Last year there was a bit of an internet hubbub when a well known Christian Reformed blogger reviewed a a well known book by an offbeat female author. The details really don’t matter. But one of the main complaints about the book was that author flirted with mysticism. The Reformed blogger suggested that mysticism is outside the mainstream of Christianity and bordered on heresy if it did not actually step over the line. The blogger got a lot of push back from the author’s fans for dismissing her book. But what was more concerning to me (because I have not read the book in question) was the the blogger was dismissing the long history of Christian mysticism. Eventually the blogger apologized for the way that he criticized the book, but he did not apologize for dismissing mysticism.
Clearly the church has always had its stream of mystics. And yes, some of those mystics have skirted the line of orthodoxy. But there are many groups that skirt the line of orthodoxy. We do not dismiss all academics, because some academics skirt the line of orthodoxy. We do not dismiss all missionaries because some cross over the line into syncretism in their attempt to spread the gospel. I found it interesting that in the comments of the review, there were people that denied that mysticism had always been a part of mainstream Christianity. I specifically mentioned Bernard of Clairvaux as an example of a very mainstream mystic and was told that Bernard and many other middle age Catholics were an example of what is wrong with mysticism. To which it was clear to me, that these reformed commenters did not know anything about the stream of Christianity that they were criticizing.
This book, reviewed by Danny Wright, appears to be exactly the type of book that would help modern Evangelical Christians gain some insight into mysticism from the perspective of the order that Bernard of Clairvaux founded.
In The Sun at Midnight, Bernardo Olivera, a Cistercian monk, examines the history of mysticism as it has been experienced through the Cistercian tradition and posits that mysticism is what we need in order to move forward in our relationships with God and our fellow man. He believes that the West is not only experiencing a change of era, but an era of change, and that every era of change has its moment of religious awakening. Religion is paramount, because it pushes us to discover our ultimate meaning and answers the basic existential questions of life. He encourages the reader to understand that mystery is the most intricate and integral level of reality and that it gives meaning to everything that exists, and that mysticism itself gives birth to religion. The author purports that every baptized believer is a mystic and that we should follow the example of the greatest mystic of all, Jesus of Nazareth. As we experience God and his mystery, we will continually see the need to grow and develop because we will forever be dumbstruck in the presence of an Almighty God that reminds us that everything we know is a mere approximation and that our best descriptions of the mess in this sin-ravaged world are simply gibberish.