Saturday, April 29, 2017

Christian Mysticism: The Why, The How, And The Good Feelings

Just as the Enneagram implies that people are born with a dominant personality type, people are also born with varying degrees of proclivity to mysticism and contemplation.  If we take an honest look at people we know and people we have met over the years, we can easily admit this is true.  I do not wish to break down personality types in percentages to describe this, though there are those engaged in this heart-wrenching task of trying to quantify what are ultimately aspects of God.  Nevertheless, some are born more inclined to mysticism than others.  Is that why some Christians are drawn to contemplative spirituality more than others?  Does it really matter why people are born as they are?
Buddhists and Hindus ascribe some of the answer to various cycles of death, birth, and karma.  Others simply honor the tried-and-true platitude, "The Lord works in mysterious ways."  I'm inclined to think the why of many questions don't matter as much as we tend to think.
It is more rewarding to, at least in a practical sense, to ask how instead of why to most questions, whether we are talking about technology or spiritual growth.  This confusion of interrogatives has arguably been the primary problem of Western Religion.  
But for the sake of our mission, here at Contemplative Light:
1. Our coaching, courses, and much of our content answers the question: How do I get closer to God?
2. We don't usually focus too much on "the why," but I will now offer one possible answer to the why aspect of the question.
Question: Why do we want to get closer to God?
Answer: Because it feels good.
No, that's not the best answer, but it's what possible answer, or, one possible motivation for seeking a deeper connection to the Creator. Sure, the best answwer is possibly St. John of the Cross's mantra, For God's Sake Alone, but a secondary benefit is that we tend to be healthier and feel better.  It's unfortunate we as Christians have been slow to give ourselves permission to couch our spiritual aspirations in terms of pleasure.  If we share a certain ecumenical guilt (and I believe it is an unhealthy guilt), then it is perhaps this shame in allowing ourselves to revel in feeling pleasure.  While it's true that the pursuit of pleasure can lead to dreadfully toxic and destructive behavior, it is important here to make a key distinction.  Feeling pleasure isn't the problem; attaching our pleasure to toxic sinful worldly things is the problem.  The emotional muscle that feels pleasure is the same emotional muscle that feels all of our feelings.  A strong emotional muscle can feel through pain until the point that it becomes pleasure.  For this reason, saints like Therese of Lisieux and Julian of Norwich have converted the pain of fatal illness into a pathway for transcendence and ultimately, divine union.  The question, then, to ask ourselves is: are we giving ourselves permission to pursue healthy pleasures, or are we damning ourselves prematurely?
[A great commentary on both the attachment of desire/pleasure and the emotional muscle that feels things fully can be found in the book of Gerald May and Eckhart Tolle, respectively.]