What is mystical union with Christ?
Relating this word 'mystical' to Christianity may seem strange to some and the word may conjure up images of wizards and witches or vague new age spirituality. Yet it is actually a word that has been used throughout the ages to describe the Christian life.
The word mysticism essentially means to experience God or spiritual reality in a way that transcends the understanding of the rational mind alone. Christian mysticism is an approach to Christianity that emphasizes experiencing God's presence in our daily lives in an ever deepening way.
My spiritual journey began with an experience of mystical union
When I came to know Christ it wasn't through a conscious decision to follow Him in the beginning but rather I gradually became aware of his presence and grace at work in my life.
The primary means through which God did this in my life was a Christian metal and hard rock radio program. I wasn't particularly seeking God but over time as I was regularly receiving this Christian input into my life I started to notice that something was happening in me. My thinking and emotions and the way I lived were starting to change in a way that I didn't fully understand.
I remember sitting listening to music and being aware that there was a very real presence in the room with me. This grew to the point where I experienced moments of ecstatic joy, emotional healing and an overwhelming sense of well-being in His tangible presence.
Although this mystical kind of encounter was always essential to my walk of faith from the beginning I didn't always have a theological grid for understanding it and being in a relatively conservative evangelical church somewhat limited my ability to explore this more deeply.
Eastern orthodoxy and the charismatic movement
In my journey of faith there is two streams of Christianity that have helped me understand better my early experience than my Baptist upbringing enabled me to.
Eastern Orthodoxy and the Charismatic movement may, to some, seem to be polar opposites but they are surprisingly similar in some key ways when it comes to this question of mystical union. Both of them emphasize the importance of the experiential knowing of God that transcends just Bible and theological head knowledge alone.
Most modern evangelical churches have been influenced by the Charismatic movement to some degree or another. Modern worship music in particular emphasizes an emotional connection and close relationship with God. But what about this strange, foreign thing called Eastern Orthodoxy?
Eastern Orthodox theology is mystical theology. It is entirely centered around mystical union with the person of Christ, through whom we partake of the divine life of the trinity.
Orthodoxy salvation is not just something transactional and mechanical, but Christ himself is salvation. He is not just a means to the end of going to Heaven when you die.
Christ didn't just die in our place but we mystically died with him on that cross and rose again with Him three days later 2000 years before we were even born! This is not something that makes any sense rationally but in my experience is deeply real and transformative.
Healing, hope, deliverance and blessing all flow from the finished work of the cross. We have it all right now through our mystical union with Christ.
It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me. Modern Christian teaching often focuses on what we do in response to God but the power of the Christian life is in focusing and meditating on who God is.
We are in Christ, intimately connected to Him. We have the mind of Christ and as we grow in Him His thoughts become our thoughts and His feelings become our feelings. It is less about 'what would Jesus do?' and more about Jesus living His very life through us.
Why is Christian mysticism relevant today?
We live in a time when there is a great hunger for the supernatural and many long to connect with something transcendent. Yet it is also a time when the church in the West is in decline.
It is a time when there are many hurting, broken people who need to know and experience God's love but how will they experience that if we have so little experience of this in our own lives? Without encountering the presence of Christ and His amazing love for us there is little power in the Christian life and little power to invite others into that encounter.
I believe God is inviting us to taste and see that He is good. He is inviting us to experience His healing of our hurts and brokenness.
While Christianity is mystical it is also very earthy as well because it is rooted in the divine becoming one of us, a human being. We worship a God who identified with us in deep suffering and we are partakers of His death and resurrection.
The bread and wine we partake of at church is not just symbolic but in some mystical sense we eat his flesh and drink his blood. As we feast on this reality it changes us and we experience hope and healing and new life.
When Christians know again this deep intimacy with the divine, it will turn the world upside down.