October 19, 2018

Sunday with Ron Rolheiser: Don’t Be Mystically Tone-Deaf

White Barn under Mystic Blue Skies (2016)

Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
Don’t Be Mystically Tone-Deaf

…Mysticism is as real as science.

But that’s not easy to understand or believe. We live in a world where what is real is reduced to what is physical, to what can be empirically measured, seen, touched, tasted, smelled. Today the physical is what’s real, massively, imperialistically. We live in a world that’s mystically tone-deaf, where all the goods are in the store window.

For this reason, faith is a struggle, but so are a lot of other things. When the surface is all that there is, it’s hard to be enchanted by anything, to see the depth that’s uncovered by poetry, aesthetics, altruism, religion, faith, and love. And it’s especially difficult to understand community.

When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body of Christ and it becomes difficult even just to understand our real connection with each other.

As human beings, we are connected to each other in ways beyond the physical, beyond time, beyond separation by distance, and even beyond separation by death. But to understand this we need, as Wendy Wright points out, a mystical imagination. And this is not so much the capacity to imagine the world of Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland, or the even the archetypal world of Lord of the Rings.

The mystical imagination is the other half of the scientific imagination and, like science, its purpose is to help us see, imagine, understand, speak about, and relate to reality in a way beyond fantasy and superstition. But the mystical imagination can show us something that science, wonderful though it is, cannot, namely, it can show us the many grace-drenched and spirit-laden layers of reality that are not perceived by our physical senses. The mystical imagination can show us how the Holy Spirit isn’t just inside our churches, but is also inside the law of gravity.

But how do we learn that? A saint might say: “Meditate and pray long enough and you will open yourself up to the other world!” A poet might say: “Stare at a rose long enough and you’ll see that there’s more there than meets the eye!” A romantic might say: “Just fall in love real deeply or let your heart get broken and you’ll soon know there’s more to reality than can be empirically measured.”

And the mystics of old would say: “Just honour fully what you meet each day and you will find it drenched with grace and divinity.”

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “As human beings, we are connected to each other in ways beyond the physical, beyond time, beyond separation by distance, and even beyond separation by death. But to understand this we need, as Wendy Wright points out, a mystical imagination. ”

    THIS ‘Wendy Wright’ (I hope):

    “Dr. Wendy Wright, Ph.D.
    Dr. Wendy Wright, Ph.D.
    Wendy Wright is a leading expert on Salesian spirituality. A theology professor at Creighton University holds the John C. Kenefick Faculty Chair in the Humanities.
    Professor Wright is a gifted author of many books, including Bond of Perfection: Jeanne de Chantal and Francois de Sales (1st ed Paulist/enhanced ed. DeSales Resource Center), Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction (Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality Series), and Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God (Crossroad Spiritual Legacy Series/enhanced ed. DeSales Resource Center).
    A celebrated teacher, Professor Wright regularly engages diverse audiences. For example, she teaches at several graduate ministerial programs including Creighton’s Christian Spirituality Master’s program and the National Methodist Academy for Spiritual Formation. She is co-host with Dr. J. O’Keefe of the Creighton University podcast “Catholic Comments”.
    Professor Wright specializes in the history of spirituality, family spirituality, spiritual direction and the Catholic devotional tradition.”

  2. Robert F says:

    When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body of Christ….

    When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body, or the physical, or matter.

    • Of course, given what we know now by way of quantum physics, saying we’re “just physical” doesn’t give a materialist nearly as much mileage as it once did. 😛

      • Robert F says:

        But they keep claiming it anyway — give ’em an inch (because, really, the evidence requires you to give ’em an inch, and far more), and you know what. Just human nature, I guess.

        • Then give’em an into textbook on QF and tell them to put up or shut up. 😉

          • Robert F says:

            What it comes down to is that the physical is mystical (or spiritual, if you like), and we have the most paltry understanding of it and how it works. That doesn’t mean we as humanity stop using scientific method to study it, only that we acknowledge our limitations and exhibit humility while doing so.

            • Robert F says:

              Of course, that requires people invested in religious interpretations of existence, and people who believe in the mystical, to admit limitations and exhibit humility, too, something that we’ve been loathe to do throughout history. Which means that we can’t fall back on, “It’s a mystery — just accept it on faith”, every time we are presented with something we can’t explain.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > But they keep claiming it anyway

          Who is “they”?

          Aside from some obnoxious members of the chattering class this is a meme|message|assertion I, honest, never meet.

          Personally I find the persona of the Hard Line Materialist to be a trope used to provide Disreputable Mystics someone to hate on.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Who is “they”?

            The Vast Secular Humanist Conspiracy, of course.

            “THEY’RE HERE! THEY’RE THERE! THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! SO BEWARE!”

          • Robert F says:

            You’re probably right, Adam.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Many years ago during an all-night FRP game session, my Dungeonmaster remarked about quantum physics where “reality bubbles and boils” that “Physics shaded into Metaphysics years ago, but nobody will admit to it.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body, or the physical, or matter.

      That also holds when The SPIRITUAL is all that there is.

      • Robert F says:

        No doubt. My point is only that the physical and spiritual are not qualities that exist in airtight, clearly delineated compartments, however much we’ve been taught to conceptualize them that way.

  3. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body of Christ and it becomes difficult even just to understand our real connection with each other.”

    This song would probably support the former (impossible to conceive the body of Christ) but not the latter (becomes difficult to understand our real connection with each other). Well, at least if that real connection is “horizontally.” 😉

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAsLmFWs73w

    In all seriousness, though, I like the premise of this post. It has me thinking that even scientific theories have an element of mysticism to them. Take the theory of evolution, for instance. While I tend to agree with the possibility of God using such a thing to create life, I think there’s an element of “mystical imagination” involved in believing that possibility.

  4. Michael Z says:

    I work as a software engineer. Years ago I learned an interesting fact: even though a computer program is, in essence, a list of instructions to be followed, psychologists have found that software engineers actually store their mental model of the software they’re writing not in the part of the brain that stores recipes, etc., but in the part of the brain that stores a mental map of your surroundings. Why? Because that’s the only part of your brain with the bandwidth to operate on a hierarchical model of such a complex artifact.

    God, obviously, is far more complex than a computer program or anything else a human being can create – too vast and too mysterious to be grasped just by the linear flow of logical, rational thinking. That’s why we *need* imagination and mystical experiences in order to deepen our understanding of God; those parts of our minds are able to “reason” in a deeper and less linear manner and arrive at truths that logic alone could never teach us.

    The problem is that in the modern world we prioritize reason to the point where we discount other ways of knowing. That’s what has led to forms of Christianity that idolize certainty and black-and-white answers.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > in the modern world we prioritize reason to the point where we discount other ways of knowing

      I don’t want to be the negative nanny today: but is this true? I don’t believe it. In my corner of the world lofty intellectualism is not the reigning narrative. Whatever “rationality” exists is often a thin patina over an about-to-burst cauldron of assumptions and fears.

      I do not see a Reason held in particularly high regard.

      There are three players on this field: Reason, Mysticism, and Passion. And the last is the mortal enemy of all else. This is an age of Passions.

      ““Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey.” — Joss Whedon

      > That’s what has led to forms of Christianity that idolize certainty and black-and-white answers.

      Again, not so sure. FEAR/Anxiety is what demands black-and-white, Reason is comfortable with boundaries and limits.

      When I look at modern Christianity – or at least the kind which owns the stage – what I see is not a slavish devotion to Enlightenment whatever [not even close], what I see is FEAR-FEAR-FEAR-FEAR.

      • Christiane says:

        “When I look at modern Christianity – or at least the kind which owns the stage – what I see is not a slavish devotion to Enlightenment whatever [not even close], what I see is FEAR-FEAR-FEAR-FEAR.”

        ‘the kind that owns the stage’?
        well, Putin IS beloved of Trump’s God Squad, especially of Franklin Graham and sure ‘fear’ of an LBGT ‘agenda’ is a part of this strange misalliance . . .

        soon, we will hear of the administration’s efforts to court international ‘religious freedom’ and a lot of what has been festering between Putin and the Christian far right will become more clear

        There is nothing ‘holy’ about the kind of ‘fear’ engendered by Putin fandom led by the likes of Franklin Graham, no.

      • Michael Z says:

        I’m convinced that at the root of that fear is actually a feeling of loss of control, significance, and power. Historically speaking, what happened *first* in this country was that conservatives began to feel that the culture as a whole was looking down on them and judging them. In response to that, they constructed a narrative where everyone outside of conservative Christianity is an enemy seeking to quash their way of life. And when you make someone an enemy you have to justify your antipathy by demonizing that person.

        In other words, I think that the fear (most of it completely irrational) being expressed by conservatives is actually a narrative they have constructed in order to explain and justify their hatred of the Other. That’s why trying to change someone’s mind simply by interacting with and discussing those *fears* is not effective – because those fears are just the surface layer of armor that they *need* in order to cloak other less acceptable feelings that they’re unwilling to face.

      • Christiane says:

        ““Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey.” — Joss Whedon
        > That’s what has led to forms of Christianity that idolize certainty and black-and-white answers.”

        “”If you are stirred to anger when you want to reprove someone, you are gratifying your own passions. Do not lose yourself in order to save another.”
        (Macarius, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks)

        Today’s ‘modern’ Christianity finds its angry self devoted to the Culture Wars, wherein ‘the righteous Christian’ is filled with angry contempt towards his victims, the ones unlucky enough to fall under his wrath . . . . no humility there and no grace either,
        just an uncommon meanness towards ‘those other sinners’

    • john barry says:

      Michael, Z. , I appreciate your 10.31 am post and thoughts on this matter. Well stated