Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Catholic Yin-Yang

Exploring the religious impulse known as mysticism - the "silent cry" at the heart of all the world's religions. Mysticism, in the sense of a "longing for God," has been present in all times, cultures, and religions. But Soelle believes it has never been more important than in this age of materialism and fundamentalism. The antiauthoritarian mystical element in each religion leads to community of free spirits and resistance to the death-dealing aspects of our contemporary culture. Religion in the third millennium, Soelle argues, either will be mystical or it will be dead. Therefore, Soelle identifies strongly with the hunger of New Age searchers, but laments the religious fast food they devour. Today, a kind of "democratized mysticism" of those without much religious background flourishes. This mystical experience is not drawn so much of the tradition as out of contemporary experiences. In that sense, each of us is a mystic, and Soelle's work seeks to give theological depth, clarity, and direction. 

The "antiauthoritarian mystical element" is the phrase that grabbed me in the description of this book on Amazon.   I was thinking that it's not so much anti, as extra.  There was no greater Saint than Francis of Assisi, yet, he preached  submission to the Church. Yet, he also managed to assert his independence from the desire of his Bishop-who-became-Pope to choose a Rule and give up radical poverty.  

The mystic's connection to God, to the transcendental, I believe, comes through Faith, not just praxis.   But it's direct, as is the Authority associated with it.  In the end, the mystic is always going to go with God, with what she perceives as His Will, which is not so much occurring against the Church Militant, as extraneous to it.  Saul became Paul on the road to Damascus, his experience was far outside his own church's teaching at the time, but Paul could make sense of his experience because he was a Pharisee.

We don't know what he went through in the months between his conversion by Jesus and his appearance in Jerusalem to Peter and James. I don't think he spent a lot of time seeking out a local Rabbi to consult with, though. Maybe he was just working and living and tent-making and thought that simply not persecuting Jesus followers was enough.  Maybe he found out it wasn't and needed the time to follow the greater call.  Maybe he needed to come to terms with the fact that he had to leave the church that led him to this point, if that church insisted on expelling him.  Or even executing him.
Religion in the third millennium, Soelle argues, either will be mystical or it will be dead.
I don't think so.  Because the fact is, maybe everyone could have mystical experience, but many simply will not.  And perhaps cannot.  God wants everyone to be saved.  Including the ones who seem spiritually paralyzed, who depend solely on law, rite and ritual and need the intractable boundaries and rigid demands. 

Religion, Catholicism in particular, rife with mystics and their wisdom, must survive in order for future mystics to make sense of their experiences.  And the fact is: it's the hidebound Traditionalists who protect the Church, who assure it's survival, and create a haven for theologians who say things they don't even understand.  And we'd all be lost without them and Deposit of Faith in the Church they sustain.  Otherwise, it's just a trip through the golden arches. 


  1. Thanks for pointing out this book. First I have heard of it. I have not checked out your blog in recent days, or anyone's, for that matter. I have been traveling nearly constantly. So, no time. But, I hope I will have a little more time during the rest of May (as soon as I get home from Prague). Going to go on and read your post on discernment. Am currently reading a book on that given to me by my spiritual director.

  2. Nice to hear from you, Elizabeth! I noticed the link to this blog seemed corrupted on yours with a post from my poker blog. Talk about dichotomy!

    The discernment post was about distinguishing between types of visions. But the process of discerning the message of a vision, the intent of the Holy Spirit in providing it, well, that's the real trick.

    Safe travel home, darlin.'