Twenty-five years ago, my husband discovered a book at a Trappist monastery which questioned my basic premise about the nature of reality, rekindled joy in my drooping spirit then challenged me to change and to live in mystical union with Christ. Although many Carmelites might not recommend this book as a valid description of pure Carmelite spirituality, Guidelines For Mystical Prayer, by a British Carmelite nun, Ruth Burrows, changed my life.
Sister Ruth Burrows describes Petra, a woman who lives only by faith without any experiences of God, and Claire, a “light on” nun who experiences mystical encounters. Both women know their core identity had shifted from ego-centric to Christ-centric. The Spirit of Jesus lives in them and they live surrounded by the Holy Spirit, plugged into the universal God.
Mystical Union IS Possible- Just Open the Window
We poured over this book, reading it again and again, soaking in every nuance, digging out every morsel, every detail which described this new life. My husband and I were filled with an exuberant joy because we finally we realized our deepest longings could be fulfilled; a simple spiritual life was real, was possible. Indeed, Christ lives in us.
I witnessed a similar epiphany in a brilliant young friend who said he was a confirmed atheist. Although, when I asked Davin what he had read on spirituality or Christianity, he simply replied, ”The library!” One day, while attending a small group, we were praying as Davin relaxed on the margins, supposedly just observing. Suddenly, he started to laugh. Our eyes popped open in surprise. The quiet, subdued young man was beaming and started talking quickly, raising his voice in excitement:
I’m hot all over, especially inside my chest. It is like a glowing, warm, golden mist that’s all around me, inside of me … but it was there all the time; I just couldn’t feel it or see it. It’s like all of a sudden I am plugged into a circuit board of power that has been here the whole time. God is real. He exists. I can’t believe it. Why did I not see something all around me, in my face? Oh and I feel this energy flowing between everyone in this room and connecting to me as well, like electrical currents, like invisible bands or cords. I want to jump up and down and start yelling on the top of my voice that God exists and He is right here.
My young friend had an instantaneous experience of the Mystical Body of Christ, revealed to him with sudden clarity. It was a pure moment of mystical union, even though he was not “worthy”, had not fasted or prayed, had not even wanted such an experience with his logical, brilliant brain. God saw the deepest longing of his heart, a longing he could not even admit to verbally—it was a longing to discover the source of all life, Divine Love
We have all read of saints who claim to live in mystical union with Christ. The image which comes to mind is of a medieval monk, morose and miserable, wearing a hair shirt and living on bread and water. However, I discovered the claims of saints are not bogus but true, and furthermore, it is completely realistic to expect that I too will live joyfully in the Resurrection.
The accounts of the saints might be couched in fanciful, archaic language but they are not allegories or fairytales. This Resurrected life is not a for a select few because humans are wired for a life lived in and through a mystical connection to God.
Christ Lives in Me
The life described by St. Paul so eloquently is actually factual. The life of saints is possible; a simple spiritual life.
”Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Life In Christ means as a Christian you must:
recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. (CCC 1691)
”sanctified … [and] called to be saints,” [1 Cor 1:2] Christians have become the temple of the Holy Spirit [cf. 1 Cor 6:19], having become their life, prompts them to act so as to bear ”the fruit of the Spirit” [Gal 5:22, 25] . Healing the wounds of sin, the Holy Spirit renews us interiorly through a spiritual transformation [cf. Eph 4:23]. (CCC 1695)
I craved the life of an intense regime of self-sacrifice as a consecrated, contemplative religious. When God called me to marriage and to be a mother, I really did feel like I was taking second best. Then, twenty years ago, a consecrated, lay contemplative who served in a listening house, said to me, ”You really have been given the best of both worlds. You are married with children yet you are living the contemplative life.”
Her response still brings tears to my eyes. To live a childlike spirituality of joy is not easy for a modern-day adult. I have been through decades of counselling and spiritual direction to allow Jesus to heal me, and save me from myself, my fears, and my ego. I have decades yet to travel through. There are tears in my eyes now because so few understand the little way of surrender. It was my children who stripped me and formed my spirituality.
Christ offers even adults an easy way to commune with Him. Relax. Give up striving. Surrender to His love and let it saturate every cell of your body. Then simply let His love flow through you. It ends up being a long journey to such carefree lifestyle because pride and ego get in the way. It is so simple that it seems complicated to our adult, logical minds.
No wonder Jesus praises children,
I assure you,” He said, ‘unless you are converted and become like children, you will never get into the kingdom from heaven’ [Matthew 18:4]
Union with the living God is child’s play. Listen to this debate between two of my pre-schoolers.
It was early evening. We often played musical beds at bedtime because the younger children liked the security of a sibling or two falling asleep with them, especially when older brothers and sisters were still up and having fun. So it happened that I was laying down on Emily’s bed nursing an infant while she played with my hair and sucked her thumb. Five-year-old David was almost asleep across the room. His breathing was slow and deep. The only other sound in the peaceful room came from a fan that created just enough white noise to drown out the other kid’s voices.
David suddenly sat straight up in bed, popped his eyes open and yelled excitedly,“Someone just called my name. I think it was God!”
Emily took her thumb out of her mouth and lisped,“Who is God?”
I turned my head to look at her and smiled, “You know, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Emily was still puzzled, “You mean the priest at church?”
“No”, I responded, “The God that fills the whole universe.”
Emily took her thumb out of her mouth and said very dismissively,“Oh, Him. I know Him.” Then she closed her eyes and stuck her thumb back in her mouth. Discussion closed.
I barely held in my laughter. This little squirt took for granted her close relationship with the Living God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. God is close to babies and little children. His relationship with them is not complicated, as natural as breathing. They are simply His children; He loves them and they reflect love back.
David interrupted and added joyfully,“Well, He called my name!”
Emily opened her eyes and stated very authoritatively but in a nasal, little girl voice,“It was just your imagination, Daaave.” Then she closed her eyes and started sucking her thumb again.
David was upset. I countered her statement,“It could be God, Emily. The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and does communicate with us.” David was satisfied and he lay back down to sleep. Emily just closed her eyes in dismal and popped her thumb back in her mouth.
I was astounded, one of my preschoolers had heard the voice of God and the other took a relation with the Heavenly Father completely in her stride as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Maybe a deep connection with Christ is natural; adults just complicate the simplicity of God. The problem is tapping into and living out from my core where God has inscribed His fingerprint on my heart. It is hidden in my deepest self. Actually, if we can block out our own ego and selfishness, and simply stop and listen, we too can hear the voice of Christ and allow Him to draw us close to His heart. The experience of little children and the saints are really true. If you are a secret cynic, or simply someone like me who tried to no avail to connect to God with only my own strength, why don’t you give God the permission to save you and transform you into a normal Christian?