I am often asked why I am so drawn to the mystics. Coleman Barks (the widely respected translator of Rumi’s poetry) helps me frame my answer to this question. He describes the goal of Sufism as opening the heart so that we might know the mystery of union with the Divine and celebrate the glory and challenge of being human. This is a profound formulation of the goal of all mystical traditions – Christianity included. This is the reason the mystics have long been so important to me.
This simple statement also contains the answer to another question I am often asked. People are often puzzled when I say that I learn not just spiritual things from the mystics but that their understanding of what it means to be human informs my understanding in profound ways. The reason their implicit psychology is so profound is that it is based on what we might call mystical vision. This does not refer so much to what the mystics see as to how they see. Their seeing and knowing is through contemplation, not merely reason. It is personal, not objective. But it is both psychologically and theologically profound. It positions humans within the Divine soul and the Divine within the human soul. The human soul and its Source are both inseparable and incomprehensible. As Meister Eckhart states, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
This is why I identify the mystics of the world’s wisdom traditions as foundational to both my psychology and my theology. And this is why they have long been such an important spiritual influence for me. They tell us that God cannot be grasped by the mind but can be known by the heart. And they tell us that the route to heart knowing is contemplation. Contemplation, or meditation, holds unique potential to help us to transcend our minds without abandoning them. It helps us know and see by means of our hearts. It helps us find our center in our Source. And it helps us live out of that center. This is the core of mystical vision. It is seeing through the eyes and heart of Christ and this is why it is the ground of wisdom.
St. Catherine of Siena (Hermitage, St. Petersburg – via Getty Images)