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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Evangelical and the Mystic


Once upon a time lived an Evangelical.  Having been ostracized, lonely, and confused, she was warmly welcomed and loved into a church that explained Jesus was the reason they had so much love.  If that’s what makes them so special, she thought, then I want Jesus too.

She grew in love and wisdom and was entrusted to guide others in the ways of her church.  She was taught the Bible was the inerrant Word of God, and she studied it passionately.  She was drawn into the gospels, especially the stories of Jesus standing up for the poor and putting the religious authorities in their place.  She prayed for the beatitudes to be lived out within her.

On a personal level, the God she prayed to and the Jesus within her transformed her life in miraculous ways.  The isolated and angry former self gave way to one of peace and love.  She resonated with St. Paul’s description of the “new man” and she knew that it was “no longer I who live, but Christ living in me” (Gal 2:20).

Having studied the books in the New Testament, she embarked on a study of the Old Testament.  Often, she was confronted between what she was reading and her church’s teaching on the Bible.  Why would God care so fervently about food preparation?  Why would He harden a king’s heart?  Why would He tell his leaders to kill every man, woman, and child?  Why, she demanded, would He command genocide?

It wasn’t merely the command of genocide that bothered her.  Her church had also taught that people who had a different belief system would spend an eternity in a fiery place of torment.  If they didn’t happen to hold a paradigm that a historical person named Jesus had died on a cross and risen from the dead for their sins, and if they hadn’t asked this person to save them, then they would face the rest of eternity in a place of torment.  She was bothered by this God who could be that cruel and wondered whether she could keep following Him.  She gave this God that her church had taught her an ultimatum: prove to me you’re not cruel or I can’t keep following you.

The God who responded to her reassured her that He was the one who had worked the miracles within her and that she could trust Him.  But proof, He said, He would not give.  He merely called upon her to trust Him.  Frustrated but willing, she agreed.

* * * * *

Once upon a time there also lived a mystic.  The mystic was an only child of two busy parents, who lived in economic and cultural extremes.  When she was a year old, her parents moved to a large city in South America, across the street from shanty homes.  Though she didn’t know it, her own home was paltry by the standards of her later culture, for it had no clean water, no telephone, and no working oven.  But it kept her safe and warm.  That wasn’t the case for the children across the street.  Without shoes, they played outside, where their mother cooked.  Their dwelling was made of miscellaneous boards of wood nailed together in a disorganized fashion that kept them from being protected in the rain.  As a preschooler, the mystic often worried for them and wondered why they couldn’t live in a house like hers.  As an only child, she looked to the heavens for answers and for connection.

Only a few years later, the mystic’s parents moved the family to the heart of Silicon Valley, where her dad earned a high salary as a computer engineer.  This time, she lived in a very big house, across the street from other wealthy neighbors, and down the street from some of the wealthiest in her city.  Confused, out of place, and in culture shock, she struggled to make friends.  Schoolmates perceived her as a different and ostracized her.  Here again, as an only child, she looked to the heavens for answers and for connection.

* * * * *

                After many years of trusting the God she knew, in spite of the God she was taught, the Evangelical woke up one day.  The God she knew poured out a series of miracles that astonished her.  No human could explain these miracles as “coincidence.”  They were too dramatic, too powerful, too personal, and too life-changing.  Mysticism was happening to her.

                Among the miracles were whispers of mystery, divine utterances of mysteries known by the heart, but not by the mind.  In complement to the whispers of mystery came biblical passages of confirmation.  Sometimes, the Evangelical would read these passages within hours of the whispers, sometimes days, weeks or even months, but, regularly, she would be stopped while reading by a passage that confirmed and clarified a recent whisper.

                Among the miracles was also an encounter with the mystic.  The God she knew called her to a mission trip, where He recreated her early childhood and showed her who she is and who He had created her to be.  She met the mystic in South America.

                And then, looking into the mirror, she saw the mystic in her own reflection.  She struggled with the mystic.  Would she reveal the mystic to her friends?  Would she hide her?  How?  How was she to live as the Evangelical and the mystic together in one person?



* * * * *

                After many years as an only child, looking to the heavens for answers and for connection, the mystic woke up one day.  The God of the heavens poured out a series of miracles that astonished her.  No human could explain these miracles as “coincidence.”  They were too dramatic, too powerful, too personal, and too life-changing.

                Among the miracles was an encounter with the Evangelical.  The God of the Evangelical had sent her to join a team who was telling people about Jesus in the land of the mystic, in South America.  The mystic met the Evangelical there.

                And then, looking into the mirror, she saw the Evangelical in her own reflection.  She struggled with the Evangelical.  Would she reveal the Evangelical to her friends?  Would she hide her?  How?  How was she to live as the mystic and the Evangelical together in one person?

* * * * *

                Both the Evangelical and the mystic struggled with one another.  Each was pained to love her sister as herself.  Each was especially pained to love her sister within herself!  The mystic pleaded with the Evangelical to quit going to church.  But they kept going, and the Evangelical kept hushing the mystic while they were there.  Still, they shared something very important in common: a commitment to Christ and a promise to follow Him.

                The Evangelical and the mystic have never stopped struggling with one another.  But, each one has been learning, bit by bit, how to love her sister as herself, even within herself.  One day, they trust they will live together happily ever after.

* * * * *
                Postscript: The story above was written with a special audience in mind, one that has become very dear to me and for whom this story was especially timely and relevant.  The close to the story for this community is as follows: 

                   Anyone who has frequented this site with any degree of regularity has been reading between the lines from the start.  Yes, both are me.  But, to some degree, both are all of us here at ChristianMystics.com.  Some here don’t come from Evangelical backgrounds, and some don’t claim to be mystics.  But I see the stories of both the Evangelical and the mystic in each one of us who regularly participates in our community.

                The struggle of the Evangelical who meets the mystic in the mirror or of the mystic who meets the Evangelical in the mirror is the same struggle each of us has in coming to terms with our spiritual identity, our understanding of God, our relationship with Christ, and our communication with one another.  We are each on a journey of learning how to love our brother and sister as ourselves, within ourselves, and with one another.  Blessings to all of us in our corporate journey!

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