Are You a Mystic?

For the first time in four months, I’m going to wake up early in the morning and head for an airport. It has been awesome to be home with Sara for such a long stretch as she recovered from surgery and to have time with friends and family locally. Though I am not looking forward to another fly day, I am looking forward to spending some time with people in Oklahoma and surrounding states who are learning to live in the reality of Father’s affection. And what makes it even more fun, some of them are old friends, way back to my childhood. If you want to join us, you can get all my travel details here.

So I leave you with this. I’ve never liked the word ‘mystic’. Mostly when I talk about people having a real, tangible relationship with God and they ask me if I am a mystic, they are using it dismissively. Like, “Oh you’re one of those…” I’m not always sure what words they finish that with in their own minds, but I think it has something to do with being a whack-job, psycho, or just plain weird. And I think it’s strange that so many Christians are unsettled when someone talks about having a prayer life with God in the conversation. That kind of access is why Jesus died and was resurrected.

But I love what one of my favorite Catholic thinkers, Fr. Richard Rohr, said about it when he was asked, “What is a mystic?” A good friend sent me a link to an interview he did on the subject. Here’s what he said:


      When I use the word mystic, I simply mean experiential religion. That’s all. It’s not mystified. It means that I don’t just have a belief system or belong to a belonging system, but I actually know something, calmly, materially. God has shown God’s self to me.

      So you say, well how do you know that? Paul would say in Galatians, by the fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control. When you see the fruits of the Spirit after someone has said they’ve had a God-experience, then, well, I think it might be an authentic God-experience. When I see the fruit…

      If I don’t, I don’t see the fruit. I see militarism, domination, greed, ambition and avarice, I don’t think you’ve had an authentic God-experience.

   Just define mysticism as experiential knowledge of God. Experiential, not just theoretical. Not just believing things because you read a Scripture, but you know it to be true and then you go back and say, “Wow, that Scripture is true!”


I still don’t love the word ‘mystic.’ I think it has a better flavor in the Catholic tradition than it does outside of it. But I love how he defines it: “God has shown God’s self to me.” I would hope every follower of Christ would cultivate that reality. That’s where faith begins, with God’s revelation as we come knocking. Following Jesus was really meant to be following Jesus as he makes himself known to you, not following a set of principles derived from our often-flawed interpretations of Scripture. Would that we are all mystics, by Rohr’s definition.

I also appreciate what he looks for to validate whether someone’s claim of God-experiences is valid: the fruits of the Spirit. No, you don’t have to be perfect, but those who are growing to know God will also be growing in those fruits that bear his mark. And that takes care of those who claim God told them to kill their neighbor, steal from work, or betray their spouse.

But then he was asked about those who do not show the fruits of the Spirit. What does it mean for them?

       Sometimes they’ve just had poor teaching, there are people… who have had God-experiences, authentic God experiences, but they’ve been given lousy theology, and it narrows them down much narrower than their honest experience taught them.

What a great answer! It could be that their God-experience is only in their mind, but it could also be that their experience was genuine, but they didn’t have the equipping to process it. Thus they continue in the narrow space of religious performance and frustration rather than come out in the wider space where God continues to make himself known and their lives begin to fold into his reality.

God is inviting you into a spacious place of him winning you to his reality and his love. It is my hope that the new Engage series that we’ve launched at Lifestream will encourage people cultivate the space where God can show God’s self to them!