Mystical Potential

Can anyone be a mystic? Does God come only to a few people?

My observation is that most people could become mystics, and that God is present to everyone. What’s more, I think that God does act in almost everyone’s life, but typically is unrecognized. The salient questions are people’s awareness and desires. It has to be noted as well that whatever happens is subject to God’s will, not ours.

Since their beginning, Quakers have held that God can come directly to individuals. There was an assumption of equality – neither gender, race, education, wealth, nor status were determinants. What was needed was a desire to know God, and an openness to listen and be guided.

Being guided by God implies that the person understands that a connection with the Divine has occurred. That fits with mysticism’s definition of a direct experience of God. Thus, Quakerism is a mystical religion, and early Quakers were mystics.

Spiritual intensity and fervor that was common among early Friends diminished over succeeding generations. Many Quakers today question whether God is at work in the world, and doubt that God is involved in the details of an individual’s life. Those who talk of having visions or hearing the voice of God are viewed as unusual. Mystical reports are not always welcomed in Quaker circles.

There is a paradox here. Mainstream Quakers often hope to hear the voice of God speaking through people during Meeting for Worship. During Meetings for Business, many seek to find a ‘sense of the Meeting’ trusting that this will reflect God’s will. Both of these imply that God is at work in the world today.

Many prayers –whether silent or spoken – ask for Divine intervention or guidance, often for an individual. Surely this implies that God is willing and able to be involved in the life of an individual.

And what if these hopes – in Meeting for Worship and Business or prayers are answered? I conclude that God has been experienced directly.  It could be said that Quakerism continues to be a mystical religion, and that many Quakers are mystics.

Most Quakers would disagree if they were labeled a mystic. Why the mismatch?

I have heard a number of Quakers speak of personally being led to do this or that. Others have marveled at the ‘coincidences’ that produced unexpected outcomes. I’ve talked with a number of people who are earnestly striving to live spiritual lives yet are frustrated because they feel that God hasn’t been with them.

It seems to me that inaccurate expectations and self-deprecation  are at work.

Inaccurate expectations because people’s definitions of a connection with God are too narrow. Looking for divine guidance and later feeling clear about what to do is a mystical experience. God has come and helped a person. This one individual has been in a relationship with a nurturing God. How wonderful!

And yet – it may not have been intense. The person may only have had a ‘feeling’ of rightness and believes that this can’t count as a true mystical experience. After all, they haven’t heard the voice of God. In the same way, having a friend call at just the right time; casually meeting a stranger who provides an answer; and a million other nurturing ‘coincidences’ don’t count either.

Self-deprecation is more insidious, working to deny what may have glimpsed. “Oh, it didn’t really count because I’m not (worthy, important, smart, educated…) enough. God didn’t really help me. The whole thing wasn’t important and didn’t mean much.”

How sad that God came knocking on the door, but went unrecognized or was put in the same category as the mailman.

Some people are focused on this world. Such a condition requires being oblivious to the immediate presence of God, for this world pales in comparison to God’s love. Others desperately want to connect with God, but are not satisfied with what God has given them. The first group doesn’t want to be mystics, while the second want to be a different kind of mystic than they already are.

The only thing I’m aware that God wants is our attention. I don’t mention love because once we’ve tasted God’s love for us, our loving response is inevitable. We won’t be able to control loving God. What we do maintain control of is where we place our attention.

How many minutes a day are we willing to dedicate to being with our Lord? Whether talking to, listening or simply being with God; these are the times that build our relationship. What needs to happen is our transformation.  God has always been present. We need to learn to be.

For the rest, we need to trust God. It may – or may not – be our lot to have intense spiritual experiences. We have no control over how/when God is revealed to us. We’re human. We want this, we want that; and we want it now.

I can only suggest that we sink down in silence daily; listening, giving thanks, loving, trusting and growing in patience and humility. God is within and around each of us. Growing our awareness of God is a joyful process.

Can God come to everyone? He/She has always been with each of us. I often think of the Catholic phrase, “The Lord be with you.”  I’ve changed that for myself to, “May you be aware that the Lord is with you.”

God Bless,

Mike

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About Michael Resman

I'm a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist. I now write books and serve as Clerk of the Rochester MN Monthly Meeting. I've helped helped edit WCTS and serve as the organizer for our gatherings. Since July 5th, I'm a grandpa!

4 thoughts on “Mystical Potential

  1. Mike, congrats on your grandchild and thanks for this insightful post. If I may be sarcastic(for effect, of course), how is it that human beings can’t control their use of telecommunication devises and social media and not realize that they are children of The Great Communicator. As I’ve seen on a bumper sticker: You are a child of God, call home. Like you, my Friend, I would adjust this for our Society: ‘Your expectations of your God are too small, just like your expectations of yourself as a child of a communicative God’.

  2. To me, “Quaker mystic” is redundant. It was what attracted me to Friends in the first place. I read everything I could find then (late 1970s and 1980s) about Friends — lots by Rufus Jones — and mysticism, especially the major study by Evelyn Underhill called “Mysticism.” In my meeting I have felt always we were kindred spirits on a mystical path. While there has been some tension around biblical language, I have always felt mystical experience was not only accepted, but precious to the large Atlanta Monthly Meeting. It came as a surprise to me to find so many of the participants at the gathering of Friendly Mystics felt unable to talk of their mystical experiences in their home meeting. Thanks, Mike, for this very clear argument for the centrality of mysticism in Quaker culture, and how we might have strayed from that center.

  3. I think we need to know and acknowledge that center of reality — but that inability and unwillingness to do so have become a potent force in many Meetings. People become antitheist, whether overtly, or simply tacitly, trapped in contemporary “common sense” and/or unwilling to publicly admit to what it dismisses and disparages, to what supersedes it.

    I’m really grateful for this post because I’ve been trying to say this for a long time, have only recently been able to accept (seeing through and gradually overcoming ‘unconscious tacit atheism’ in my own thinking and practice!) that I can only successfully communicate it when it’s given to me as ‘a Message.’

  4. I believe that Quakers should embrace being a historical church of mystics believing in personal revelation as part of a body, having an experiential knowledge of God, not bound by creeds or traditions. This allows us to welcome everyone who truly seeks unity with the Divine and separates us from churches more interested in being politically correct than in going to the top of the mountain with Moses to hear for themselves what God would ask of us..

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