More on Mysticism

God has various ways by which He can lead a person and it seems as though I am frequently led by what I read. I take reading seriously and would even say that in recent years I have read myself into a new place. Eclectic Christian reading has taken me from the cramped quarters of a Charismatic niche, to the expansive vistas that belong to the whole Body of Christ. I think the writers who have influenced me the most over the last few years would be…

Saint Augustine
G.K. Chesterton
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Soren Kierkegaard
C.S. Lewis
Dallas Willard
N.T. Wright

Lately I’ve been thinking about Christian mysticism: The philosophy and practice of a direct experience with God (cf. my previous blog and my message of the same title from Friday, March 23). And it’s more than just thinking about it; I feel like I am being drawn (pushed?) toward Christian mysticism as the antidote for two soul-destroying maladies pervasive in 21st century America: Secular materialism and Christian pragmatism (and I do believe that the latter is in large part fed by the former). These thoughts on Christian mysticism seem to open a door of escape from the insane asylum that is the madness of this age. As I said in my previous blog:

“We are being driven mad by our harried, hurried, frantic, frenzied lives. And people instinctively know we were not meant to live this way…We long for the mystical experiences that are nurtured in silence and solitude. In the technological madness of the ubiquitous television, radio, cell phone, internet, Blackberry and iPod there is a means of communication that is not technological — it is communication with God; it is mystical. I’m convinced that a return to Christian mysticism is essential if we want to save our soul — not from hell in eternity, but from the madness of this present age.”

These thoughts about Christian mysticism came from nothing I had read, but seemed to bubble up from deep within me. But then I read something. I wrote my blog on Christian Mysticism on Thursday, March 22. I preached my message on Christian Mysticism on Friday, March 23. The following Sunday afternoon I was flying to Denver to preach that night. On my way out the door I looked at my pile of “Books To Be Read” — I picked two: a big one and a small one. The big one was Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Writers Life by Geir Kjetsaa and the small one was Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (which, by the way, Christianity Today calls “one of the top ten Christian books of the 20th century”).

While flying to Denver I was reading the second chapter of Orthodoxy (The Maniac) and I encountered this sentence: The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. I grabbed my moleskin notebook to write down this quote and when I opened it, the last thing I had written was: We live in an age of madness and mysticism is the cure. Whoa! Coincidence or Godincidence? I finished the chapter and then read it again. Then I made some notes on that chapter. Here are my notes on “The Maniac” from Orthodoxy. They won’t necessarily make complete sense, out of context as they are, but I think you will get the general drift.


Mysticism is the philosophy of sanity.

“Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad; but creative artists very seldom…Poetry is sane because it floats easily on the infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

Great care and concern for detail causes madness. If the madman could become careless, he would become sane.

The mind of the madman revolves in a small circle of reason — his circle of logic is infinite, but small.

A man cannot think himself out of this mental evil. He can only be saved from this mental evil by will or faith (a leap to faith).

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also…He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

“Another symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world. But the Greeks were right when they made Apollo the god both of imagination and of sanity; for he was both the patron of poetry and the patron of healing…that transcendentalism by which all men live has primarily much the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as of a kind of splendid confusion; it is something both shining and shapeless, at once a blaze and a blur. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”

Yes! Yes! Yes!

As an emailer said to me last week: GO MYSTICS!

It’s Holy Week. Be a mystic. Enter into holy mysteries. Walk with Jesus through the redemptive events of Palm Sunday through Easter. Sit with Jesus in the Upper Room. Try to stay awake at Gethsemane…an angel will come. Enter into the sacred mystery of the Cross. Let the “Gardener” speak to you in the Garden of New Creation. Have your own Emmaus Road encounter with the risen Christ.

May you live in the sanity of holy mystery.



While writing this blog, Peri handed me this book:

Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’ Vision of Living in Between
by Stephen J. Nichols


At the beginning of this blog I said, Eclectic Christian reading has taken me from the cramped quarters of a Charismatic niche, to the expansive vistas that belong to the whole Body of Christ. And, These thoughts on Christian mysticism seem to open a door of escape from the insane asylum that is the madness of this age.

Now look at the cover of this book: Here.

That’s what I’m talking about.