A Pull To The Mystical Side Of Christianity

Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great
Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great

A few days ago I admitted my desire to listen to the song of the Sirens of Doing…the song that takes one heart and pulls it into the active world of busyness. At some level, everyone struggles with listening to their song as it courses through our culture like the Mighty Mississippi runs through our nation.

Some are able to sit on its shores and causally fish for a while before walking away into the stillness of the woods. Others, like me, long to float the river of busyness thinking that they can tame the rapids and wilds of the coursing waves. It is a strong desire that is on one hand a blessing while being a curse in the other hand.

The one thing that keeps me sane and anchored to the shore of calmness is an equally strong pull to the mystical side of Christianity. For those unfamiliar with that term or its association with Christianity, let me assure you that it is a good thing and not a snare of the evil one. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “mystical” in the following manner:

  • having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence
  • of or relating to mystics or mysticism : resulting from prayer or deep thought

Throughout the history of Christianity (and Judaism before that) there have been followers of Jesus who have basked in the mystery of God without trying to define or explain everything they saw, felt or hear. Some of these Mystics followed Antony the Great into the starry skies of the desert away from the river of busyness and the cry of the Sirens of Doing. Yet in doing so, one wonders whether or not they forsook the mission of the King to proclaim His rule and reign…

The anchor and the river… the tension of the song and the breath of the wind…..living between two worlds…..doing and being…understanding and mystery…..

To bring these two worlds together….to join the doing with the being… the contemplative with the mission….it is a hard tension to maintain…yet it has been done before by the Celtic monks of old who not only had their beehive caves but also their monasteries close to the local villages – becoming the hospital and anchor of the people, drawing them away from the Sirens song….

This past week as I’ve fought the Siren’s song I couldn’t help but think about the future and what I would like my legacy to be…to be known as a pastor who started a big church that touches a lot of lives? As the man who worked his way up the corporate letter, giving away his money and time to the church? As a pastor who started this and that ministry/church? The mystic who sought God through the mystery?

Good things all of them….all powerful legacies to leave behind …but do they fit me and the call that the Lord has given me?  At the moment I don’t have an answer…just lots of questions…perhaps that’s why I’m on Sabbatical?! =P

In ending, I would like to leave you all with a quote from Eugene Peterson as his writings have influenced my life and ministry style these last few years:

[box]“Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading Scriptures, and giving spiritual direction. Besides being basic, these three acts are quiet. They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to. In the clamorous world of pastoral work nobody yells at us to engage in these acts. It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them. Since almost never does anyone notice whether we do these things or not, and only occasionally does someone ask that we do them, these three acts of ministry suffer widespread neglect.

“The three areas constitute acts of attention: prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading Scripture in an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment.”

-Eugene Peterson, “Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity” [/box]