Exploring Christian Mysticism
An Orientation to This Section

This section addresses three fundamental questions that have to do with the renewal of the Christian mystical tradition today.
  1. What is Christian mystical experience or contemplation?
  2. How does it relate to faith, other spiritual experiences like consolations or visions, and to the life of prayer as a whole?
  3. Why did Christian mysticism enter a dark night of neglect and misunderstanding 300 years ago from which it is still trying to recover?

Our approach:

  1. Christian mystical experience is identical to what has been called infused contemplation, an actual experience of the loving presence of God. This is quite different from the kind of prayer we can do with our own efforts, even if they are in the form of simplified and more "contemplative" types of prayer. We take John of the Cross as our guide for understanding this kind of infused contemplation, especially in his description of how people go from ordinary forms of prayer to contemplation.
  2. This infused contemplation takes place by faith animated by love in a special way. It is not the same as spiritual experiences, consolations, visions and revelations, kundalini-like experiences, enlightenment-type experiences, etc. It is not the same kinds of "contemplative prayer" we can do ourselves like centering prayer, John Main’s Christian meditation, etc. If we confuse it with those other kinds of exercises, we run the risk of side-tracking ourselves in our quest for a deeper life of prayer. At the same time, it doesn’t appear that many people go by the way of infused contemplation, but rather are called to go by the way of faith.
  3. John of the Cross, together with Teresa of Avila, were responsible for a wide-spread renewal of interest in contemplative prayer at the beginning of the 17th century. But by the end of the century darkness and discouragement fell on this wide-spread interest in contemplation. To discover why this happened is important because it could help us avoid the same mistakes today.