A straight-forward definition of mysticism is the direct experience of God. The individual understands that they have seen, heard, smelled or were touched by a Divine presence. The experience is of secondary importance. What matters is the result – a love affair with God.
Our ears don’t hear, eyes don’t see, skin doesn’t touch and nose doesn’t smell. These receptors respond to environmental stimuli and send signals. Perception takes place in the brain. During surgery, our sensory receptors send information but anesthesia (thankfully) prevents the brain from perceiving or remembering what was received.
A mystical experience is the reverse of an anesthetic state. The senses don’t receive information, but the brain does. The individual may see, hear, smell or feel something as clearly as they typically would, had the stimulus originated in the physical world.
For me the touch of God was like an ordinary touch, God spoke in my internal voice, and I saw things in ways my eyes would typically have seen. What was different – and extraordinary – was knowing that what was happening came directly from God.
Let’s be clear here. There is no way to prove any of this. If you were sitting next to a person experiencing visions or (perhaps loudly) hearing the voice of God, you would be oblivious to what was going on next to you. All you would have to go on would be the individual’s report.
Could the individual be lying to you? Mistaken? Experiencing some kind of brain dysfunction that produced what happened? All those things are possible. You can choose to believe them or not. Most important to the person it happened to is whether they accept that what happened had a Divine origin.
After my epiphany experience, I doubted and desperately sought to understand what had happened. Had I become mentally ill? Could it really be true? There was no one I dared speak with about it so I sat in silence, prayer and some fear for six months. And in that silence I was constantly nurtured by Holy Spirit Mother.
Mystical experiences that are held to be valid are sometimes mistakenly assumed to confer conditions or powers. The mystic may be thought to be exceedingly virtuous and able to see into the future or successfully intercede through prayer.
My epiphany experience occurred not because I was virtuous, but instead was utterly broken. I was a flawed, limited and damaged person before; and remained flawed, limited and damaged after God came to me.
Hearing, seeing and being touched by God transformed me. The perfection of God compelled me to strive to be as God wanted me to be. I’ve often asked why someone as limited as I am was granted such blessings. I continue to be limited and can do so little.
This is perhaps a source of comfort. God doesn’t come to us because we are worthy. God comes out of love. Neither do we have to be perfect for God to continue to love us, for God’s love is constant.
That is the focus of mysticism. Having experienced the overwhelming love of God, how could I respond with anything but love? And thus began my love affair with God, who is now the ground of my being.
Mystics are greatly blessed, for they know God’s love. All else fades in importance. Mysticism is a love affair between a person and God. It’s that simple – and profound.
It is my sincere hope that I am not believed. For in not believing me, readers will spend some time looking back at their own spiritual experiences and reviewing what they understand to be true. My understanding is that all we need do to connect with the Divine is to pay attention. If I can help direct someone’s attention toward God, I’m happy.
During the first Annual Gathering of Friendly Mystics, I heard an explanation during an interest group that spoke deeply to me. It was said that early Friends ‘lead people to God and left them there’. Our task as contemporary Quakers was to speak about how God has come into our lives; providing an invitation for others to nurture their own relationship with God.
That is my prayer.