Friday, January 8, 2016

The Original Christian Mystics?

Rather than write a summary history or provide a list of the most famous Christian mystics, I’ve decided to share the three most surprising discoveries regarding Christian mystics that I’ve made over the past few months.

The first discovery is of the Desert Mothers, the Desert Mothers (ammas) and Fathers (abbas) being the first (original?) Christian mystics. After Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, these women and men moved to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria with the intention of forsaking “worldly distractions” in order to draw closer to God.
Remember, it was illegal to be a Christian in the first and second centuries. By migrating to the desert and adopting lifestyles as ascetics and hermits, these early Christians refused to participate in the mainstreaming of their spiritual beliefs; a mainstreaming that would politicize their religion, and establish a rigid hierarchy of governmental power.

They were not misguided. As we now know, the Roman Catholic church became unbelievably corrupt.

Although there were twice as many Desert Mothers as there were Desert Fathers, the lives and words of the Desert Fathers have been more extensively documented. Not surprising. But I was more fascinated to learn about the Desert Mothers: Amma Matrona, Amma Sarah, Amma Syncletica, Amma Theodora, and many others.

“Desert spirituality was nonconformist: Ammas passed on their living example, but where or how a disciple carried on the desert tradition was open to a myriad of possibilities. It was the quality of the inner journey that mattered.”

The drive of the inner journey is something that unites all mystics, that, and their … non-conformity!

Another aspect of the ammas spiritual repertoire was a full self-awareness:

“Self-awareness is not selfishness but self-connectedness. It is a deep intense listening to our inner being, learning to be conscious and alert to what our inner word is trying to tell us …”

The ammas also had a great reverence for Silence—

“Entering into silence is not easy … Silence invites us to meet and discover our truest selves—with masks, illusions, and public personae removed. Self image is stripped and realigned … Silence, therefore, invites us to change, to grow towards the fullness of life …

The [amma] strove to sit quietly, attune her attention fully to the silence, and allow silence to speak its wisdom… Silence is essentially listening.”

—And Peace—

“They recognized that peace begins within each individual.”

Asceticism held a central place in the spiritual experience of the Desert Mothers; it’s not uncommon for the body to be deemed as something lesser than the soul. I personally prefer to see the body as an expression of the soul, to the extent that the body is the soul embodied, i.e. even that the body is a manifestation of the soul’s consciousness. Given that, I personally perceive harsh asceticism and any self-assault on the body as dubious at best. Hatred and harshness against the body is hatred and harshness against its Creator, whether that be God or the Unified Field.

I’ve shared only a few highlights of the Desert Mothers’ way of life, the ones that spoke most directly to me. If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating women, I recommend The Forgotten Desert Mothers by Laura Swan. All the quotes in this post are taken from her book.

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my second discovery …