Mysticism and Ecstasy – part 2: Heroes and HereticsMay 23, 2018
(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.