Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019.06.09 Who Is a Mystic?

Most people would say “Not me!”

Pentecost is the wildest, freest, most voluminous occasion and season of all seasons spiritual. It marks the biblical story of Creation’s awareness of the presence of a Holy Spirit that powers, let’s say, divine activism. GO! She travels far and wide, probing the depths and sowing seeds of hope, healing, and divine Goodness and Love. She/He is gender-free and bright green, passionate red, eye-popping gold and blue-all-over—a genuine Mystic, wisely irrational. 

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes about the Kabbalah Jewish mystical tradition:  “I think what our generation seems to be living through is the realization that rationalism is only part of the answer. I think, I’m not the first one to notice this, that Auschwitz and Hiroshima were perfectly rational decisions. So there’s this sense that religion has to be more than rationalism. Any mysticism offers—it says, sort of like in the corner, ‘Psst, hey kid how would you like a direct experience of the divine? Would that help your religious life?’ A lot of people discover that they’re mystics after all when they’re given that offer.” 

Rabbi Kushner’s definition of a mystic: “A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I like that definition better than the one that insists on a direct experience of the divine—not because it is more rational, far from it, but because it makes room for the immanence of the transcendent—the divine within us, encouraging and empowering us to trust that hidden unity.

Kushner is a long time student of the Kabbalah. He was influenced by a Jewish historical figure named Gershom Scholem (1918-1982). Gershom rescued this tradition from obscurity.  The spirit of Kabbalah wraps teachings in teachings, wisdom in wisdom, life within life—analogically, like a Torah scroll wraps round itself. Kushner is the Emanu-El scholar at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and the author of many books.
As a young child I experienced an invisible, inaudible, listening Presence I called God. I chattered. God listened. I learned that I mattered. You could say my words wrapped within The Word. I erred and strayed, but I never forgot the mark that experience left on me. It left me with that “gnawing suspicion” Kushner described: Good lies concealed in any chaos.

Every morning about 4 a.m., the birds begin their day-song before day breaks. They are natural anticipatory mystics, sensing, trusting, and proclaiming the light before it comes. Seeds planted in fertile soil do the same. Tree roots are the same: they hide under layers of concrete sidewalk, yet they push through and grow! GO. So also for tiny seeds of kindness planted in trusting desperate souls. Lions know when to leap and monkeys when to race up trees. GO! Jesus knew when to shut up and when to GO!

In the Old Testament, God spoke directly to prophets who conveyed divine messages—mostly about ways people can help God by listening and looking, especially in the darkest corners of misery to see where God needed help to create life anew. Imitate God, they said. Imitate Jesus the Christ, Christians say. Imitate Holy Spirit! GO!

When the prophetic tradition died out, people feared there would be no more direct Voice of God. Would God be silent? No. God continued to communicate in a new way called the bath qol.  It means “the daughter of a voice”—not inferior to what prophets experienced but more inward/subjective, far-reaching. For Christians, this voice is carried by the Holy Spirit. It is what Jesus heard within himself at his baptism: You are my son, the beloved. GO!

I have heard this bath qol seven times in my life, mostly posing challenging questions, such as what in the world are you thinking of here? These queries were personal wakeup calls for subjective clarity. 

BUT twice, God’s bath qol was more direct.
    -I was in deep distress after being turned down in the ordination process. I had run out of words completely, maybe like Jonah sitting dejectedly under the sheltering plant God provided and Jonah failed to appreciate. Or Elijah sitting outside his cave in misery. Both discerned the bath qol telling them: GO! This is the same voice Mary Magdalene felt within her vision at the empty tomb of grief. GO! To me God said: “No one can take this away from you, Lyn.” This stark truth was confrontive not comforting.  I heard: GO! 
    -And once again when I was fretting about ordination, Godde’s bath qol said:“Lyn I don’t care if you’re ordained.” How rude. I got it. GO! I kept going, unresolved.

Do such experiences make me a mystic?  I don’t know. But I can tell you that I do have the annoying tendency Kushner identified as mystical: "the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I say “annoying” in part because this tendency annoys my empirical beloved husband who accuses me of missing the obvious ingredients that make things look impossible. I do miss them, but that’s often because I trust there’s something unitive, transformative, gloriously hidden, and emergent—if I can only trust the long slow work of God and my own grit to GO— no matter what.

In sum, I bet there are more mystics in this world than not—a few are clothed in human flesh.