Christian Mystics Seek God in Nature
Last EdenKeeper explored the relationship between Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, and nature. But mysticism isn’t confined only to Judaism. Mystics have been part of the Christian tradition since before Christianity was formalized enough to have official traditions. In other words, since the very infancy of Christianity.
Mystics in Christian History
The emphasis upon a mystical approach to Christianity has waxed and waned over the years, cycling through various attitudes and levels of acceptance. But mysticism has always remained a part of the Christian tradition, though most often taking a quiet, humble place in the background.
A Christian mystic is a lover of God who develops a deep realization that life as a Christian is evolving as the soul moves toward its fullness and destiny in relationship with God. The focus is not the various doctrines of Christianity, which, like those of so many other religions, tend to change with time, culture, individual interpretation, or group perception. And instead of discussing theology or debating doctrine, a Christian mystic will focus on seeking and, in a personal and real way, experiencing God.
In “The Mystics,” Dr. Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff or University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said:
Mystics may be women or men, educated or uneducated, from wealthy or deprived backgrounds. Mystical experiences may be primarily visual or auditory, or so abstract as to elude any verbal formulation. The mystical path may be based either upon developing love or on the growth of the intellect. Mystical experiences can occur spontaneously, unexpectedly, at any time and place; yet many religions endorse ascetic practices and modes of prayer that encourage the development of mystical experience in some people. All traditions seem to agree that mysticism is a special gift, not fully under the control of the recipient.
The Mystic Tradition of Withdrawal into Nature
Nature is a key part of the mystic experience. From the great heroes of Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Moses, to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, to the later European mystics, there is a tradition of withdrawing into nature to seek God.
The withdrawal may be into the wilderness, or to a mountaintop amidst smoke and flashes of lightning, into a cave in the desert, or to a cloistered garden. But the key is to create separation from both the noise and rush of humanity and from the pomp and circumstance of organized religion. Alone on the mountaintop or in the cave or in the garden, the mystic waits, and listens, and communes with God.
As Martin Luther, a Germany monk, Catholic priest, and seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation, said, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
Retreat into Nature, Run Toward God
Even though mysticism is a highly individual and varying experience, rather than a set of tenets that can be organized and emulated, there are certain parallels that flow from one mystic’s experience to another’s. Key among these parallels is the notion of embracing rather than fearing or using nature. Nature is not a thing to avoid, even if you meet it in its fury or in isolation or in fear-inducing uncertainty.
Retreating into nature is not a last resort but a first choice. The picture the mystics give us is of an individual choosing to walk boldly away from manmade comforts and covers. Mystics teach us that the ruts we all fall into endanger us. Perhaps the rut is depending upon an organized system rather than a personal experience. Perhaps it is defaulting to a mindless consumerism instead of a mindful stewardship.
The default, the rut, the way of the masses, is not a means of connecting to God but a road of separation. The more we conform to society, the more difficult it becomes, the mystics seem to say, to connect with God.
Retreating to nature is retreating to the place of an individual standing, not hidden among the masses, but alone before God. The mystic’s choice is to walk boldly into the desert, to sit and wait, confident that the God of each sand particle and mountain flower is willing also to walk forth and meet the one who seeks.
Photo Credit: Tim de Groot
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