“The only cure for the angst of modern man is mysticism.”
Tomorrow, I celebrate another year of life. One more year of ups and downs, pains and joys. These twelve months have revealed something deeply troubling about my place in modernity. What is that revelation? That deep down in my soul, there’s trouble.
I look at the world around me and see chaos and confusion. I see countless millions running after those things which are innately unable to satisfy the human soul. I’m troubled because I see the same issues when I look in the mirror. My life, which ought to be marked by the priorities and pace of Jesus Christ, is actually marked by the hurried, unstable world around me. Why am I so shocked that I don’t experience the peace and confidence I ought to have as one who wants to follow Christ’s model when I don’t cultivate his life at all?
The cure, as Merton said above, is mysticism. Sadly, in the “enlightened” West, mysticism is looked upon with skeptical disdain. Mysticism rightly understood, however, is a practice of living with the true vision of reality always present. The true vision of reality is not what only the eyes see. True reality is not reality as perceived by man, but reality as known by God. And, God’s reality is a vast mystery to us, one not bound up in the rat race of ever-changing fads, but rooted in the unchanging nature of God. Mysticism seeks to rid itself of those worldly attachments and transitory things and replace them with disciplines rooted in that which is eternal. For example, God created my soul. It’s existence is unique and infinite as God wills it. The latest release on the movie screen or the printing press is finite, even momentary. One practices a form of mysticism when you contemplate and grow the soul (mysticism) as opposed to keeping abreast with every film, book, or fad. Such hurried, un-grounded living creates sick souls. This sickness can be cured, and the cure is mysticism.
Mysticism is a lifestyle in which one cultivates a detachment to worldly drivel. C.S. Lewis once remarked something like, “Whatever is not eternal is eternally out of date.” Christian mysticism is practicing in various ways central attachment to that which is eternal. What are those things that are eternal? First, your own soul. Caring for your own soul is of central importance. Paul once wrote to Timothy, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely.” Imagine a driver of a car never looking at the road in front of him. How perilously foolish! Such a foolish driver is not so different from Christ-followers who do not watch their life and doctrine (i.e., the road) carefully.
Second, the souls of those around you are likewise eternal. Jesus said about himself that he came not to be served, but to serve. Paul later would say that our mind should be like the mind of Christ, who considered the needs of others above his own. For those of us with families, my primary responsibility in life is stewarding well my wife and children. Jesus came for people, not things. Jesus had no place to lay his head, no overly-abundant 401k, or automobile caravan. Rather, Jesus had unshakable commitment to establishing God’s kingdom, no matter the cost.
Third, the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world, will remain forever. Rather than seeking to better establish our brick and mortar kingdoms, Jesus calls us to build a kingdom of gold, ivory, and jasper. Christ calls us to abandon the ways of this world in favor of his kingdom, his way of living. Rather than prizing power, the meek are those who will actually inherit the earth. Instead of honoring the wealthy and famous, the poor and marginalized are those with whom God is centrally concerned. Rather than driving the nicest truck, or having the largest bank account, the kingdom measures success in terms of nearness to the heart of God.
Take these three ideas as an example, what would it look like to live a mystically? First, becoming a mystic would require you to seriously and deeply pursue knowledge of yourself. The reformer John Calvin started his Institutes by saying that “without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” Think about it. I can’t really know anything until I know at least the bare facts about myself. Here’s an example. Let’s say you fell into a deep sleep. Come to find out upon waking that you were actually asleep for an entire week. And, suppose as you looked around you noticed there was not a single thing around you recognizable. You were lost. Completely, totally lost. Then, imagine someone coming along and asking directions to your house. You couldn’t tell them because you wouldn’t have any clue where you are, right? Well, that’s the condition of modern man.
Modern man is running about every every transitory experience. Man listens to every philosophical exposition about the meaning of life, and notices every philosophical opinion differs from the next. Man is bombarded with definitions, expectations, experiences, and descriptions of life that are all antithetical to one another. Then, we wonder why our society is full of men and woman who seem to be perpetually going through the motions. They seem lost. And, they are.
The cure? Mysticism. Find yourself. How, you ask? By physically silencing the external voices offering their opinions, like media, music, commercials, philosophers, etc. Pray the Holy Spirit tunes out the voices that so easily drown out his subtle, sweet whisper.
Once you begin finding yourself again, you find you not only better care for yourself, but you care for your loved ones better, too. You see through the muck that is modernity. You are the sustained foundation in a shifting world. When you realize who you are, one fashioned and fiercely loved by God Almighty, your dependence upon human trivialities or relationships for satisfaction lessens. Your rootedness and humble confidence grows. In short, you find what the world is desperately seeking. You find shalom, peace, wholness.
The angst of modern man exists because the lack of peace. Peace is only found when first man is at peace with God and himself. Mysticism is cure.