John R. Mabry holds a master's degree in Creation Spirituality from Holy Names College and a doctorate in Philosophy and Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies. He serves as pastor of Grace North Church in Berkeley, CA, an Anglican-rite Congregational parish, where he has ministered since 1993. John is also the Director of the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certification Program at the Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministry and the assistant director of the master's degree program in Interfaith Spiritual Guidance at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California. Mabry is the author of many books including Faith Styles: Ways People Believe and Noticing the Divine: An Introduction to Interfaith Spiritual Guidance.
In this dramatic and engaging book, which grew out of a course he taught at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California, Mabry begins with the idea that we all can be friends with God and that "mysticism is the pursuit of — or enjoyment of — union with God."
One of the major hindrances to intimacy with the Creator is our sense of shame and the widespread feeling that as sinners we are not worthy of Divine love. Here is where spiritual directors can help by providing encouragement and guidance on our path of growth towards spiritual maturity.
In his map of mystical union with God, Mabry starts with "Awakening" where we are stopped in our tracks and set on a new transformative path. Some people hear the whisper of the Spirit; others experience an encounter with death or severe pain and are turned around from their habitual way of living. Mabry shares the changes that took place in Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century Christian mystic.
After we are graced by God, we can respond with "Purgation" which the author sees as a call to discernment and the spiritual practice of meditation. The model for these actions is The Way of the Pilgrim, an 1884 book by an anonymous Russian Christian. The next steps on the Purgative journey are detachment (letting go) and mortification (disciplining our lives) as St. Francis did.
Two "Transition" points are provided with substantive treatment of "The Dark Night of the Senses" and "The Dark Night of the Spirit." Mystics must patiently endure difficult times in the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. John of the Cross.
In the chapter on "Illumination," Mabry hits high stride with a step that enables us to shuck dualism and to experience all things "to be pulsing with the life that fires the stars. All people are revealed to be the lovers, the spouses, the sweethearts of God. We are revealed to be worthy of more love than we ever dared hope for." Brother Lawrence teaches us how to behold the illuminated world, and the Quaker George Fox demonstrates the spiritual practice of quiet. Meister Ekhart models the wonderful practice of seeing God in all things and all things in God.
"Union" is the goal of all mystical endeavor and those who have traveled this road speak of it in terms of "Divine Marriage" and "Deification." The first emphasizes commitment and the second grows out of the naughting of the ego and the selfless service of others. The exemplar here is St. Teresa of Avila. Mabry concludes with:
"And the mystics are clear on this: when God truly lives in us, we can do much more than we ever could on our own. For it isn't we who are bringing forth all this fruit. If we can just get ourselves — our fears, our illusions, our desires, our egos — out of the way, God will do it all. All we have to do is give our permission, cooperate, and as I said, get out of the way. That's good news for people who are already run ragged, who are already tired. All we have to do is say, 'Yes.' God will do the rest."
The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner said: "In the coming age, we must all become mystics — or be nothing at all." In this beginner's guide to Christian mysticism, Mabry maps what this spiritual path looks like and profiles some of its movers and shakers. He provides added value to the book with sections on Questions & Answers, The Mystics in Their Own Words, Spiritual Practices, plus two appendixes on "The Mystic's Journey in Liturgy and Tradition" and "The Mystic's Journey and Spiritual Development Theory."