A lot of talk about mysticism and spirituality can be heard as giving you an escape route. Life is difficult but let’s take our glasses off so things look a bit more vague. But the proper definition of mysticism means we can see the nature of suffering more clearly, not less. It doesn’t make it easier, it makes it clearer...
Let’s be very careful about telling ourselves a cheery story. Because the future may not turn out very cheery. There is no guarantee whatsoever that things will turn out well in the ordinary sense. But we can live, day by day, out of a sense of the worthwhileness of our being, and therefore of our decisions. And to live with that sense of worthwhileness of who we are, that’s where hope resides.
Rowan Williams, in a talk on mental health, mysticism and spirituality, reported by Jules EvansThese words of Williams' seem extraordinarily prescient, somehow, looked at from the vantage point of strangeness in which we all live at the moment.
I have rather deliberately refrained from joining the online chorus of speculation and extrapolation regarding our present crisis: so much has been said, and why would I have anything valuable to add it it? But on the subject of prayer, especially contemplative prayer, in a time like this, we have one much wiser than I to help us.
Julian of Norwich, the revered English anchoress, counsellor of Margery Kempe and favourite of TS Eliot and Thomas Merton, was not only perhaps England's greatest mystical writer, but she was one of the most radical and daring theologians and spiritual directors of any time, not just of her own.) In her Revelations of Divine Love, (tr. Clifton Wolters) she writes:
[Christ] lays on each one he loves some particular thing, which while it carries no blame in his sight causes them to be blamed by the world, despised, scorned, mocked, and rejected... For he wants us to know that it will all be turned to our honour and profit by the power of his Passion, and to know that we suffered in no way alone, but together with him, and to see in him our foundation... [And this] becomes gentle and bearable when we are really content with him and with what he does... What penance a man should impose upon himself was not revealed to me... but this was shown, with particular and loving emphasis, that we are to accept and endure humbly whatever penance God himself gives us with his blessed passion ever in mind...
Flee to our Lord and we shall be comforted. Touch him and we shall be made clean. Cling to him and we shall be safe and sound from every kind of danger. For our courteous Lord wills that we should be as at home with him as heart may think or soul may desire.
Now, we may be living under the shadow of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but Julian of Norwich lived in the time of the Black Death, a pandemic in which around 45-50% of the population died from bubonic plague; her own town of Norwich was particularly badly affected. Her words were not written lightly, or in any Pollyanna-ish spirit. When she recorded Christ's words to her in her most famous vision, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well..." she was not messing around.