>Pitcher Perfect: thoughts on mysticism

>”Love the pitcher less and the water more.” -a description of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) in Islam: A Concise Introduction

I definitely have a more mystical bent than many people I know, and sometimes I wonder if that doesn’t leave me vulnerable to fickle changes in sentiment. I also wonder about the other mystic traditions out there. Why should God be limited to a certain name if His character remains the same? (Of course, that distinction is very hard to tease out.) I think mysticism is less concerned with the outward differences between religions (the pitcher, to use the analogy above) and more concerned with the God behind it all. I also think the world’s mystic traditions are more similar than the corresponding orthodox and radical religious traditions. Is all truth God’s truth? A few weeks ago in Sunday School Pastor Nick alluded to people who are saved but don’t know it, and I wonder how that is possible. Natural theology? Innate morality? Jiminy Cricket? I have no idea…

Another book, Essential Sufism, explains that, “Mysticism breaks through the boundaries that protect the faith of the typical believer.” But I don’t suppose that it is a good idea to start with mysticism because the foundational truths have to be there. Thomas Merton puts it this way: “But the truth is that the saints arrived at the deepest and most vital and also the most individual and personal knowledge of God precisely because of the Church’s teaching authority, precisely through the tradition that is guarded and fostered by that authority.” (New Seeds of Contemplation)

Contemplation requires a truth to contemplate, and that is what church teaching brings to the table: a conceptualization, a vocabulary, as it were. And while no human words or ideas can perfectly spell out the nature of God or his revelation, I think we have to start somewhere and words are the medium of choice. My Hebrew professor pointed out something that is very “Duh” on the surface but carries deep implications: the Bible is written in human language and meant to be understood that way. There are certainly many ways in which God reveals Himself, but the choice of words as a medium is important for transmission. Language can corrupt meaning, but it can also clarify. (An excellent example is Father Merton himself, who always seems to be good at putting into words what I feel or think but cannot express!)

After we have the words and the language, provided by the Bible and the church, then we can transcend. It is like learning to speak and read verbally so that one has the means with which to learn how to read and play music. I am at the point now where I want to go beyond words, even though I will always love communicating verbally, to know and contemplate God, but I’m not sure how that will happen or if now is the right time for it. I’m just always searching, always hungry…

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