Hospitality as Social Virtue

"The fact that sovereignty is related to generosity contributes to one of the most powerful themes of Celtic wisdom: the importance of hospitality as a social virtue. Hospitality is basically the generosity shown to strangers and guests in our midst. Mythology abounds with stories that suggest a king rules well when his court is filled with hospitality — that a visitor must eat till satisfied before even beginning to discuss whatever business brought him to the royal hall. By contrast, kings who do not practice hospitality are satirized, the land goes barren under their rule, and ultimately they are forced to abandon the throne."
366 Celt: A Year and a Day of Celtic Lore and Wisdom

Expression of a Vow

"What is devotion? What is the role that it plays in the spiritual life? It is often thought of in emotional terms, as if spiritual devotion means expressing love or heartfelt worship to God or some other divine source. But the word's meaning actually has more to do with the will. 'Devotion' literally means 'of the expression of a vow.' Vow, meanwhile, has to do with making a promise. This begs the question, of course: just what exactly is it that the promise is expressed towards? So devotion always has an object, whether human (as in a lover) or divine (as in God or Mary or Brigid). Furthermore, a promise involves a commitment — a focusing of the will. Such a focusing might naturally include an element of profound feeling, but it's important to remember that it's first and foremost about a choice, a vow. Devotional spirituality involves the act of making a deep commitment — to honor or worship or venerate the object of faith. Therefore, what makes the holy wells (or the shrine at Knock) so special is not how they make people feel, but rather how they inspire people to a committed expression of their spiritual life."
366 Celt: A Year and a Day of Celtic Lore and Wisdom

What Makes a Seer?

"Aside from druids and bards, the third kind of Celtic wisdomkeepers according to the ancient tradition consisted of the seers, or ovates. Classical writers referring to the Celts of mainland Europe indicate that seers, bards and druids were three distinct communities; while in other areas these categories may have been more integrated. For example in Ireland we find the tradition of the filidh, or visionary-poets — a kind of wisdom keeper who combines the qualities of bards and seers.

"What makes a seer? Begin with the word itself: one who sees. So the seers were the visionaries, the mystics and psychics who were able to receive information from the otherworldly realms."
366 Celt: A Year and a Day of Celtic Lore and Wisdom

The Wounding of Wonder

"John J. O'Riordain sees faith as not only linked with praise, but also with wonder. This reminds me of the Irish musician Van Morrison, whose song 'A Sense of Wonder' simply and beautifully expresses the mystical experience of regarding life and the world with the open eyes of faith. Wonder is a lovely word, for it is related to the word wound — indeed, in Middle English wonder is spelled 'wounder.' Opening ourselves to spiritual enlightenment is a process of vulnerability, which means 'capable of being wounded.' But the wounding of wonder comes not from a knife or bullet, but from the luminous glories of supernal light, from the profound beauties of graced nature, from the inspiring sense of divine presence that can propel us into a state of ecstasy — 'out of the body' and into the heart of the Divine. One need not believe anything to experience wonder — only an open mind, heart, and soul are necessary. And yet that openness can, once the blessings are received and acknowledged, serve only to foster a faith that will carry us forward in hope, even when our experiences may not transport us into the ecstasies we desire. Wonder, like any other experience, comes and goes. But the faith that it inspires and supports (and that in turn inspires and supports all luminous experiences) anchors within the soul at a level deeper than experience, a level where the choice is made to say 'Yes' to God."
366 Celt: A Year and a Day of Celtic Lore and Wisdom

Beyond Normal Boundaries

"Dr. Seuss once wrote a book called On Beyond Zebra! that explored all the meta-letters that exist in his imaginary alphabet, beyond the twenty-six of the standard English alphabet. Mysticism is like Seuss's alphabet. It pushes beyond the normal boundaries of human thought, human logic, and human rationality and knowing. It goes beyond the limits of philosophy, theology, psychology, and science. But whereas Dr. Seuss was just playing make-believe, mysticism points to something that countless witnesses, in cultures all across the world and in every age from the dawn of recorded history, insist is utterly real — maybe even more real than the universe and consciousness we normally inhabit."
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

A Relationship with the Unknowable

"Christian mysticism is all about having a 'relationship with God.' Indeed, this is its bedrock principle. In some non-Christian forms of mysticism like Zen Buddhism or Taoism, God is not part of the equation at all. In these traditions, it is possible to be a mystic and an atheist — or at least, an agnostic. However, even some of the most profound Christian mystics talk about how unknowable God is. How can you have a relationship with something or someone who is fundamentally unknowable? And yet, that is where mysticism takes you. When we talk about mysticism, we can use words that try to make sense of the mystery — 'God,' or 'the Absolute,' or 'the Ultimate Mystery' — until the words themselves fail us. Then we are left with only silence, facing the mystery again, and perhaps scrambling to find new words, new concepts, and new ideas."
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

An Ordinary Obscurity

"Mysticism can shake the foundations of everything you believe or think you 'know' about God. And it can be dreadfully dull, demanding a daily commitment to spiritual practices that, sooner or later, lose their appeal. Trappist monks describe their lives as 'ordinary, obscure, and laborious.' And while mysticism promises union with God, the price we must pay to get there (a life of daily discipline, continual self-sacrifice, and letting go of everything in our lives that does not foster love) is pretty daunting. Moreover, while we are assured that, through spiritual discipline, we will partake of God's loving presence, there's no guarantee that we will experience it consciously. So mysticism is unlikely to appeal to those who do not feel impelled to explore it."
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

Sharing Your Talents

"Likewise, contemplation is not 'completed' until you rise from your repose; and, nourished and refreshed by the silence and the resting in God's presence, are capable of responding to the universal call to bring new creativity — and healing, hope, and love — to the world. Any contemplative who feels that to endlessly gaze on the beauty of God is the ultimate end of the mystical life is simply unfamiliar with the wisdom of the Bible and of the Christian mystical tradition. Even those who retreated into desert solitude or monastic community found that a life shaped and seasoned by contemplation is a life meant to be given away — through love, service, creativity, and care for family, friends, fellow members of a faith community, and the larger human family in all its need, hunger, and longing for God. Sharing your talents with others is, like resting in contemplative silence, a part of the overall process."
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

An Uncertain and Mysterious Experience

"For mystics, seeking God is a lifelong, and pretty much full-time, pursuit that proceeds even in the midst of down-to-earth activities like working or cleaning the house. For the contemplative, this quest for divine love is a daily concern. But God, being the shy and polite God that he is, never just pops up in your life merely because you say a lot of prayers or meditate for a half-hour a day. God is God, not a formula, not the sum of an equation that will always behave predictably. So the experience of seeking God is always open-ended, uncertain, and mysterious. What will happen if you devote your life to prayer? Who knows? Pray and see."
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality

We Never Know

"The mysteries of life represent the frontier where the sensibility of our lives shades off into areas we cannot control, cannot comprehend, and cannot manage or contain. Faced with the mysteries of life, we become vulnerable, undefended, open to the marvels that can fill us with the liberating uncertainty of wonder. And even though we live in a world that tries to manage or at least contain the mysteries — hiding birth and death away, medicating the suffering, putting creative folks on pedestals, and settling for a legal system that reduces ethics to a conflict between competing interests — despite all our efforts to control every aspect of our lives, the mysteries are never very far away. They crop up when we least expect them — when we meet someone new and fall in love, when an old friend dies suddenly, when a sudden flash of inspiration leads to the creation of an artistic masterpiece. We never know — literally from one moment to the next — when the mysteries will crack our safely constructed lives wide open. And we never know whether they will fill us with joy or with pain. But they always fill us with wonder."
Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path

True Obedience versus Arbitrary Submission

"Traditional religious words like obedience and humility have fallen of favor — in large part because we push back against the idea that one person should submit to another. Obviously, this makes sense on a human level; a democratic, liberal society insists on equality and freedom for all people, and rightly so. But when it comes to the relationship between my finite, limited, mortal self and the infinite, limitless, eternal mystery we call God, then perhaps my American allergy to surrendering control may need some recalibration. After all, my control over my life is really just an illusion.

"Perhaps in order to support our spiritual awakening process, we must remember to take a deep breath and step back from our human lust for control. Instead of being the alpha male (or female), we can surrender to God. I realize I'm treading on dangerous turf here, for the language of 'submission to God' has been abused by unscrupulous Christians (and politicians) in the past to assert power and domination over others. When I talk about letting go of our need to control in relation to God, however, I don't mean that we should submit arbitrarily to human power structures or surrender our autonomy to others. It's enough of a challenge to open our hearts and minds to the leading of God."
Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path

God Notices You First

"Now, here is the kicker. The longing we sense for God is a gift given to us by God, out of God's longing for us. God desires us and gives us sehnsucht as a way of calling to us. Our yearning for God is a mirror image of God's yearning for us. But we are the mirror — the yearning starts with God and arises within us as a response.

"To put it in human terms, the mystical path is the path of love between you and God. But in the great party of life, God notices you first. You go about your life, having fun, doing your thing. And God longs for you; God loves you so much. But like any other would-be lover, God sets about trying to get your attention. Of course, being loving and kind, God will never force himself on you or anyone. God wants your free response to Divine love. So how does God "flirt" with you? Simply by giving you a taste of God's own longing."
Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path

The Path of Love

"These three missions — to seek the Beatific Vision (or Beatifying Communion), to restore the obscured likeness of God within us, and simply to fulfill Christ's commandment to love God, others, and self — are really three dimensions of the same calling. And yes, this is the contemplative call, for at the heart of our longing for God (and God's longing for us) is the call to love, the call to let go of all in us that is not love, and the call to participate in the very heart of God's love in an ever-deepening, ever-widening communion. So this is our destination — the direction toward which we must aim our travel plans. It's not a goal, in the sense that God is our only goal. But even that's a silly statement, for in fact we are God's goal. This is a journey without a goal a journey through a pathless land — but still we walk the path of love. Ah, the sweet paradoxes of contemplation."
Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path

Diversity of Mystics

"The mystics represent such a wide variety of perspectives, theologies, and approaches to intimacy with God that it's important to recognize this diversity up front, if for no other reason than to remember that they will not all speak to us in the same way. Just as different people have different personalities, so too do the mystics have their own 'personality types,' meaning that some will appeal to us more than others. Perhaps you are more drawn to the philosophers and wisdom keepers, mystics whose writings are erudite and intellectual, but your best friend prefers the lovers, who tend to approach God in a more intuitive, fiery, heart-centered way. … Everyone will more naturally bond with some mystics, but not all. And every one of us will have our own favorites."
Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages

Doing the Down-to-Earth Things

"Unitive consciousness is a gift; it's not something within human control. We can make ourselves ready for it by doing the slow and steady work of knowing ourselves better, accepting our imperfections, striving to let go of anything that impedes the flow of love in our lives, and then actively giving that love away to our friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. If we keep doing those down-to-earth things, then the heavenly joy of divine union will overtake us when we least expect it."
Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages

Set Aside for God

"Learning about the saint-mystics is a reminder that mysticism is about more than just feeling close to God or having an experience of God. At its heart, mysticism is about living in God's presence. To do that naturally implies seeking virtue and holiness as much as it suggests seeking intimacy with God. We who aspire to be mystics need to aspire to be saints, first and foremost. Holiness is a prerequisite for mysticism. The word holiness means 'set apart,' so if you want to be close to God, start acting like someone who is set aside for God — even if it means some people may think of you as a Goody Two-shoes."
Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages

The Need for Good Spiritual Teachers

"'No man is an island,' pointed out John Donne. Even though we live in a Lone Ranger society where the individual is king (or queen), in reality we all need and depend on one another. This is just as true when it comes to spirituality as to any other aspect of life.

"My point is very simple: we need good spiritual teachers. We all do. This is true even if you consider yourself to be spiritual but not religious, or spiritually independent. If we are serious about nurturing our interior lives to our fullest potential, we need companions to show us the way as surely as a mountain climber making a first attempt to scale Mount Everest needs a skilled Sherpa to lead the expedition.

"This is where the great mystics come in.

"The mystics are our masters, our teachers, our guides. Granted, we remain responsible for our own spiritual lives. But their insight, guidance, inspiration, and encouragement can help us go farther than we ever dreamed possible."
Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages