Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism - 15

Text, p. 75



Departing from the usual convention, they are hard—sometimes impossible—to understand.

Right now, is it enough to trust and hold my figurative hands in front of me and feel my way, with or without a map? After all, running has progressed that way. For the longest time, I was sure I would never get past running only a few minutes, and walking the rest. This morning I ran up a full block of 10% grade hill and, while winded at the top, I kept going to the end of the block.

WE HUMANS HATE UNCERTAINTY. WE WANT CLARITY. WE WANT TO KNOW THAT WHAT WE HOLD DEAR WILL NOT CHANGE AND WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. WE GO A BIT CRAZY WHEN THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. We yell “Heretic!” We yell “Queer!” We yell, “Ick!” We say no. Anything to get out of being in relationship with The Eternal I Am that I Am. Mystics try to express that, despite the scariness, we must be in relationship with this Dicey Deus.

Genesis 32.30-32

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’

It’s the only way my life is preserved.

As a result, the orthodox have been forced to regard their makers as madmen or heretics: when they were really only practical men struggling to disclose great matters by imperfect means.


Without prejudice to individual beliefs, and without offering an opinion as to the exclusive truth of any one religious system or revelation—for here we are concerned neither with controversy nor with apologetics—we are bound to allow as a historical fact that mysticism, so far, has found its best map in Christianity.

Christian philosophy, especially that Neoplatonic theology which, taking up and harmonizing all that was best in the spiritual intuitions of Greece, India, and Egypt, was developed by the great doctors of the early and mediaeval Church, supports and elucidates the revelations of the individual mystic as no other system of thought has been able to do.

And now I will await her persuasive argument as to this. I’ve always intuited this, or taken it on faith, but did not feel equal to offering an argument that would persuade others to this conclusion.

How in Heaven’s name does one absorb the treasures of this book without having to tediously work through sentence by sentence? Yet, if I don’t, I will miss important gems. I think I do work through it sentence by sentence, and resign myself to being at this for a long time.


We owe to the great fathers of the first five centuries—to Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine; above all to Dionysius the Areopagite, the great Christian contemporary of Proclus—the preservation of that mighty system of scaffolding which enabled the Catholic mystics to build up the towers and bulwarks of the City of God.

These names are famililar to me, as is some of the substance of their work, but what does it mean in any given moment of Christian response to life’s details? Not everyone is able to or desirous of studying these doctors of the Church. Even those who are interested, do they say to themselves, “Should I do this? What would Irenaeus say?” To me, mysticism is a way to cut through the slog of studying the doctors of the Church, and have that in-Person encounter of the Jacob kind.

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