Is it crystal balls, thinking independently, or something else?
Readership: All; Christians;
Author’s Note: This page is a belated response to a question posed by Alan Roebuck about the series on Gnosticism.
Length: 5,000 words
Reading Time: A very important 20 minutes of your life.
Since at least the 1960s, there has been an increasing interest in Eastern Mysticism. I examined this phenomenon in Hijacking and Misappropriating Eastern Mysticism (2020-1-23). Catacomb Resident states that dark mysticism is making a comeback (2022-1-28), manifested in an explosion of occult studies, witchcraft, and so on. So at this point, I think it is important for me to distinguish Christian Mysticism from other forms of mysticism.
Back in early November (2021), Alan Roebuck asked a question about the series on Gnosticism. He wrote,
“…genuine mysticism awakens a faculty God put in us by design — faith.”
“Very interesting. Can you elaborate on this? My sense has always been that the mystic is a person who has had an overwhelming but entirely personal (and therefore ineffable) experience, which drives him outside the bounds of normal thought and life.”
This certainly agrees with my concept of mysticism, but there’s much more to it. Going outside the bounds of normal thought and life is only the beginning of mysticism. Here, I’ll follow after the series to describe “going outside the bounds” with respect to Gnosticism.
The Mystical Journey of Faith
In The Religion of Gnosticism (2021-10-27), I described how human beings are intrinsically gnostic by default. It is our nature to drink in beauty and pleasure, and to seek identity and meaning through a spiritual connection to the people and things around us. God made us as such. However, the gnostic approach relies on intuition, and denies the sinful nature in an attempt to achieve an idealized human condition apart from Christ. The modern manifestation of Gnosticism adds Platonic reason to the mix as an additional crutch in navigating life. But for most people, this rational approach overshadows all things mystical, and thereby obliterates the last remaining vestiges of one’s awareness of true mysticism.
In the west, Aristotelian logic is accepted as a step away from Gnosticism towards rational thought (and it is), and this is deemed to be superior than the esotericism of Gnosticism. But in fact, Aristotelianism is just another amplification of Gnosticism. Neither approach leads one to the knowledge of God, and both do much to obscure the path.
The vast majority of people never enter into a mystic, gnostic, or rational orientation at all. They prefer to remain comfortably numb, entranced by entertainment, media, social interactions, and the urgent hum drum of daily life. When this isn’t enough, some turn to alcohol, drugs, sex (e.g. fornication, masturbation, pornography), or other addictions to shunt the often painful mystic awareness and the truths that await therein.
In Breaking the Stronghold of Gnosticism (2021-10-29), I described how we must confess our Gnostic tendencies – our frantic grasping to achieve the things of this world — as trial evidence of believing in lies and relinquish our claim to authority over our own lives. For many people, this requires one to come to a state in which one never stands a chance at achieving the thing one desires most. This desperation motivates them to look beyond the natural world and enter into serious introspection.
Once a person gets to this stage of awareness, the focus turns inward to the examination of the self, for this is the junction at which one’s being exists and interacts with reality. Once a person achieves a certain amount of self-knowledge, then the self serves as a vehicle for interpreting the world around him, as well as one’s experience of it.
Christianity enters into the picture at this point. We come to recognize the weaknesses and failures of the self. We confess those things and ask God’s forgiveness, and we begin to take responsibility for our lives. We come to understand our new identity in Christ, how this stands at variance with our previous self-concept, and how God can use us for a larger cause. Christian living then becomes the development of this new identity, and working out the issues involved. As our confidence in our new identity grows, we are inevitably faced with the task of influencing those around us towards a deeper knowledge of God, and we thereby enter into a ministry or a mission of some sort that each individual is particularly suited for.
Personal Statements about Mysticism
My attention was first brought to mysticism while I was reading Ed Hurst’s posts at Radix Fidem in 2018, but he had been writing about mysticism for a long time before that. He defined mysticism simply as holding a non-Aristotelian epistemology, which to the westerner, is fairly accurate. From reading his posts, I discovered that my own approach to Christianity was indeed mystical, and had become more so as I grew older. Before I had learned this descriptor, I would describe my spiritual life as being a continual search for theoretical models of truth that provided real world applications in Christian living. Later in life, I realized that having this rational approach was its own limitation, and this gradually morphed into a search for the discernment of truth. This fully explains why I could seldom get anything out of church, as well as why I found it difficult to connect with other Christians. I was operating on totally different wavelength from churchianity.
Ed Hurst’s Statements on Mysticism
Ed Hurst has a very large body of work about Mysticism from a Christian perspective. By clicking on the link, readers can peruse his writings at their own leisure.
Of note, Ed uses the terms “conviction” and “heart led”, where Charlton (see statements below) uses the terms “primary thinking”, “heart thinking”, “direct knowing”, “mystical thinking”, and “a state of final participation (with the divine)”. Berger (see statements below) uses the terms “heart thinking”, “divine thinking”, and “direct knowing”. All these terms are referring to the idea that one’s ontological consciousness arises from one’s inner being, as opposed to mental cognitions.
Bruce Charlton’s Statements on Mysticism
What is Mysticism?
I would describe myself as ‘a mystic’; despite that I probably strike other people as mundane in the sense that I don’t do anything very noticeably mystical – like meditating in the lotus position, using magical technologies (tarot, astrology etc.) – and I don’t claim to have had anything that would strike other people as spectacular spiritual or religious experiences (like overwhelming visions, near death experiences or striking paranormal events).
This is because I take mysticism to be synonymous with regarding intuitive experience as the bottom line, and a conviction that mystical experiences are intended for the person who experiences them – and not for general public consumption.
I have, like everybody, experienced many everyday miracles, and synchronicities – inspirations and the like. But it is immensely liberating Not to feel I need to convince anybody else that they were spectacular or of general relevance.
One big difference between the mysticism I practice versus that which has become enshrined in the mainstream – is that I strive – for and value conscious experiences in thinking. I neither seek nor much value the usual (so-called) ‘mystical’ state of non-thinking, death-of-the-ego; of being blissed-out/ unaware of time/ convinced of being literally transported elsewhere…
I do not want to be overwhelmed – by something that seems objective and external; nor to have visions that I believe to be real; nor to hear voices speaking to me – telling me things or conversing…
Yet some (most?) definitions of mysticism insist that these are what mysticism is.
For example, that a mystic is unaware of time – more exactly that the mystic perceives that in reality there is no time (‘all time is present’). In total contrast, the mysticism I seek is more like a ‘process’, it is a situation of things happening, a flow of life.
I’ve found that the psychological concept of Flow matches up with the spiritual flow of life. I have described this correlation in several essays.
- Σ Frame (Jack): A Study of Csíkszentmihályi Flow (2017-12-29)
- Σ Frame (Jack): The Blessings of Flow (2018-1-23)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Wisdom, Spiritual Efficiency, and Flow (2018-1-26)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Start Small to Build Internal Locus of Control (2021-10-14)
Mysticism is the Essence of Christianity
In a nutshell, it is a kind of thinking that I regard as a higher state – I have called it primary thinking, heart thinking, and direct knowing – the state of Final Participation; and it simply amounts to a conscious and chosen thinking in the divine way; with and from that which is divine in me; and aligned-with/ in-harmony-with God’s divine motivations and purposes.
It is me, my-self, joining-with God in God’s work. It is therefore a creative state, and not merely a contemplative state. In it I add-to divine creation (I do not merely become aware of it, nor do I immerse in it.)
For me, creativity is what we are meant to do, we are meant to active participants in God’s creation – that for me, is what the mission of Jesus was all about.
Now, it is often said (and by writers I respect) that we ought to be striving to engage in this kind of thinking all the time – and any lapse from it is a failure. The idea is that we are supposed to be primary thinking at every moment, whatever we are doing; and that when we aren’t, it is a lapse and a failure.
But this assumption makes every human life a failure, and a tragedy – since nobody ever has achieved this unbroken continuity of mystical thinking (except for Jesus, in the last three years of his life).
I cannot believe (I mean this literally – I mean the idea is incoherent) that our loving-parents God (who I know, in this state of mystical thinking) created his mortal children on earth to fail.
Indeed, for mortal life to make any sense, for it to have a necessary reason for happening, we cannot regard it as being set-up to attain any kind of perfect, continuous state – since here in mortal earthly life we are ruled by entropy, subject to change/ disease/ degeneration and death.
Jesus’s ministry described by an eye-witness in (only) the Fourth Gospel, is a joyous, not tragic, message – ‘Good News’ indeed. So we ought to realize that Jesus brought a positive gift – and not merely the negation of a negative situation. (As with the doctrine that Jesus came to save us from original sin: i.e. Jesus came to negate a negative deficit.)
And indeed Jesus did bring a positive gift – as repeatedly described in that Gospel: the positive gift of resurrected life eternal in Heaven.
That is the essence of Christianity. Clear and simple.
The Value of Mysticism
Therefore, I am not supposed to be a full-time and permanent Mystic in this life on earth – the evidence for which is that it is impossible. But I am supposed to value mystical thinking above all else, because that is what is on-offer in Heaven.
More exactly (since each person has an individual destiny) anyone like me who knows and values mystical states, is meant to strive for them on the permanent and continuous basis offered only by resurrection into life everlasting.
So – since mystical thinking cannot be done all the time on earth, then we are not meant to do it all the time on earth. But our valuing of mystical thinking is what provides the correct framework for that learning from personal experience that is the main point of continued-living in this mortal life.
We can see immediately that there is a potential problem here; in that we are essentially intended to learn from personal experience – whereas the mainstream modern world supplies us with a merely secondhand and abstract experience.
Indeed, as of 2021; The System does not provide genuine experience, but a form of non-experience.
The System intends that we live abstractly, vicariously, and as guided by The System. This is the opposite and inversion of learning from personal experience.
Mysticism vs. Self-Deception
One thing I used to worry about (and many others worry about – to the point of paralysis) is the matter of self-deception concerning mysticism.
The question of ‘how can I tell?’ when I really am ‘doing’ mystical thinking – or when instead I might be pretending to myself, or engaging in wishful thinking (merely relabeling ordinary mundane and manipulated thinking as ‘mystical’).
But most of this is dealt with when one regards the significance of mystical thinking as being personal rather than public.
Self-deception becomes a problem among actual or would-be spiritual leaders, people trying to get power, make money, gain status, influence people, make-a-better-world, heal people, create or administer a movement/ cult/ institution/ religions (etc.) from their own spirituality.
All such objectification seems to create self-deception. Even great mystical thinkers such as Rudolf Steiner fell (deeply) into this trap of self-deception by striving for objectification, abstraction, generalization…
But intrinsically, it is not difficult to know when one is, or is not, engaged in mystical thinking.
The state is self-validating – as must be intuition in general. That is what intuition must be – if it is to serve as the bottom line.
The Purpose of Mysticism
We need to assume that there is a divine self in us.
And we must further assume that when our consciousness, our awareness, is motivated by Love; then conscious awareness can know the divine self.
It is Love that distinguishes divine-thinking from any other kind of thinking. We can therefore consciously know when we are (here and now) thinking mystically, from our divine self; and when we are not.
That’s all there is to it. That is direct knowing.
The fact that it is based in the motivation of love is exactly why mysticism fails when made objective, when the attempt is to harness mystical thinking for ‘use’ in this mortal world.
We do not love The World; love is not abstract – indeed we love only some, specific beings – sometimes a person loves only one being.
That defines the scope of mystical thinking. One can think mystically only about that which is loved.
Love must come first. So we cannot ‘use’ mystical thinking by a forced application of love to that which we merely wish to know!
(Lack of real love is where public mystics go badly wrong. The give-away is that they always claim to have a lot of love, for a lot of people. The engage in a lot of promiscuous love-talk… They try to operationalize love, by equating it with some kind of ‘altruistic’ or sacrificial action. Doing so, they are trying to control love; which manipulation is intrinsically putting second that which must be first. Abstract, generalized loving is a snare – and a lie.)
[End of Charlton’s essay.]
Francis Berger’s Statements on Mysticism
Francis Berger wrote a response to Bruce Charlton’s essay, Is It Time For Christians To Become “Mystical”? (2021-4-11). [Subtitles and commentary in blue font mine.]
Mysticism is Misunderstood
In my experience, nothing sends Christians – or even secular atheists for that matter – running for the exits faster than the mention of “mysticism.”
The negative reaction is somewhat understandable. After all, “mystical” things have a tendency to come off sounding bizarrely esoteric, incomprehensibly strange, painfully embarrassing, or downright silly. Though I believe in the supernatural, I personally harbor an aversion to “mystical” things myself.
Having said that, I will come right out and say that I firmly believe the future of Christianity, nay the future of humanity, depends on the successful unfolding of mysticism. Not an exciting but otherwise cringe-inducing sacred-crystal, chanting- shaman, energy-field, time-travel, astral-projection, fortune-telling kind of mysticism, but an equally exciting though admittedly less decorative form of mysticism rooted in thinking.
On the subject of thinking, Bruce Charlton has written an excellent post on the importance of primary thinking, which could also be termed heart thinking, divine thinking, or direct knowing.
Dr. Charlton calls this “mysticism”, but immediately makes the effort to explain that this does not entail “meditating in the lotus position, using magical technologies (tarot, astrology, etc.); nor does it require “spectacular spiritual or religious experiences (like overwhelming visions, near death experiences or striking paranormal events)”, but rather:
“In a nutshell, it is a kind of thinking that I regard as a higher state – I have called it primary thinking, heart thinking, and direct knowing – the state of Final Participation; and it simply amounts to a conscious and chosen thinking in the divine way; with and from that which is divine in me; and aligned with/in-harmony-with God’s divine motivations and purposes.
It is me, my-self, joining with God in God’s work. It is therefore a creative state, and not merely a contemplative state. In it I add to divine creation (I do not mean merely become aware of it, nor do I immerse in it).
For me, creativity is what we are meant to do, we are meant to be active participants in God’s creation – that for me, is what the mission of Jesus was all about.”
This matches my own intuitive understanding of what Christianity is meant to do and what we are meant to be doing within Christianity in this time and place – especially in this time and place.
At first glance, what Dr. Charlton presents hardly seems like mysticism at all. On top of that, thinking in the divine way does not appear to qualify as “doing.” After all, thinking is thinking and doing and doing, so how could harmonizing the thoughts from my deepest, innermost self with God and creation possibly be considered a form of “doing.”
What, if anything, is actually being “done”?
What Dr. Charlton explains above is likely to strike most as little more than “wishful thinking” – and therein lies the crux of the problem.
Though the resistance Christians experience when they encounter ideas like primary thinking is somewhat understandable, it does not excuse the fact that the bulk of this resistance likely does not stem from their deepest, innermost being – what Dr. Charlton calls the divine self.
Resistance to the kind of mysticism Dr. Charlton espouses also tends to originate from the misguided belief that primary thinking and other “mystical” aspects of Christianity are not really Christianity at all but thinly-veiled anti-Christian heresies. As such, the mere mention of creativity or direct knowing or primary thinking is enough to inspire “fear and trembling” in the hearts of most conventional Christians.
Furthermore, I believe a great deal of the opposition to “mystical” aspects of Christianity like direct knowing and creativity are rooted in a limited understanding of the mission of Jesus, which is commonly restricted to salvation and willfully blind to aspect of theosis.
Nikolai Berdyaev addresses this point quite lucidly in his The Meaning of the Creative Act:
“Salvation from sin, from perdition, is not the final purpose of religious life: salvation is always from something and life should be for something. Many things unnecessary for salvation are needed for the very purpose for which salvation is necessary – for the creative upsurge of being. Man’s chief end is not to be saved, but to mount up, creatively.”
The “mystical” aspect of Christianity resides in this for, and as far as I can tell, this for aspect of Christ’s mission remains a source of great doubt, uncertainty, and yes, even fear, among Christians.
And for the life of me I cannot understand why.
It seems as if Christians cannot bring themselves to accept that Christianity depends on a shift in consciousness; that is, on a shift in how we think about, understand, and relate to God, ourselves, and others.
Perhaps they believe this sort of shift is inherently sinful. Perhaps they believe it is unattainable. Perhaps they fear it will lead them astray and lead them into some tangled thicket of progressivism. Whatever the case, a great many Christians hold nothing but reservations when it comes to anything involving the kind of “mystical” thinking Dr. Charlton and other thinkers such as Steiner, Barfield, and Berdyaev have outlined.
NovaSeeker wrote an essay entitled, Anglo Femlightenment (2021-4-12) that offers an abridged explanation of why the Enlightenment hit the English speaking world particularly hard and with consequences that have endured to the present day.
The reason the average person is skeptical, even fearful of the concept of mysticism, is because it is a sheer break away from feminism, materialism, individualism, democracy, equality, and every other fomentation of the Enlightenment that has been shoved in their ears ever since they entered public school at the age of 6. There is absolutely nothing about mysticism that would ring any bells of familiarity or offer any kind of personal identification that they could identify with through past experience.
And this is precisely why mysticism is needed, even necessary, in order to break out of the downward spiral.
The Neglect of Mysticism explains the Apparent Silence of God
Like the Christians in Dostoevsky’s Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, modern Christians appear unwilling or incapable of accepting the “mystical” gift of spiritual freedom Christ offers. At the same time, I have encountered many modern Christians who – in light of everything that has transpired since the successful birdemic coup of 2020 – sadly lament about the apparent unresponsiveness of God.
Though I empathize with the frustration and disappointment such Christians have no doubt endured over the past year or more, I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated and disappointed by their apparent lack of interest in exploring the possible reasons behind God’s seeming unresponsiveness. It rarely, if ever, occurs to them that God’s unresponsiveness might have nothing to do with God and everything to do with them; more specifically, with their attempts to communicate with God; that God’s silence may be a sign of wisdom and patience rather than of neglect and indifference.
In a post from last year, I suggested God’s apparent unresponsiveness to conventional forms of divine communication may in fact be God’s way of prompting Christians to reconsider their manner of communication:
“I believe God is our loving father, and that he desires what is best for his children. Like all loving fathers, God wants his children to grow up and mature.
This entails different approaches to and different levels of communication. God has taken this step forward; we in turn, have not.
Put another way, God is trying to talk to us like adults, but we continue to talk and listen to him like adolescents (and fairly apathetic adolescents at that).
God will respond to us once we understand how we should begin responding to him. Part of responding to him as adults must contain an element of understanding our role as Co-Creators.
According to Berdyaev, the next step in Christianity involves not only Man discovering himself in God, but also God discovering Himself in Man. This type of discovery necessitates a new, unprecedented form of co-respondence.
It includes viewing God from an entirely new perspective – not as some distant, autocratic ruler one must obsequiously and blindly tremble before and obey, but a relatable friend and partner one can love and work cooperatively with, in the same manner an adult son or daughter can love and work cooperatively with a loving parent.
The co-creation Berdyaev speaks of involves a recognition of our latent spiritual creativity. This creativity is not the same as or equal to God’s, but serves to complement it. By the same token, God’s creativity is not the same as Man’s, but God’s creativity alone no longer appears sufficient.
God is not responding to us because our communications with him are not creative. God will respond to us fully the moment we begin creatively communicating with Him.
Once we learn to do that, we become Co-Creators. Our creative spirituality will become enhanced through God, and God’s creative spirituality will become enhanced through us.
The new co-respondence involves a fortifying and enhancement of both God and Man, a fortification and enhancement that can occur only when we understand our creative role.”
This is an excellent explanation of why, in so many people’s minds, God seems distant or uninvolved in human affairs. It’s not because he is apathetic or unresponsive, but rather because people have neglected, rejected, and/or forgotten how to connect with God through mystical meditation.
In my mind, the form of “mysticism” Dr. Charlton describes is key to the kind of communication to which God will respond – a form of mysticism rooted in a change about how we think about, understand, and relate to God, ourselves, and others. Moreover, this form of “mysticism”, this shift in consciousness is supported by the Fourth Gospel and by many religious thinkers including Steiner, Barfield, and Berdyaev.
Mysticism Invokes a Shift in Consciousness
Concerning this shift in consciousness, Berdyaev offers the following in Freedom and Slavery:
“We are entering an epoch of new spirituality that will correspond to the new form of mysticism. It will no longer be possible to argue against a heightened spiritual and mystical life that human nature is sinful and that sin must first be overcome. A heightened spiritual and mystical life is the road to victory over sin. And the world is entering a catastrophic period of choice and division, when these will be required of all Christians, an uplifting and intensification of their inner lives.
The external, everyday, moderate Christianity is breaking up. But eternal, inward, mystical Christianity is becoming better established. And within mysticism itself a ‘paraclete’ type is beginning to predominate. The epoch of new spirituality in Christianity can only be an epoch of a great and hitherto unheard of manifestation of the Holy Spirit.”
Berdyaev’s encapsulation of ‘a heightened spiritual and mystical life’ resides in his idea of creativity and the creative act, which mirrors the “creative state” Dr. Charlton describes at the beginning of this post.
In essence, creativity occurs when we are able to access our innermost selves – the spiritual, divine core that lays nestled in each and every one of us. During such times, our thoughts align and are in harmony with God. We realize we are not passive cogs in a meaningless machine doomed to entropy, but active creators who are able to not only influence, but actually manifest creation in this time and in time yet-to-come.
Berdyaev refers to this as the divine-human revelation – “the crowning of the mystical dialectic of the divine and the human” – and states it will not only provide a new revelation of God to man, but also a new revelation of man to God. In The Destiny of Man, Berdyaev emphasizes the role of consciousness in this revelation:
“The opening of a new epoch of the Spirit, which will include higher achievements of spirituality, presupposes a radical change and a new orientation in human consciousness. This will be a revolution of consciousness which hitherto has been considered something static. The religion of man’s maturity, leaving behind him his childhood and adolescence.”
In a nutshell, a great deal of the “mysticism” Dr. Charlton describes via his explanations of primary thinking, direct knowing, heart thinking, and creativity amounts to discovering how to communicate with God in a manner through which we fully experience God’s responses to our communications.
Mysticism is Ultimately Personal
I believe this “mystical” aspect of Christianity is crucial here and now, particularly because a great many Christians in this time and place feel let down by their churches or feel God may have abandoned them or has become unresponsive to their prayers.
But this “mystical” aspect of Christianity cannot be forced or compelled. Each Christian is free to explore it according to his or her own individual circumstances and situation. By the same token, each Christian is also free to reject the “mysticism” of creativity, direct knowing, or heart thinking, but before doing so, each Christian should – at the very least – entertain the possibility that the “mysticism” Dr. Charlton outlines may actually be a positive way forward.
At the same time, traditionally-minded Christians who attend church and participate in conventional forms of Christianity should not consider creativity and primary thinking as being diametrically-opposed to their current practices. If anything, I humbly suggest they give the “mystical” approach described in this post “a try” and maintain it as supplementary to their current practices.
When all is said and done, the “mystical” aspect of Christianity can be roughly boiled down to intuition – to thinking from oneself rather than for oneself (H/T to Kevin McCall at No Longer Reading for this phrase). Needless to say, the from in this case refers to our deepest, innermost selves – our divine core; from that which makes us all a son or daughter of God.
I, for one, do not find anything fear-inducing, silly, cringe-worthy, or potentially heretical in that at all.
Note added: Creativity or primary thinking is not a substitute for salvation, but builds upon salvation. In this sense, salvation is primary and must come first.
Further note added: I have, presumably, not done justice to Dr. Charlton’s many insights into primary thinking, final participation, and heart thinking, and suggest visiting his site and keyword searching these terms at his blog.
[End of Berger’s essay.]
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Dissemination and Dissolution (2020-11-7)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Anti-Progressive (2020-11-16)
- Σ Frame (Jack): The Relinquished Life (2021-3-8)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Viewpoints on Man’s Confusion about How God Works in the Life of a Believer (2021-3-29)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Anglo Femlightenment (2021-4-12)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Juxtaposing the Temporal and the Eternal (2021-4-26)
- Bruce Charlton: Creativity and Christianity – in Traditional compared with Romantic Christianity (2021-4-30)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): The Noetic Nose Knows (2021-9-6)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Developing Discernment (2021-9-27)
- Σ Frame (NovaSeeker): Is a second Dark Ages a real possibility? (2021-10-25)
- Σ Frame (Jack): The Religion of Gnosticism (2021-10-27)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Identifying Your Spiritual Domain (2021-12-1)
- Bruce Charlton: The metaphysics of mysticism – a vital consideration (2022-3-4)