Mysticism vs McDonald’s

George Macdonald
(1824 – 1905)
Scottish author and poet

Ronald McDonald

(1963 – present)
Clown spokesperson for American fast-food chain

I like McDonald’s. I always have. An Egg McMuffin with coffee is common breakfast fare and I do indulge in the occasional Big Mac. McDonald’s: The Great American Success Story. Hamburgers made quick, easy and cheap. A great idea. That being said, I don’t want Ronald McDonald to be my spiritual adviser. Of course you say, who would? Those looking for quick, easy and cheap spirituality, that’s who.

Ronald McDonald is the iconic image of the fast-food culture; the high priest of that which is quick, easy and cheap and capable of being mass produced…all with a smile. That may be fine for hamburgers but it’s no way to make Christians.

If Christian spirituality is simply a set of religious rules and a kind of success seminar, then I suppose you can order it from the dollar menu. But if Christian spirituality is a direct experience with God in Jesus Christ, then I am absolutely certain it cannot be mass produced or obtained quick, easy and cheap.

There are no drive-up windows for a mystical experience.

It’s the madness of modern life that creates a hunger for the mystical. But hunger alone will not produce a mystical experience. We have to slow down, retreat to the quiet place and seek God in the secret place. We can’t just want a mystical experience like we want a hamburger and expect to have it. Ezekiel saw a wheel in a wheel and all we see are golden arches.

George Macdonald.

He was strange. Something of a mystic. A Christian poet and writer. Macdonald had enormous influence on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis said that he was first led away from atheism when he read Macdonald’s Phantastes. Lewis even made Macdonald the guide who leads him though heaven and away from hell in his spiritual fantasy, The Great Divorce. As a literary critic, Lewis did not regard Macdonald as a great writer, saying, “Few of his novels are good and none is very good.” But Lewis also said, “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself!”

Sometime back I read Macdonald’s Lilith. It’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I’m not sure I understood all of it or agreed with all of it or even understood it well enough to know whether I agreed with it or not. But it stuck with me. Especially this exchange between Mr. Vane and Mr. Raven:

Mr. Raven:
This is the way.

Mr. Vane: I am quite content where I am.

Mr. Raven: You think so, but you are not. Come along.

I feel like a few years ago Jesus came to me as Mr. Raven.

The other day a friend sent me this Macdonald quote regarding miracles:

“The miracles of Jesus were the ordinary works of His Father, wrought small and swift that we may take them in.”
Unspoken Sermons, The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity

Calming the sea is no more miraculous than the existence of the sea itself. Calming the sea is simply a small and swift work that we can more easily perceive as a miracle.

Another friend asked me this question: “How does what we are calling the mystical correlate with the prophetic? Intersession? Moving and leading of the Spirit? — you know all of those so called Charismatic things?”

Prophecy, intercession, being led by the Spirit, etc., are the mystical aspects of Christianity. I believe in the charismatic more than ever. It’s the Charismatic that I’m not so sure about. I believe in the charisma (gifts) of the Spirit more than ever but I’m afraid much of the Charismatic movement has become a vaudeville. “Miracles” made quick, easy and cheap. The McDonaldization of the miraculous. Reverend Ronald McDonald as a healing evangelist. I’m convinced the vaudevillian aspect of Charismatic Christianity is not a demonstration of faith, but just the opposite: It betrays an underlying unbelief — a doubt that any of it is real. And if it’s not real…well, we might as well fake it.

But I believe in the mystical, supernatural, charismatic aspects of Christianity! I believe in angels, miracles, healing, deliverance and prophecy; I believe in dreams and visions, in signs and wonders, in the gifts of the Spirit. I believe in mystical spirituality more than ever! I also believe these experiences cannot be had quick, easy and cheap. But if we are willing to seek an authentic spirituality, we can find the door to a mystical world like Mr. Vane found in his library (and yes, it’s very much like the professor’s wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia and, no doubt, it’s where Lewis got the idea).

This world is not conclusion. A sequel stands beyond. –Emily Dickinson

Another thought:

It’s not: A leap of faith.

It is: A leap to faith.

Contrary to popular opinion, Soren Kierkegaard never spoke of a leap of faith, but of a leap to faith. Is there a difference? Yes. A leap of faith implies that you must have faith before you act. A leap to faith implies that one has made a decision to believe. There is an emphasis on volition.

A leap of faith is circular: You must believe to believe.

A leap to faith is linear: You choose to believe.

We are commanded to believe because we are capable of a choice to believe; we are capable of a leap to faith.

A leap to faith is necessary if we are to change.

A leap to faith is necessary to experience the mystical.

Go for it.


Bonus material:

This is my desktop image: Marc Chagall’s Three Angels.

I recommend Chagall’s beautiful and mystical art.