Enter Into Joy

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Who are the mystics?

Vision Mosaic - DART Baylor Station, Dallas - Karen Blessen
Not long ago, I participated in an on-line discussion of dowsing (or “water-witching”) on a science discussion board. Several of us knew it has no scientific basis, but had experiences where it seemed to work. I was surprised by the vitriolic responses from the “rationalists” on the board, who said things like “we should not even discuss this here”, and “this is an example of the lousy state of education in the U.S.”, and even “it is our job to crucify the believers of this nonsense”. They sounded like the Taliban. And I was reminded of that experience again, when I was invited a few evenings back to a small get-together with Jim Finley, an author and therapist who spent many years in a monastery with Thomas Merton. A mother in the group spoke about her son, who had embraced atheism. He was pointing out to her some writings of Carl Sagan, who had a lot of negative opinions of religion, and yet spoke in a spiritual sense about the universe and man’s place in it. Mr. Finley said her son sounds like a spritual atheist, as opposed to a fundamentalist atheist. An atheist can have a genuine disagreement with religion, but a fundamentalist atheist will start arguments.

Most people have a few mystical experiences during their life. The experiences make a big impression, which usually wears off and we go back to our daily routines. The mystics are permanently transformed. There are some common characteristics of mystics - abandoning selfish attachments, and practicing nonviolence, for example. (Mysticism is pretty well covered in Wikipedia.)  

The discussion is apropos to the 29 Pieces project, which represents the words of ancient mystics with large sculptures. The project is in its early stages, and this blog aims to document the thoughts and progress of some of the folks involved with it. Some people are very suspicious of anything to do with “mystics”, whom Sagan said dealt with magic, the occult and superstition. I understand the suspicion.  People draw different lines for their beliefs. When it comes to matters of art, however, it seems to me that many of the great artists are themselves mystics.  What grabs a viewer instantly is not a good technical reproduction of a horse, but a vision that reminds them of some archetypal “truth”, that they understand viscerally. If you don’t believe in the words of mystics, such as St. Francis or Gandhi, OK. But your appreciation of art and poetry will be awfully limited too.

Once the sculptures are built, they will speak for themselves. And that tells me not to worry about the mystically-challenged, who may also be missing this amazing passage written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1836:
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.”

- Kelly Nash


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