The Unconventional Life & Truth of a Christian Mystic / Spiritual Meditations

church where the eyes of St. Francis were opened

Often misunderstood as being a sorcerer with psychic powers or cave-dwelling hermit, the Christian mystic is someone who discovers and maintains their communion with God and their brotherhood with Christ through contemplation / meditation / prayer.

Mysticism is not an opinion; it is not a philosophy. It is the name of the organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the love of God: the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of man. Or, if you like it better—this means exactly the same thing—it is the art of establishing a conscious relation with the Absolute: God.

“Whether we live or whether we die, “said Saint Paul “we are the Lords.” The mystic is a realist, to whom these words convey not a dogma but an invitation; an invitation to the soul to attain the fullness of life for which she was made, to “lose herself in that which can be neither seen nor touched”. Mysticism, then, is seen as the way for the awakened spirit of man, healing that human incompleteness, the God-sized hole in our soul. “I am sure,” said Eckhart, “that if a soul knew the least bit of what Being means, it would never turn away from it.” The mystic has never turned away: to do so seems to them a self-destructive act.

Mysticism is seen to be a highly specialized form of that search for reality, for heightened and completed life, which we have found to be a constant characteristic of human consciousness. So strange and exalted is this life that it never fails to provoke anger or the admiration of other men.

Awakening of The Self

The opening of Saint Francis’ eyes, which took place in AD 1206 when he was 24 years old, had been preceded by a long, hard struggle between the life of the world and the persistent call of the spirit. He was a high-spirited boy, full of vitality: a natural artist, with all the fastidiousness which the artistic temperament involves. War and pleasure both attracted him, and upon them, says his legend, he “miserably squandered and wasted his time.” Nevertheless, he was vaguely dissatisfied. In the amidst of festivities, he would have sudden fits of abstraction. He loved beauty, for he was by nature a poet and musician, and shrank instinctively from contact from ugliness and disease. But something within ran counter to this temperamental bias and sometimes conquer it. He would then associate with beggars, tend the leprous, perform impulsive acts of charity and self-humiliation.

When this divided state, described by the legend as “the attempt to flee God’s hand,” had lasted for some years, it happened one day that he was walking in the country outside the gates of Assisi, and past the little Church of S. Damiano.” and being led by the Spirit, he went in to pray; and he fell down before the crucifix in devout supplication. And having been smitten by unexpected visitations, found himself to be another man then when he had gone in.”

Here, then, is the first stage of conversion. When the struggle between two conflicting ideals of life comes to an end. A sudden and apparently “irrational” impulse to some decisive act reaches the surface consciousness from the depths of the soul. The impulse is followed; and the swift emergence of the spirit-filled sense results. This unexpected visitation effects an abrupt and involuntary alteration in the subject’s consciousness: whereby he literally finds himself to be another person. He is as one who has slept and now awakes.

In many conversions to the mystic life the revelation of an external splendor, this shining vision of the transcendent spiritual world, is wholly absent. The self awakens to that which is within, rather than to that which is without: to the present Father not the transcendent God, to the personal Companion not the cosmic Creator.

A never to be ended give-and-take is set up between the individual and God. The Spirit of Life has been born and the first word it learns to say is Abba, Father. So, even at this very beginning, we are active, and deeply and widely alive to the true contemplative life. The awakening of the self to a new and more active plane of being, a new and a more personal relations with the Reality of God; hence to a new and more real work to be done.

Purification Of the Self

However harsh its form, however painful the activities to which it stimulates him, the mystic recognizes in the breakup of his old world an essential part of the Great Work.  The essence of purification says Richard of St. Victor, “is self-simplification.” Nothing can happen until this has preceded a certain distance: till the involved interests and tangled motives of the self are simplified, and the false complications of worldly life are recognized and cast away.


“Blessed are the poor and spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” is the motto of all pilgrims on this road. This includes the utter self-stripping, the casting off of immaterial as well as material wealth, a complete detachment from all finite things. The soul is cleansed from personal desire in all but God, which results in a complete self-abandonment, a “holy indifference” to the accidents of life. The detachment of the mystic is just a restoration to the liberty in which the soul was made; it is a state of joyous humility in which he cries, “nothing I am, nothing I have, nothing I lack.” The various torments constitute this last and drastic purging of the spirit; this doing away of separateness, this annihilation of selfhood. All the self now claims for its own is the love of God.

Illumination of The Self

A harmony is thus set up between the mystic and life with God in all its forms. Undistracted by appearances, he sees, feels, and knows it in one piercing act of loving comprehension. The heart outstrips the clumsy senses, and sees – perhaps for an instant, perhaps for long periods of bliss – an undistorted and more genuine world.

If the Mystic Way is considered an organic process of transcendence, this illuminated understanding of things is surely what we might expect to occur as man moves towards higher God awareness.

It is true, the illuminated mystic may live sweetly; but not, as some think, sedately. Enlightenment is a symptom of growth and growth is a living process, which never ends.  The spirit indeed, is invaded by a heavenly peace, but it is the peace, not of idleness, but of ordered activity.

Introversion: Contemplation

What, in effect, can they (that is, contemplatives) tell us about the knowledge of reality which they attained in their brief communion with the God?

His description will always lean to the impressionistic rather than to the scientific side. He will represent not God but his relationship with God; not an object observed, but an overwhelming impression felt, by the totality of his being during his communion with God.

Mystics do not write for the purpose of passing on a philosophical scheme, but in order to describe something which they have themselves experienced; something which they feel to be of spiritual importance for humanity. They mean this: that God in His absolute reality is unknowable to man’s intellect, which is adapted to other purposes than those of divine intuition. When, under the inducement of mystic love, the whole personality of man comes into contact with that reality, it enters a plane of experience to which none of the categories of the intellect apply. Reason finds itself, in a most actual sense, in the dark. The dimness and lostness of the mind then is a necessary part of the mystic’s ascent to communion with God.

The United Life

To be a mystic is simply to participate here and now in that real and eternal life; in the fullest, deepest sense which is possible to man. It is to share, as a free and conscious agent—not a servant, but a son — in God’s Kingdom on earth; the mighty onward sweep through pain and glory towards home in God. The mystic act of union, the joyous loss of the transfigured self in God, which is the crown of man’s conscious ascent towards the Father, is the contribution of the individual to the destiny of Creation. The mystic is the pioneer of life on its age long voyage to the One: and shows us, in his attainment, the meaning and value of that life.


Those who give themselves to the life of the spirit are brought bit by bit, as they can bear it and respond to it, to the crisis in which all that they have won seems taken away from them; and they are faced by the demand for complete self-surrender, an act of unconditional trust in God. But this is not the end of the story. The self-abandonment to the Cross is a transition from the half-real to the real; it is the surrender of our separate selfhood, even our spiritual selfhood—the last and the most difficult offering of love—so that we may approach the Kingdom’s gate, so hard to find and so humble in appearance. Only those who are generous up to the limit of self-loss can hope to become channels of the generosity of God. And out of this most true and active death to self, the spirit is reborn into the real life: not in some other transcendental world, but in this world, among those who love us and those we love.

You can find further discussion about uniting with God in the following articles:

Are You Listening for God’s Messages?

Living in the Kingdom of God

Are You a Mystic?  Here’s a brief description of characteristics to help you decide.  What Is a Mystic? 15 Signs You Are a Mystic – Insight state

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Relevant Scripture:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:25)

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-23)

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3: 9-11)

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:4)


Essential Writings by Evelyn Underhill

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