Part 3 of a three-part series from Bruce Epperly, author of The Mystic in You.
My friend Chris would never call herself a mystic. “Mystics are holy people, and I’m anything but holy,” she confesses. In the quiet time before the pastor’s prayer, she finds her mind wandering by the fifteenth second and can’t sit still for meditation at her church’s Bible study group. But every night, Chris goes into her backyard and spends several minutes looking at the stars, giving thanks for the wonder of it all.
Another friend, Cheryl, claims to be a “failure at meditation,” but she feels a deep sense of connection with God and her closest companions as she prays for friends while doing the dishes after breakfast. “The kids are gone, my husband is off to work, and I have a few moments of peace and quiet to remember God is God and I’m not, and to share my concerns for loved ones. In those quiet moments, I know that I am in God’s hands and that God will provide for my deepest needs and show me the way to do God’s will as a mother, wife, and professional woman.”
A few days ago, I encountered Norm on my daily walk on one of Cape Cod’s beaches. He was returning to his car, metal detector in hand. I see him regularly combing the sand, and usually we nod at each other as I walk by. This morning, I took a moment to ask him what he found and what he enjoyed most about metal detection. “Well, I don’t typically find much out here — sometimes a few coins or cheap jewelry. But it’s the one time during the week I can simply be by myself, look out at the ocean, and turn off my mind, just taking it all in. The greatest treasure is the quiet time. In the stillness, listening to the waves, I find myself again and feel refreshed and renewed to face what the day will bring.”
None of these people would call themselves a mystic. They might even be afraid of the word, thinking it otherworldly and irrelevant to their daily lives. They might even worry that their friends would think them odd if they called what they we doing prayer or contemplation. Yet, in my mind, each one of these folks is a mystic.
In my book The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-Filled World, I describe a mystic as anyone who experiences or seeks to experience God or the Holy One in their daily lives. Most people may not describe themselves as mystics, yet the majority of Americans claim to have spiritual experiences. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, “most Americans (59%) say they experience a sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, up by 7 percentage points since 2007. And 46% of Americans report feeling a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis, also up 7 points.” Could we be on the verge of becoming a nation of mystics and not know it?
I believe that spiritual experiences are widespread. Whenever I lead a class on spirituality, I ask participants about their experiences of the Holy, and among the reserved New England participants, virtually everyone cites one of the following: an experience of wonder in nature, amazement at the birth of a child, a near-death experience, a life-changing dream, or a feeling of God’s intimacy or the intimacy of a deceased loved one — all characteristics of mystical experiences. Many of these experiences occur as a result of prayer, but others simply happen without any prelude or preparation.
As you consider your own life, take a moment to ask, “Have I experienced a sense of wonder or holiness? Have I felt God’s nearness or a providential hand moving through my life? Have I, in a time of turmoil, felt a deep sense of peace descending on my spirit?” If so, then you are on the frontier of mysticism.
While mystical experiences are a matter of grace as well as effort, you can cultivate a deeper sense of God’s presence through spiritual practices, such as regular moments of prayer and meditation, whether sitting or walking; reading about mystics and discovering that virtually none of them set out to have encounters with God but in the course of their lives felt God calling to them; reading devotional books regularly; or simply asking God, “Let me experience you more deeply” or “Help me see you and respond to your presence in my daily life.”
We live in a God-filled world in which God is constantly addressing us in the ordinary affairs of life. When you pause long enough to notice, you may discover something surprising: You really are a mystic!
Bruce Epperly is a pastor and seminary professor, husband and grandparent, and reader and walker. He is the author of numerous books, including The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-Filled World (Upper Room Books, 2018).
ABOUT THE BOOK:
What is a mystic? Bruce Epperly defines mystics as people who see holiness in everyday life. We can be mystics without leaving our families, disengaging from daily responsibilities, becoming a priest, or joining a monastic order. Epperly shows how we can experience the living God in the midst of daily life and never again take everyday events for granted. Read more . . .