Okay, so I’m a blonde mystic. What’s the big deal about that?
It’s not a big deal at all if you believe, as I do, that the call to be a mystic is no better than — and no more extraordinary than — the call to be a teacher or a police officer or a nurse or whatever. I have a job to do, and I try to do the best job I can. I’m no different than anybody else who feels drawn to a particular path. My path is a bit uncommon, but I take it seriously, just as teachers and police officers and nurses take their paths seriously.
I do not subscribe to the orthodox Christian view that says contemplatives and mystics have a “higher calling” than other Christians. This is the view that puts monks and nuns in a special category compared to other people.* It says this select group of people is closer to God, higher on the ladder of ascent, or chosen — take your pick. I think this traditional view of “spiritual ascent” is a big part of the problem with orthodox Christianity.
I usually don’t tell educated Christians about my daily mystical practice. I keep my practice to myself because I’m kind of tired of having other Christians make the false assumption that I think I’m better than they are. I don’t think that. I think we’re all in this life together, walking side by side, rather than trying to scramble up some sort of spiritual ladder (and mashing each other’s spiritual fingers in the process.) “Different” shouldn’t be a synonym for “better,” although the history of Christianity is in some ways the history of certain groups of people believing they are both different and better than everybody else.
Police officers have a different path from nurses, but police officers aren’t “better” than nurses. Same thing with mystics. Mystics have a different path from most people, but they aren’t “better” than other people. I just want to be clear about that.
I am no longer a natural blond. I was blond as a child, but later my hair darkened, and after that my hair turned grey. I am a blond thanks to chemical intervention from L’Oreal. I am a blond because I’m not an ascetic.
I’m not an ascetic because I live according to a “mystical rule” of moderation, balance, common sense, and brain health.
These four “rules,”especially the rule about brain health, put me far outside the traditional understanding of how Christian mystics live. But I’m a person of science as well as a person of mystical inclination, and recent advances in brain neurophysiology have convinced me that many traditional mystical practices are dangerous, and have no place whatsoever in the modern church.
This is why I don’t fast as part of my spiritual practice. Intentional, long-term fasting for “spiritual” reasons will damage anyone’s brain. (Naturally, I’m not talking about short-term occasions of fasting that may arise, which your body can handle.) I’m a mystic who believes in eating balanced foods in moderation because God seems to have designed the brain with a balanced lifestyle in mind for everyone, including mystics.
Crazy ol’ me, thinkin’ my brain and body are a natural, beautiful part of God’s creation!
As I said above, I am NOT a Gnostic. I’m a mystic who thinks we should be listening more to what God is saying through science, and less to what Christian tradition is saying through, well, tradition, when it comes to healthy spiritual practices.
I’m a fully practising mystic who thinks it is irresponsible and naive for church leaders to ignore the serious health risks that arise when traditional ascetic practices are embraced.
If I didn’t know better, I might think the church was more interested in preserving its traditions than in protecting and enhancing the mental, physical, and spiritual health of its congregants!
Gosh . . . where would I get such an idea?
* If you want to read more about this tradition, you can check out the chapter called “The Monk Who Rules the World” in Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1985).