Recently, I was in Dominick Park across from the cathedral with Kai and noticed these berries clinging to a bush. They quickly became an invitation to consider the sky beyond them and then time seemed to sputter and stall; and I began to weep at how beautiful the world is.
The mystical experience is open to every human being. It is open to the great Christian theologian and to the atheist visitor to a church while on a walk to a porn shop or a gift shop. He is looking for a dazzling image to try to grasp and can find one at all three locations locations; but only one will feed him. The mystical experience is the great leveler and that very truth un-nerves the church and its clergy precisely because it robs us of the power with which we pretend to robe ourselves. The great monk and mystic Brother David Steindl-Rast says that we so often think that every mystic is a different kind of human being when in fact, every human being is a different kind of mystic.
I often sit with a friend in prayer. I often want to clarify this point without trying to argue the point. I could preach a lecture with a pile of marked books in which I trace the history of mysticism in Zen, Sufism, Christianity and Judaism. I could argue that these mystics were regular humans who were dedicated to truth and yet were willing to give up control. But rather than lecture and convince, I simply invite people to join me for five minutes in a darkened comfortable, noiseless corner of the cathedral – to enter the mystical experience through a few words of imagining. They often emerge from this changed. They become quickly aware that they – themselves – have the power to enter the “holy of holies” – without mediation by clergy or external structures of authority.
But this is hardest for the clergy and the academics because to enter mysticism one must give up control. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us in his writings on the Song of Songs that what we can grasp can give us knowledge, but that what grasps us can give us wisdom. And yet to give ourselves over tho this kind of prayer is risky because it moves us back from control and order into the chaordic space between chaos and order; and it is in that chaordic space where the wild things are.
The work of the church is to draw back the veils which conceal, in order to welcome all people to approach the veils which reveal. Form, projections, envy, idolatry – in its many forms – these are the veils which conceal. But the veils which reveal move with the slightest touch because though our God is a God who is frustratingly shy and vulnerable – our God is also a God who wants and works to be known.