September 24, 2022 Essay: The Mystical Experience

Sep 22, 2022

What is mysticism? What constitutes a mystic or a mystical experience? I have been trying to understand this better as I prepare for the Ignatian Interfaith event on October 6th. I certainly am no expert—so I have “Googled it”, read a little, and even asked a few friends and family. My husband, Kevin, says we need look no further than our mysteriously overcrowded bedroom closet for a perfect example, because “we literally don’t know what’s really in there!”

While this lack of knowledge is certainly true, entering our closet is most definitely NOT a mystical experience. It seems there are two sorts of mysticism: one that appears to be esoteric and shrouded in mystery. Looking at mysticism from this lens, there is a good deal of emphasis on “secret knowledge” that supposedly can be uncovered through things like astrology, crystals, and tarot cards. I have never been drawn to this world—it seems too close to the Biblical exhortation against “divination.” On the other hand, mysticism also can be interpreted as the search for and experience of union with the Divine. Christianity, Judaism and Islam, in fact all major world religions, have their mystical practitioners. Some Catholic mystics have had ecstatic experiences and while others’ are quieter. This experience is a gift and cannot be created or conjured. It is also beyond knowing—a bit like a miracle—hard to explain but you know it when you have had one. It is not something you can prove or easily explain, but once you try to describe it, odds are that others will smile and share their own inexplicable experience. These incidents, however, give you a sense that you know, beyond all knowing that God is here, and you are deeply loved by God. It is a little glimpse into the joy of being united with God—a sort of view of Heaven on earth.

Fr. Yesalonia’s September 11th bulletin essay, Merely a Puddle or Something More?, touched on this as he watched a child’s joy at a puddle. These glimpses come in grand moments—like when we hear our fabulous Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola sing at the Solemn Mass, or the joy of singing gospel music with the Wallace Hall Choir. But it can also be in quiet moments—watching a sunset or going to sacred spaces, like the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the timeless peace of Assisi at dusk or the crisp air and beautiful foliage on a Fall New England day.

The mystical can also breakthrough in the presence of others—that family gathering where there is so much joy at being together or maybe even a smile or word or two from a stranger on the subway. Something just “clicks”, and you think—wait, what just happened here? I like to think of these mystical experiences as being mini miracles. Since God is the God of All, we are not alone in experiencing them as Catholic Christians. I hope you will join me in learning more about the mystics in our Catholic and the Muslim faith traditions on Thursday, October 6th in Wallace Hall. We will be welcoming Fr. Boniface Endorf, OP, Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, and Dr. Zuleyha Colak, Lecturer and the Coordinator of the Turkish program at Columbia University to help us demystify the mystics. Please RSVP to [email protected]. In the meantime, be on the lookout for the mystical experiences in your own life!

— Simone McKeever, Chair, Ignatian Interfaith Ministry