||This section addresses three fundamental
questions that have to do with the renewal of the Christian mystical tradition today.
- What is Christian mystical experience or contemplation?
- How does it relate to faith, other spiritual experiences like consolations or visions,
and to the life of prayer as a whole?
- Why did Christian mysticism enter a dark night of neglect and misunderstanding 300 years
ago from which it is still trying to recover?
- 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.
- 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
Mains 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 doesnt appear that many people go by the way of infused
contemplation, but rather are called to go by the way of faith.
- 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.