The Mystical Experience
The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. [St. Teresa of Ávila].
Our ultimate spiritual goal as human beings consists of entering, during our life, into an intimate communion with the Divine Presence. Longing to break away from earthly existence into a relationship with the Divine is a natural component of life, as natural as our desire to reproduce.
Religions surround mystical experiences, Divine encounters and similar phenomena with esoteric symbolism that describes but rarely defines or explains. Nevertheless, the common thread of these experiences is the spiritual humility they produce.
A genuine mystical experience is always is incomprehensible and humbling. It is too profound for the overwhelmed mind to attempt to grasp.
Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God. Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have. [John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ch.1.3].
Our compulsive desire for survival depends on satisfying basic life functions. We manifest the mentality of an addict when it comes to such activities as eating, sleeping, warmth, etc. We have to get a dose or we are at a loss.
Such normal addictions come as part of human existence. We accept them as natural components of life. Of course, we distinguish such healthy needs from abusive dependence on narcotics and from self-destructive behaviors.
After an authentic God experience, our lives are tinged with perpetual dissatisfaction. Nothing can totally satisfy us—not the church, our relationships, our country, our job, or ourselves. No matter who is president, popular, or pope, we’ll be unhappy. Ordinary life will never again be good enough, and yet strangely it is more than enough…. [We’ve] been touched by something we could never be ready for, something we cannot endure yet—still, we want more! [Richard Rohr, On the Threshold of Transformation, p.355].
A mystical experience is a moment in life when the emotion of Divine awareness peaks. A single experience can provide such joy that the soul is forever addicted to its delights.
Yet the amazing experiences of the mystics leave a permanent residue, a God-subdued, a God-possessed will. States of consciousness are fluctuating. The vision fades. But holy and listening and alert obedience remains, as the core and kernel of a God-intoxicated life, as the abiding pattern of sober, workaday living. [Thomas R. Kelly, Holy Obedience].
As with most natural events occurring within the normal course of existence, mystical experiences are beyond our physical control. They are not subject to willful repetition. No experimental procedures can verify them. The very nature of a mystical experience depends on extraordinary circumstances, far beyond artificial contrivance.
I do not at all regard mystical experience as an illusion. I think it shows that there is a way to go, before death, out of what may be called “this world”—out of the stage set. Out of this; but into what? … The lawfulness, safety, and utility of the mystical voyage depends not at all on its being mystical—that is, on its being a departure
— but on the motives, skill, and constancy of the voyager, and on the grace of God . [C. S. Lewis, Joyful Christian, p. 101].
The involuntary nature of the mystical experience further underscores our inadequacy before the Divine. All one can do is pray that God again bestows this gift
Though the mystical experience may be enjoyed while wholly conscious, rational understanding is not within reach. Such moments are immune to intellectual scrutiny. . This reinforces our humility and reminds us that only God’s mercy and beneficence can fulfill our yearning.
Without warning, the presence of God would enfold me in a dramatic and convincing way. This was not at all like a vision—but I think it’s called a “mystical experience.” The soul feels suspended outside itself. Love is active, but memory is vacant. The intellect is not lost, but it ceases activity, dumbfounded by the depth of its sudden understanding. God seems to want the mind to know that it is not responsible for this insight. [Teresa of Avila].
A mystical experience cannot be easily characterized. The personal descriptions by mystics of their own experiences are varied and unique.
Many mystical moments may come, but each is uniquely different. They are subjective and are not available to all in the same form.
When we have stripped off those features which some mystics accept and others reject … what do we find as the necessary, abiding and essential character of all true mystical experience? … [T]he central fact of the mystic’s experience … is an overwhelming consciousness of God, and of his own soul: a consciousness which absorbs or eclipses all other centres of interest. [Evelyn Underhill, The Essentials of Mysticism].
Our spiritual addiction is one of fear and of hope, reflecting piety and submission, gratitude and penance. Our hunger is satisfied only when our longing finds rest in Divine communion.
. . . his soul was caught up in ecstasy, whether in the body or out of the body, and he saw and heard what no tongue can tell. It was without form or mode, and yet it contained within itself the entrancing delightfulness of all forms and modes. His heart was athirst, and yet satisfied; his mind was joyous and blooming; wishes were stilled in him, and desires had departed. He did but gaze fixedly on the dazzling effulgence, in which he found oblivion of himself and all things. [Henry Suso].
We cannot share our ecstatic moments, even when in the company of others who have had similar mystical experiences. When we are thirsty, no one can drink for us, nor can anyone else appreciate the satisfaction of quenching our thirst.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man —whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. [2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NIV)].
God has a purpose for us. We can, at times, perceive it clearly through the window of mystical experience. We momentarily return to our Source, and our will coincides with the Divine Will. Our mind and body remain grounded in worldly reality, while our soul contemplates God.
Glory to (God) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things ). [Quran 17:1].
- Amplifying the Divine Silence: Mystical Echoes from a Pious Heart
- Hunger for God: Satisfying the Spiritual Appetite of the Soul