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Hours With The Mystics
by [?]

So much for mystics being unpractical. If we look faithfully into the meaning of their name, we shall see why, for good or for evil, they cannot be unpractical; why they, let them be the most self- absorbed of recluses, are the very men who sow the seeds of great schools, great national and political movements, even great religions.

A mystic–according to the Greek etymology–should signify one who is initiated into mysteries, one whose eyes are opened to see things which other people cannot see. And the true mystic in all ages and countries, has believed that this was the case with him. He believes that there is an invisible world as well as a visible one–so do most men: but the mystic believes also that this same invisible world is not merely a supernumerary one world more, over and above the earth on which he lives, and the stars over his head, but that it is the cause of them and the ground of them; that it was the cause of them at first, and is the cause of them now, even to the budding of every flower, and the falling of every pebble to the ground; and therefore, that having been before this visible world, it will be after it, and endure just as real, living, and eternal, though matter were annihilated to-morrow.

“But, on this showing, every Christian, nay, every religious man, is a mystic; for he believes in an invisible world?” The answer is found in the plain fact, that good Christians here in England do not think so themselves; that they dislike and dread mysticism; would not understand it if it were preached to them; are more puzzled by those utterances of St. John, which mystics have always claimed as justifying their theories, than by any part of their bibles. There is a positive and conscious difference between popular metaphysics and mysticism; and it seems to lie in this: the invisible world in which Englishmen in general believe, is one which happens to be invisible now, but which will not be so hereafter. When they speak of the other world they mean a place which their bodily eyes will see some day, and could see now if they were allowed; when they speak of spirits they mean ghosts who could, and perhaps do, make themselves visible to men’s bodily eyes. We are not inquiring here whether they be right or wrong; we are only specifying a common form of human thought.

The mystic, on the other hand, believes that the invisible world is so by its very nature, and must be so for ever. He lives therein now, he holds, and will live in it through eternity: but he will see it never with any bodily eyes, not even with the eyes of any future “glorified” body. It is ipso facto not to be seen, only to be believed in; never for him will “faith be changed for sight,” as the popular theologians say that it will; for this invisible world is only to be “spiritually discerned.”

This is the mystic idea, pure and simple; of course there are various grades of it, as there are of the popular one; for no man holds his own creed and nothing more; and it is good for him, in this piecemeal and shortsighted world, that he should not. Were he over-true to his own idea, he would become a fanatic, perhaps a madman. And so the modern evangelical of the Venn and Newton school, to whom mysticism is neology and nehushtan, when he speaks of “spiritual experiences,” uses the adjective in its purely mystic sense; while Bernard of Cluny, in his once famous hymn, “Hic breve vivitur,” mingles the two conceptions of the unseen world in inextricable confusion. Between these two extreme poles, in fact, we have every variety of thought; and it is good for us that we should have them; for no one man or school of men can grasp the whole truth, and every intermediate modification supplies some link in the great cycle of facts which its neighbours have overlooked.