<Ed note: This is a rewrite of a an entry I posted at another blog in January of 2006, updated, of course, to better explain the Orthodox way.>
The pursuit of the mystical experience defines the true quest of a person seeking spiritual recovery from many of life’s ills. Whether it is loneliness or depression or freedom from addiction or many other “spiritual” maladies, the quest for God’s help is an ancient art and people seem to have an innate sense that God can cure them of their interior turmoil when nothing else will. But when mysticism gets mentioned, many will grow suspicious, thinking that that this implies numerology or spiritualism or astrology or the occult.
I recently listened to at tape of Dr. Veselin Kesich (from 1997) speaking about what he called “instant spirituality.” He was referring to the tendency about many seekers to attempt New Age religions, or transcendental meditation, or seek advice from gurus. What they are really seeking is a mystical experience, and the way most religions go about it is about the opposite of Orthodox Christianity. The spiritual experience for the Orthodox Christian is a long & hard-fought struggle.
It is St. Paul, telling the Corinthians, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” (I Corinthians 9:24-25) There are no quick fixes and there is often no feel-good sensation.
The “mystical,” to the Orthodox, has to do with the Mysteries, the eternal secrets bequeathed to us by the God of Love, the three-fold creator of will, flesh and spirit. It is the art of ascending the peaks of tranquility to poke our heads in this supreme mist. It is the Eucharistic rite — that of Communion with the body and blood of Christ, a process which involves fasting & confession, and purging oneself of ill-will. This is a small sampling of the spiritual struggle one must contend with as they near the prize of eternal communion with God.
So many times I’ve heard these same seekers decrying the God of judgment associated with the behemoth, religion, oppressive and hypocritical. They confuse Christianity with abusive priests, dogmatic ministers, and eschatological earwigs who lack the experience of the One, True Faith.
Now as I walk along the Orthodox way, the mystical fruits have exploded into the profundity of everlasting love, like a fountain of holy waters gushing forth to those who need quenching. It has become new powder on an trackless trail at ten to 9. At worst, scripture was a little misrepresented by its human practitioners, given to project themselves onto their concept of the Deity, perhaps overlooking or over-literalizing His Word, missing the full manifestation of His love. For me, religion is the means of exploring the unending and ever-deep ocean of God, the ocean of universe: spiritual, physical, transcendent. It is about being excited about God.
The timeless ecstasy of the sublime is what we sought when we sought pleasures or engorged ourselves in the fallacies of New Age religion. Now, we must find some activity in our life that can give us a comparable blast of the real divine, pure in form, intense in the application, and gentle and reassuring in the implication. That is the faith of Holy Orthodoxy!