All of these words describe mystical moments: enlargement, connection or union, and emancipation. You may not use the same words, but on a practical level mysticism is experienced as a new capacity and a new desire to love. And you wonder where it comes from. Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love some new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I even find my thoughts are more immediately loving.
Clearly, you are participating in a love that’s being given to you. You are not creating this. You are not generating this. It is being generated through you and in you and for you. You are participating in something larger than yourself, and you are just allowing it and trusting it for the pure gift that it is…
After the first levels of enlargement, connection or union, and some degree of emancipation, mystical experiences lead to a kind of foundational optimism or hope. It catches you by surprise, especially in the middle of all these terrible things that are happening in the world. Hope is not logical, but a participation in the very life of God (just like faith and love).
Mystical experiences also lead to a sense of safety. Anybody who has ever loved you well or has felt loved by you always feels safe. If you can’t feel safe with a person, you can’t feel loved by them. You can’t trust their love. If, in the presence of God, you don’t feel safe, then I don’t think it’s God—it’s something else. It’s the god that is not God. It’s probably what Meister Eckhart is referring to when he says, “I pray God to free me from God.” He means that the God we all begin with is necessarily a partial God, an imitation God, a word for God, a “try on” God. But as you go deeper into the journey, I promise you, it will always be safer and more spacious. If you still feel a finger wagging at you, you’re not going deeper. You’re going backwards…
Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me when I change (moralism). What that does is put it back on you. You’re back to “navel-gazing,” and you never succeed at that level. You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift.
It’s just this falling into God’s mercy that underlies the practice of the Jesus Prayer. I know there are many other ways, but for me the directness and simplicity of the Prayer is like nothing else—the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” sum up my own complete inability to do it for myself. I cannot even choose to “fall into God”. There is no place from which to fall, unless God puts one there.
(A word of explanation: though naturally anyone can recite the words of the Jesus Prayer, I honestly believe it is a kind of vocation in itself. It may not do anything for you. That’s OK—it’s no reflection either on you or on the Prayer. There will be another way—you just have to make the space for God to show you what it is. But if somehow the words just come alive in your heart, then you may need to take this further. Father Seraphim, at the Nazareth House Apostolate, has some wise words, and an excellent reading list, here.)