Published: Nov. 6, 2020
Last month, Reno Friend Doug Smith led a spiritual discussion about Mysticism on Zoom. It was well attended and stimulated a vibrant discussion. One of Doug’s questions was: Do you think Quakerism can be a form of mysticism? Some thought yes and others no. Defining mystics and mysticism is a tricky task, as mystical experiences are often difficult to explain. Here is the Oxford Languages definition of a mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the Absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.
Isn’t this what we Quakers do when we sit in silence during Worship and wait for a message beyond us to come through to the Meeting? Our spiritual practice itself is mystical. I personally experience an inner quaking when I am given a message to speak. My heart beats faster and my breath comes quicker. I feel shaky and cannot calm down until I rise to speak. Once the message is complete, the quaking stops. Other Quakers have shared similar experiences with me.
Here is a quote from New Studies in Mystical Religion by Quaker Rufus M. Jones (1927): "The mystic, as I hope to show, is not a peculiarly favored mortal who by a lucky chance has received into his life a windfall from some heavenly Bread-fruit tree, while he lay dreaming of iridescent rainbows. He is, rather, a person who has cultivated, with more strenuous care and discipline than others have done, the native homing passion of the soul for the Beyond... The result is that he has occasions when the larger Life with which he feels himself kin seems to surround him and answer back to his soul’s quest…"
Rufus Jones was fond of saying “the beyond is within.” Christ said, “The kingdom is within you.” Carl Jung likened us to an aspen grove, connected through roots he called the “collective unconscious”. He spoke of synchronicities that occur in everyday life which seem to reveal an underlying pattern and mystery to the Universe. Most of us have had an experience that gives us a glimpse into the Mystery.
For over thirteen years, I have been reading and writing for What Canst Thou Say? (http://www.whatcanstthousay.org/), which is a Quaker publication featuring mystical experiences and contemplative practice. For the last three years I have been an editor. The writers for WCTS share stories of their experiences that have touched my heart and soul. They have helped me see that my own mystical experiences are not strange, but perhaps more common than I ever realized. Here are some examples:
"As you watch practical saints operate, in a great variety of affairs and under very different conditions, you soon see… they seem to be lending their hands to a larger life than their own. If they were asked, they would deny that they were mystics. 'No, I am not a mystic. I have no mighty experiences. I am too practical and too commonplace ever to be a mystic.' My answer would be that there is no inconsistency between a mystical life and a practical life. The more truly mystical a person is, the greater the probability that he will be effectively practical.”
– Rufus Jones, New Studies in Mystical Religion, p. 198-202.
Could we all be mystics and not know it? Can we open ourselves ever more to being conduits for the Light? Is Rufus Jones onto something when he suggests we can cultivate the “native homing passion of our souls for the Beyond?” What canst thou say about your own mystical experiences?
Postscript: If you have a mystical experience you would like to share, What Canst Thou Say welcomes submissions at any time, which you can send to rhondalou14-AT-gmail-DOT-com.
from Rhonda Ashurst, Reno Friends Meeting (10/31/2020)