something else.
The faith of a mystical disciple is renewed by contact with the Lord. St. Francis described this contact as equal parts sweetness and pain. Until recently, I would describe mystical contact as equal parts sweetness and terror. In the present moment, My Lady mediates these contacts. She is very gentle with me. I can’t speak for all mystics, but contact with God tends to be transformative. People go into such a contact one person and come out another. Activities before the contact that seem reasonable and worthy are no longer adequate.
One of the truths about Jesus that comes from looking at these issues is that continuing intimate contact with Jesus is transformative. The change from Galilean fisherman to martyr makes perfect sense when Jesus is part of the story.
And then there’s Judas.
I can’t help wondering what happened to Judas. He was there with the other disciples. He must have washed Jesus’ feet. He must have experienced Jesus’ soul touching gaze. I’m not sure what happened with Judas. The only thing that makes sense is that Jesus wouldn’t go along with whatever program Judas was proposing.
Judas’ story is certainly difficult to hear. Judas’ failures are human failures.
There are several insights into Jesus’ person and the nature of discipleship that come out of Judas’ story
- The story of Judas says it is possible to say no to the blessing Jesus offers.
- Jesus knew Judas had turned away from him and Jesus loved Judas anyway.
- Jesus cared about the issues Judas brought to him. Jesus was focused on other issues. Jesus is the Good Shepherd – the shepherd of souls.
- Finally, what I want from God isn’t what’s important in the special relationship Jesus and I have. What’s important is what he wants from me.
The church is empty.
The lights are off.
It’s just me and Jesus in this holy place.
I see Him and He sees me.