-At the Desert Retreat House-
While walking in the aisles of my local supermarket yesterday, I had this fantasy about randomly approaching people in the aisles and asking them when they last had a "mystical experience." My guess is that the people of whom I asked that question would probably think I was sort of crazy and be on the lookout for the store manager or maybe even for the nearest security guard.
The very word "mysticism" is rather suspect in everyday popular culture. Most people imagine that "Mystics" are deeply religious if not eccentric oddballs who live tucked away in monasteries or in huts or caves up in some faraway hills distant and remote from everyday people in everyday life.
And although my fellow shoppers in that supermarket might have been very suspect of me for asking a question about mysticism, I have no doubt that almost every single person in that store has indeed had many mystical experiences of various sorts - sometimes every day.
In his newly published book, Eager to Love, well-known priest and author, Richard Rohr, offers a clear and wise definition of the word "mysticism."
Experiential knowledge of spiritual things,
as opposed to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge or even church knowledge.
A wonderful quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning immediately comes to mind when I read this definition of the word "mysticism."
Earth's crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God
The distinction between the sacred and the secular is a false distinction, there are no designated holy places or assigned sacred spaces - every time our feet step onto any place on this earth we stand on holy ground. The infinite, the transcendent is always manifested in the finite and real-time is always a doorway to timelessness.
When a mother kisses her child goodnight and is overwhelmed with a sense of tenderness for that little girl lying in that bed, that mom is having a "mystical experience," and at that moment, the mom has become a mystic and that child's bedroom is holy ground. And when my friend attends a Mozart concert and turns to me in tears unable to speak, overwhelmed by the beauty he is experiencing, my friend has become a mystic and the concert hall is holy ground.
In my own experience I have sat in churches and experienced a Holy Presence as a choir sang an anthem or when I heard the scriptures read; and I have also been taken up into a holy mystical moment while watching a summer storm sweep though the desert floor, hearing the sound of the rushing wind echoing in the canyons.
A supermarket or a coffee shop has also been my "holy ground." The smile of the small child in the checkout line or the wrinkled face of the elderly man sipping coffee next to me - simple "finite" moments that have opened the door to the "infinite," moments in time that have opened up doors into timelessness.
Every single one of us, religious or non-religious, believers, atheists or agnostics live on this "earth crammed with heaven." The transcendent, the infinite is always manifested in the finite and the ordinary. Every time any one of us experiences beauty, every instance of tenderness, compassion and kindness, every time we sense a deeper peace in those everyday moments of our everyday lives, we become mystics. We meet "God" face to face.
I actually like my supermarket question, maybe I'll actually ask it sometime:
When was the last time you had a mystical experience?