I write this today because it find that most people in modern mainstream America think that it is something out of Harry Potter. A mystic is not a magician or practitioner of the occult. Put simply a mystic is someone who thinks they can have a revelation directly from God, that God can, and does, speak to them personally. Every religion has them, including Christianity.
Most people believe what they believe because they were taught it either from a church, their parents, or whoever. They hopefully have then studied, put some thought into it, and prayed about it. Some don’t put out that much effort and simply don’t want to be disobedient, so they buy the party line. Either way, this is not the mystical approach.
Mystical Christianity can also be called experiential Christianity. A mystic believes what they do based on an actual encounter with the divine. They have met the Lord Jesus and continue to go back to that experience to form their beliefs. A mystic, while probably not using the actual words, is not saying I believe so much as I know. God is not just someone who they have heard about or read a book about but is someone who they have met personally.
St. Paul was one of the first Christian mystics. He had a life changing encounter with Christ, then went away for three years to commune with Him, and during that time he was even taken to what he called the Third Heaven. All of this empowered him to make his great missionary journeys. Later mystics went out into the deserts of Egypt and Syria, and we remember them as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. After them mysticism was mostly found in the monasteries and convents. After the Reformation it all but faded away since both sides became more interested in being “right” than in experience.
The main focus of the mystics has always been prayer. It is in prayer that they meet God, most especially contemplative prayer. It is in silence of contemplation that the Lord reveals Himself to the soul, instructs the soul, and eventually transforms the soul. I have noticed that modern mystics many times refer to themselves as contemplative rather than mystic, because of the stigma that goes with the name.
What the mystics would teach us is that God is not out there so much as He is in here. Grace is inherently in creation. It is not something that you invite into the world, but instead something that you discover was there all along. Instead of looking for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them, the mystics look in their hearts to find He is there already, waiting.
St. Teresa of Avila described the soul as a castle with many mansions inside that we must navigate to reach the center, where God awaits us. The entrance to that castle, she said, was prayer. Prayer is the gateway. Today I would encourage all of you to open that gate, and enter.