How is your Lent going? Have you become a mystic yet? That question is not meant to be funny but rather a serious inquiry about the state of your faith.
Let me explain. The great 20th century theologian, Karl Rahner, who died in 1984, is often remembered for his words about the Christian experience. He said: “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all”. On another occasion he said: “knowing God is more important than knowing about God”. In saying this he was echoing the great St Thomas Aquinas who, at the end of his life, is reputed to have said that all his wonderful writings were as nothing compared with simply Knowing God.
Let’s just pause for a moment and consider Rahner’s few words, that in the days ahead we will be mystics or nothing at all. It certainly is an interesting thought for us on our Lenten pilgrimage. I must say, I have never thought of myself as a mystic! But then, the NT calls followers of Jesus, Saints!
There are countless books and articles telling us what we might know about God. But what about KNOWING GOD instead of knowing ABOUT GOD?
It’s no secret that knowing a person is essentially different from knowing about a person. It suggests an intimacy that goes beyond factual detail, it suggests something much deeper, something more dependable, more trusting, something of real substance.
So maybe there is one more question we might usefully ponder in these remaining weeks of Lent. Have we at some stage in this past year touched on something of the reality of God in our lives and the lives of others?
There is a real sense in which this past year has been one long Lent. We have had more time than usual to reflect on where we are on life’s pilgrimage and where we would like to be. During this time we have witnessed many countless acts of selfless caring, when the question of personal benefit has not arisen. The gifts of time and skill of so many have been given day after day, a generous example that has been of benefit to us all. Indeed, there is much that we have learned from our recent experience, about our interdependence and frailty, about the goodness of family and friends, about human inventiveness when faced with difficulty. In so many different ways all these actions have been examples of the presence of the Unseen God.
However, I would suggest that if there is one thing we all have in common at present it is the need to change, to make a fresh start. I think this aspiration to change is of fundamental importance and will continue to influence our lives long after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.
Maybe in the end this is what Lent is all about: having that desire for change, of not being content with standing still, always looking for the opportunity to move on, being willing to take the risk of treading on new ground, even if the sign-posting is not all that clear. The mystic is someone who looks forward to each new day as a new beginning, a different adventure, something to be explored and enjoyed. It is easy to talk about God; much more difficult – and certainly more rewarding – to experience God in our lives. Each day is God’s gift to us.
I came across the following passage the other day which beautifully sums up all I have been trying to say and more.
“I think God wakes up every day and has a whole new world to show us. I want to be alive at every moment to see, notice, taste, enjoy, be amazed, be surprised at what God shows me during all those hours.”
There you have it. That’s what these fancy terms like ‘mystic’ and ‘saint’ really mean: finding and getting to know God in the ordinary daily experience of living.
Rahner was right. We are either mystics or nothing at all.
Wishing you all many mystical experiences in the coming weeks!