Mysticism and Ecstasy – part 2: Heroes and Heretics

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(Ruach HaKodesh, Session 9b)


This episode of the Ruach HaKodesh series is part two of a three-part rabbit trail on the subject of mysticism and ecstasy. Part 1 focused on the debate regarding “ecstatic” experiences described in Scripture. This episode offers a very rough overview of mystical streams within both Judaism and Christianity. The question we need to deal with is this: Does mysticism offer a form of spirituality that we should emulate?

Our brief overview includes a snapshot of four varied examples of Christian mystics: Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471), and Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582). We also briefly mention both Jewish kabbalah and Hassidic mysticism. Mysticism represents a wide swath of beliefs and practices ranging from passionate God-lovers to outright heretics.

Fervour is important, but so is discernment. Mysticism tends to be characterized by the following, to one extent or another:

  • The quest for union with God through contemplation and self-abnegation.
  • Individualism: emphasis on oneself, sometimes at the expense of others.
  • Inwardism: seeking truth/God within oneself rather than outside oneself.
  • Subjectivism: reliance upon subjective experience or revelation.
  • Anti-materialism: denigrating physical needs such as eating, drinking, sleeping, having children, working for a living, etc.

As we will see in part 3, these can be problematic. We should compare the spirituality of the mystics with what the Bible says:

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-6 – “This commandment” is what God wants of us. It is simple: love Him and obey Him.
  • Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – “This commandment” is not obscure or hidden. It does not take years of introspection to find.
  • Micah 6:6-8 – What God desires of us is not navel-gazing in solitude, but acting out God’s righteousness with others and walking humbly with Him.

For an outline of all the sessions in this series, click on this link. To subscribe to this podcast, click here.

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