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Are You a Mystic?By Dave Scheider
By the Rev. Dave Scheider
“Have you ever had a mystical experience?” Lately I have been asking this question in groups or with individuals. I admit this is a safe question to ask in a seminary with people who have a sense of calling. But I have been asking this question to students who are not in formation for ordination and have been pleasantly surprised that everyone answers with a story. There are some common themes to these experiences.
The most obvious theme is that the experience is very ordinary, but the person is absolutely convinced that they have encountered God. For instance, one woman was in deep turmoil and shame before the mystical encounter. Her experience took place while walking in nature. Somehow her internal boundaries dissolved and she felt in union with all the things around her. Her inner-turmoil evaporated in this contemplative union. After the vision she believed that separation is an illusion and that the deep reality of life is connection with everything.
I also noted that none of the respondents identified themselves as mystics. Though they had a mystical experience, they did not regard themselves as members of some spiritual elite. This seems very consistent with the famous mystics like St. Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. Both of these saints had experiences of the Divine that may have taken up only a total of several hours of their lives. They spent years reflecting on these visions or connections but they did not live in constant, uninterrupted union with God.
A very important message associated with each experience is one of great love. A middle-aged woman shared her struggle with whether or not she was loved by her parents. Her mystical experience came in the midst of deepest doubt, which reached the point of despair. Walking across a parking lot, she suddenly realized experientially that she has always been loved and never rejected by God.
There are many other traits or themes that emerge from these stories, but one that seems very meaningful has to do with suffering. Most of the respondents said they had been in emotional turmoil. The mystical experience did not solve their problem, but it seemed to dissolve it. In other words, after their encounter, the original problem ceased to have power over them. The experiential knowledge that God was for them filled their deepest need.
The final theme that emerged from these 20 interviews was a regret that though the experience awakened them spiritually, it did not keep them awake. Many of them wondered how to stay awake to the reality that they are loved by God and connected to all things. If they could remain in communion with God and all of creation, they felt their lives would be whole. They described the human condition as a spiritual narcolepsy of falling asleep so frequently that we miss most of what life has to offer.
Have you ever had a mystical or numinous experience?
If you had one, what effect did it have on you? How was your life changed?
How can you stay awake to the reality of love that is the experience of encountering the Divine?
Dave Scheider is the Director of the Loise Henderson Wessendorf Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation at Seminary of the Southwest. Prior to joining the faculty of Seminary of the Southwest, Dave served as an Army Chaplain for 25 years.
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