Richard Rohr on ‘Incarnational Mysticism’

Years ago, someone asked if I could sum up all my teachings in two words. My response was “incarnational mysticism.” The first word, “incarnational,” is Christianity’s specialty and should always be our essential theme. We believe God became incarnate. The early Fathers of the Church professed that God, by taking on human flesh, said yes to all that was physical, material, and earthly. Unfortunately, Christianity lost this full understanding.

Many Christians are scared of the word “mysticism.” But a mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. Mysticism is more represented in John’s Gospel than in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which give us the basic story line of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, the primary reason many are not moved or attracted to John’s Gospel is because they were never taught the mystical mind.

In the early 1960s, Karl Rahner (1904-1984), a German Jesuit who strongly influenced the Second Vatican Council, stated that if Western Christianity does not discover its mystical foundations and roots, we might as well close the doors of the churches. I believe he was right. Without a contemplative mind, we are offering the world no broad seeing, no real alternative consciousness, no new kind of humanity. Jesus was the first clear nondual mystic in the West, in my opinion. We just were not prepared for his way of knowing and loving.

Alan Watts (1915-1973), a British philosopher, put it this way: “From the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way. . . as Jesus himself.” [1]

Watts also writes: “The truth that religion, to be of any use, must be mystical has always been denied by the seemingly large number of people, including theologians, who do not know what mysticism is. . . . Its essence is the consciousness of union with God.” [2] Basically, to experience non-separateness, or nonduality from anything, particularly with God, one must move to the mystical mind. Any other mind—or heart—is utterly inadequate to the task.

Until people have had some mystical, inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand religious beliefs beyond the level of formula. At most, such moral ideals and doctrinal affirmations are only a source of deeper anxiety because we don’t have the power to follow any of Jesus’ major teachings about forgiveness, love of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power, and so on, except in and through radical union with God. Further, doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, and the significance of Incarnation itself have little active power. They are just “believed” at the rational level, but never experienced.

 

 

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Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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