“We’ve flown free from their fangs, free of their traps, free as a bird. Their grip is broken; we’re free as a bird in flight” (Ps 124:7 – Message). These words express what I have been experiencing in my soul. Something deep within needs to be released, but seems trapped in the deep caverns of my soul. I have been learning to wait and be open in faith, even in the darkness and confusion.
It has to do with knowing God’s love. It is beyond my knowing and understanding. Many years ago (mid 80’s) I read a book entitled “Christian Mysticism.” In those days I was struggling with the newly found description of the Christian as a contemplative. Following Jesus was more about being than doing. Intimacy with Jesus was the focus rather than achievement or knowledge.
The author, William McNamara, described the mystical experience as, “not the fruit of a direct and systematic effort, but is a gratuitous gift of God. The aim of mystical contemplation is love.” Simply put – a mystic is someone who is in love with Jesus.
McNamara went on to say, “Our human predicament may be described as a mystical or spiritual crisis, a crisis in contemplation. Man’s natural mystical powers are seriously atrophied and must be reactivated. Activity without contemplation is blind. …..Our contemporary preoccupation with knowledge as possession leaves us dying from lack of communion.”
During those days a quote from a catholic theologian, Karl Rahner stayed with me, even though I didn’t fully grasp the meaning. He foresaw, “the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’ one who has experienced ‘something’ or he will cease to be anything at all.” Since those early days, I have come to understand a mystic, in biblical terms, as someone who loves Jesus. My writing this blog is a way of saying, “the bird needs be set from within me” is a contemplative understanding of my journey with Jesus.
I am prompted to write about the contemplative, because of an article by Dale Coulter in First Things, relating our present pandemic to what happened among Christians living through the Black plague, which struck Europe during the middle of the 14th century. The impact of that plague was seen as a warning to Europe of being under the judgment of God. More than 30 percent of the total population of Europe was lost due to the plague.
“During and after this period [black plague]” notes Coulter, “Christianity saw a blossoming of an interior spirituality that had been forged in the reforms of the 12th century. The crucified Christ, was seen as God’s entrance into human suffering. The pain of the ravaged soul turned many to interior prayer as they clung to Jesus, who had been crucified. While the church failed to lead, lay people turned to the simplicity of being a Christ follower. Lay people began to meet in homes for prayer.”
“Medieval writers” observed Coulter, “premised the turn to the interior life on a rejection of the external world. This did not mean denying the goodness of creation ….. [But] as long as humans fixated on created goods, they would not make the ascent back to their true home……a constant outward gaze was simply a failure to reckon with who we are and where we are going.” This turn to the interior life was seen as a movement “from meditation on the self to meditation on Christ and finally to meditation on God revealed in Christ.”
Could it be that in the days to come, men will discover “the contemplative” way with all the suffering, disinformation and hopelessness around us?