Christianity is NOT a Mystical Religion

I think all Christians will agree that Jesus, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity is the Center of the Christian Faith. More than that, I think all Christians will agree that the historical arrival of Jesus on Earth and His mission, passion and resurrection is the central aspect of the faith, and what distinguishes us as Christians from other religions.

Given this fact why are more and more Christians becoming interested in contemplative practice, contemplative prayer and mysticism as the “height” of Christianity?

I am well aware of the high number of saints who were mystics. St. John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, etc.

But it seems to me that this orientation towards mysticism is actually an orientation away from Christ and what He did for us on Earth. It is an orientation away from this world and our brethren, towards spiritual fulfilment for ourselves. It is a retreat into our own selves in many ways.

And while many of Christianity’s mystics would portray mysticism as the apex of Christianity, I think it is merely a diversion.

Salvation is achieved by grace. No amount of contemplative prayer, centering, etc. can bring about contact with God. Contact with God cannot be forced by one’s own will through a series of contemplative activities. Rather it is freely given, when and how God wants.

So aren’t Christians better served by being engaged with their world, regular prayer, and being active in the world, participating in God’s creation? Aren’t Christians better served by staying away from mysticism, which seems to me to be driven by a desire for self-mastery, and a desire to be like God?

In Christianity, if we take away all contemplative practice, we leave the core of the faith unaffected. But take away contemplative practice from, say, Buddhism, and you’ve taken away the whole of the religion.

What do you think?

I don’t think it’s either/or.

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Contact with God cannot be forced by being engaged with the world nor by being active in the world.
Of course contemplative activities, rightly done, are not meant to force contact with God. They are a means to open ourselves to God’s grace.

As @1ke says, it’s not either/or.

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“So aren’t Christians better served by being engaged with their world, regular prayer”

Why do you think contemplative prayer cannot be the same as regular prayer?

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What makes you think that members of contemplative orders - such as the Cistercians, for example - are not engaged with the world; are not participating in God’s creation? Every monastery has a guesthouse, and folk come from far and wide seeking - and finding - guidance, solace, and a strenghtening of their faith; of their ability to put their love of God into practise through good works.

And what is wrong with the desire for self-mastery - the subjugation of that which is harmful to ourselves and others? And what can be better than the desire to be close to God; to be as alike to Him (in our behaviour - loving, merciful, generous etc) as we can possible be?

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And yet, when Jesus tells us how to pray, it certainly doesn’t sound like he is advising contemplative prayer. Matthew 6:5-15:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

So then, this is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be Your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

[For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.

Nor do you find any mention of contemplative prayer, trying to block out the senses and the intellect to reach the Divine Darkness or any such mentions in the Bible. You certainly find them in Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

If contemplative practice is such an essential part of Christianity, such that it is its very apex, why don’t you find it in the Bible?

Because contemplative prayer is focused on blocking out the senses and intellect in order to be in touch with the “divine spark” inside as Meister Eckhart would call it. Essentially, you are blocking out the external world and going into yourself. This is the opposite of coming OUT of yourself and pouring love into the world, isn’t it?

What’s your source for believing that contemplative prayer has to ‘block out the intellect’?
And what is the ‘divine darkness’?

Who told you that contemplative prayer is ‘the very apex’ of Christianity’?
Even if it was, how does that mean we should neglect other things?

And we are not a ‘sola scriptura’ church. A thing may be true even if not mentioned by name in scripture.

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www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeII/MysticalTheology.html

It has been described to be so by many mystics themselves. I’m just claiming that this shouldn’t be so.

Right, I don’t disagree with this, I’m just asking how something as central as this can be enitrely absent from Scripture.

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Since when is trying to get into closer intimacy with God the opposite of loving others?

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Contemplative prayer is a silent love.

Matthew 6

21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

Mark 12

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart , and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

2720 The Church invites the faithful to regular prayer: daily prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the feasts of the liturgical year.
2721 The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart.
2722 Vocal prayer, founded on the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart, following Christ’s example of praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.
2723 Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life.
2724 Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.

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Perhaps your definition of mysticism and mine, and the Church’s, are not in alignment.

Christianity is, indeed, a very mystical religion…we have countless numbers of Christian mystics who have contributed theologically in the past and present, and hopefully in the future.

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In contemplative prayer you are expected to leave behind thoughts, intellect, the senses and all effort. Emotions are also left behind.

So how do you know that the gaze is “fixed on Jesus”?

Furthermore, how do you explain that contemplatives from other faiths (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) are capable of achieving the same contemplative states?

There’s a difference in eastern mysticism and catholic one.

As well as in contemplation.

Sometimes is also good to leave thought behind especially if you think too much and it confuses you. Take a rest.

Not everybody is called to share the love in world. Some people pray for the world. As long as you are with God.

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I’d recommend “Time For God” by Fr Phillipe as an intro to contemplative prayer.

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Read Jn 17 - the prayer of Jesus to HIs Father, on our behalf. See if you cannot hear, in this holy and divine prayer, His will for us:

Joh 17:20 "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,
Joh 17:21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Joh 17:22 The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
Joh 17:23 I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
Joh 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.
Joh 17:25 O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me.
Joh 17:26 I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."

Can you not hear the prayer - the divine will - for the mystical union of believers with the Triune God, for eternity.

Such holy union is not “of this world”, but is of God Personally. This is the path of contemplative prayer - a path of growing union with God.

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You do find it in the bible-- everywhere actually. It is important to read the early church fathers and what they thought the scriptures meant. There are references to contemplative prayer throughout biblical commentary by many of the early church fathers and when they comment on what the scriptures mean it is loaded with references to contemplation.

Don’t forget Peter going into a trance while praying, and don’t forget Jesus telling us to go into our inner room and close our inner door to pray. Frankly, the contemplative state is just the natural level of prayer that happen when one spends enough time with God to run out of things to say but NOT want to stop being with God. Then you just end up enjoying Gods presence without thinking about it and talking to God.

Edit-- also contemplation is a gift from God, not a skill as it is in eastern religions. We do not get good at it, God brings us into it by way of grace. It is for everyone and not the special or the skilled or the advanced. Christian contemplation is grace filled.

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The states of contemplation are NOT the same between Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. There are VERY significant and important differences. They do not enter the same states nor reach the same end.

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OP I think you are misusing the concept of mysticism.
The words sacrament and mystery are related.
God cannot be comprehended fully by human beings, so without mysticism you simply can’t begin to know God.
And as the posters above said, scripture is full of this mystical “signage” pointing to God.

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I think both/and, rather than either/or. While practicality in this life is called for and mysticism can be a distraction perhaps, the ultimate purpose of our faith is real, supernatural contact and communion between the individual and God. And this begins here, in the midst of the mundane.
"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Cor 13: 12

I don’t think we can ever fault wanting to be nearer to God. And I appreciate St Teresa of Avila most, perhaps, because she combined hard work and practicality with her spiritual pursuits like no other: Martha & Mary combined so to speak. Anyway, if it’s our calling, God will make allowances for it to happen, still at His discretion and for His purposes, since we can’t fabricate such experiences ourselves anyway.

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