|Where we are coming from
Christian mysticism is an integral part of the Christian life of prayer which, in turn, is the heart of the Christian life. John of the Cross has had a great impact on the modern history of Christian mysticism, and it is in the light of his teaching that we look at this history of Christian mysticism, contemporary attempts to renew the contemplative life, and the need to develop a theology of mysticism.
What is Christian mysticism?
Christians believe that God wishes to dwell in the hearts of all men and women, and Christian mysticism is a mysterious experience of that presence.The Christian saints and scholars have also called this experience infused contemplation, a loving knowledge of God that wells up from the depths of the soul.
Who was John of the Cross?
John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Spanish mystic and poet and a founder of the religious order of Discalced Carmelites. The Catholic Church considers him both a saint and a trustworthy guide in mystical matters.
Can everyone become a mystic or contemplative?
In theory, yes. The Christian mystical life is the normal and natural development of the Christian life of prayer. It is the flowering of the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that every Christian has in virtue of his or her baptism.
In actual fact, however, it does not seem that many Christians experience contemplation. Why not?
Lack of knowledge about it; lack of adequate instruction in how to dispose oneself; personal failures in the practice of prayer and self-restraint; questions of temperament; and the demands of work.
Is contemplation like a vision or revelation?
No. John of the Cross calls it a general loving knowledge because it does not come through the normal working of our senses, imagination, intellect, memory or will. Rather, it wells up from the depths of the soul where God dwells, and is a mysterious knowledge of the loving union we have with God. It is a special gift of God, and that is the reason why it is called infused contemplation.
If I don't experience contemplation, does that make me less pleasing in God's sight?
No. God looks at the love we have for God and our neighbors. The union that we have with God in our hearts grows deeper the more we love, whether we experience it in contemplation or not.
How can I practice contemplative prayer?
Since it is a gift of God, we cannot make it happen by ourselves, but can only dispose ourselves for it by the normal practice of prayer, and the virtues like kindness and patience, and by our loving actions towards others.