Four States of the Christian Mystic
by Nymph Kellerman
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THE PRAYER OF QUIET
There are four states of consciousness in the life of the true mystic.
The first state of consciousness is called the prayer of quiet that is also the initial wakening. During this state, two levels of consciousness operate at the same time. On the upper level the mystic battles with the conscious mind's chatter, which is difficult to control at the beginning of the mystical path. St. Teresa calls this level “the fool of the house”. It is boisterous and disorderly, while at the very same time the lower level submits to the allurement from the distance, and it is quiet and at peace.
Soon the silent prayer becomes habitual and the mystic experiences this state even outside the time of prayer and meditation. Poulain describes it as a state that we have whenever we want it. A state that appears whenever the thought of God is presented such as in conversation. That is enough for the mystic to be seized by the divine action. If this action is powerful, it contravenes with our ordinary daily life, our work, our entertainment, and our social life. These moments are usually abridged moments and disappear quickly. However, there are times when the divine action seems to have a dumbstruck influence that abides in the midst of a busy life. For these reasons we claim that meditation is something that perdures with you, it is not simply a practice in which you engage twice a day.
“I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations”. JEREMIAH 1:5
THE PRAYER OF UNION
The second state of consciousness is The Prayer of Union. As the human mind infiltrates the deeper levels of consciousness, it becomes aware of unity. It approaches the level in mysticism where it embraces the paradox of it all - the awareness that everything is one, and yet, at the same time everything is not one. The mind is at its most receptive and open to intimate communication with God, unity dominates and he becomes oblivious of his surroundings. As if in a spiritual sleep, the soul now dreams of his Beloved. The physical body seems to blend with the universe and the breath levitates in mid-air. There is nothing, just the incredible stillness. No noisy thoughts, just the deadening silence when the mind remains in the Mind of God. This we call the prayer of union in which all levels of the mind unite.
For the mystic this occurrence is a very natural one and monism and dualism is analogous. For the Greeks and Hellenistic philosophers however, these two systems were irreconcilable and they forged this into a capital problem of Philosophy and called it “the problem of the one and the many”. It was only with the writings of less Hellenistic philosophers, such as Whitehead and Teilhard de Chardin, that it was accepted as complementary systems.
Ecstasy is the third state of consciousness in meditation and mysticism. It was Poulain who said: “Ecstasy is found when the divine action is of great force, and all communication with the external sense is broken, or almost entirely so. We are no longer able to move, at least voluntarily, nor are we able to come out of our prayer at will”.
“Simple ecstasy” comes very gently and bit by bit over the contemplative or mystic, while “rapture” is abrupt and violent. Ecstasy seems to be a popular stage amongst those who experience it, however, not all contemplatives experience ecstasy. It is by no means an integral aspect of the mystical life. The majority of mystics would agree with this. William Johnston, author of “Silent Music” refers to the French Jesuit Joseph de Guilbert who claimed and maintained that ecstasy was simply a consequence arising from the weakness of the human organism unable to stand such a powerful inflow of spirit without losing the use of its physical and psychological faculties. The individual who is physically and psychologically strong, would undergo no physical ecstasy. It is important to understand here that those who lack the experience of a physical ecstasy, have just as profound a mystical life as those who do experience ecstasy.
Ecstasy is physically considered, a deep and prolonged trance. According to some testimonies, the trance has two distinct stages: a short period of lucidity and a longer period of complete unconsciousness. St Teresa who experienced a prolonged period of ecstasy which once lasted for days, says: “The difference between union and trance is this: the latter lasts longer and is more visible outwardly, because the breathing gradually diminishes so that it becomes impossible to speak or to open the eyes. And though this very thing occurs when the soul is in union, there is more violence in a trance, for the natural warmth vanishes, I know not how, when the rapture is deep, and in all these kinds of orison there is more or less of this. When it is deep, as I was saying, the hands become cold and sometimes stiff and straight as pieces of wood; as to the body if the rapture comes on when it is standing or kneeling it remains so; and the soul is so full of the joy of that which Our Lord is setting before it, that it seems to forget to animate the body and abandons it. If the rapture lasts, the nerves are made to feel it”.
With regards to the physical symptoms, this kind of ecstasy is not the exclusive privilege of the mystic. This abnormal bodily state is brought on by a psychic state and may be healthy or unhealthy. A trance is a well-known symptom of certain mental illnesses, and also experienced by a hypnotic subject who is asked by the hypnotist or hypno-therapist to concentrate and gaze at one particular spot.
Apart from the above, ecstasy does not guarantee spiritual value, it does not contribute to the spiritual life of anyone. It simply demonstrates the presence of certain abnormal psycho-physical conditions such as an adjustment of the normal equilibrium. All ecstasy is a zest for a state that is technically called “complete mono-ideism”. It is a deliberate attention to one thing only, a withdrawal of consciousness from the periphery to the core. This “attention to one thing only” can be so entire that the subject is thus entranced.
Of entrancement, Suso says: “When the soul, forgetting itself, dwells in that radiant darkness, it loses all its faculties and all its qualities....... To speak in the common language, the soul is rapt, by the divine power of resplendent Being, above its natural faculties, into the nakedness of the Nothing”.
THE SPIRITUAL MARRIAGE
The fourth state of consciousness in the life of the mystic, is the ultimate and perfect state in which he has risen to a new life, namely the mystical marriage.
It is also called the “flight of the alone to the ALONE”, which is the perfect union between God and His creature. The mystic engages in a lifelong pilgrimage into the dark and unknown caverns of his mind where he lives in communion with God, and where he learns from St. Paul to pray without stopping. Here he enters a divine meeting place in which there exists a Godly silence. Here it is still and mysterious and isolated, for here is only God...... Tauler calls it a wilderness that is the Quiet Desert of the Godhead into which He leads all who are to receive this inspiration of God, now or in Eternity. Here the mystic is dedicated in his prayer for a perplexed world to be touched by the Love of the Absolute.
It is essential to be conscious of the distinction between the nature of the soul and the Nature of God. The unity that takes place during the mystical marriage, is a unity of love and experience, not a unity of natures.
It is during the mystical marriage that the soul comes to a conceptualization that only God understands him, and that it is only with God that he can converse. “For now, oh my God, it is to You alone that I can talk,” says Merton, “because nobody else will understand. I cannot bring any other man on this earth into this cloud where I dwell in Your light, that is, Your darkness, where I am lost and abashed. I cannot explain to any other man the anguish which is You......”
Within these deep repositories of his mind, the mystic experiences more dark nights of his soul, these central and eternal interchanges of pleasure and pain. There he breathes alone and without any form of companionship. And from time to time, he becomes indifferent to the outside world when his pain for the suffering of the universe and the affliction of nature causes a gravitation of emotions back into the bosom of his being. During a purification of the soul, the journey is lonely and difficult and discouraging.
But the mystic's life is not a life on the periphery, it is a life encapsulated by the grace of the ALONE and the love of the ALONE, a life wherein the desire for solitude burns in it's blinding manifestation. Thomas Merton wanted to “disappear into God.... to be lost in the secret of His face”. This is the “mystical marriage” in the bountiful blushing of its exceedingly becoming existence.
Only a few reaches the perfect state of the “spiritual marriage” - “many are called, but few are chosen”. It takes a long time, sometimes even years, for the advanced mystic to reach a point of readiness for entering the more grave night of the spirit, the dark night of the soul that leads to the “spiritual marriage”. He needs time to assimilate, to exercise, to grow and to blossom in the advanced stage so that he can be more at ease with the affairs of God during the perfect stage. Eventually he finds himself swimming so very deeply in the mainstream of the spiritual life, and his transcendental faculty has become so empowered, that the “spiritual marriage” is executed within him, whether he wants or not. When this happens, we refer to it as a “passive purgation”.
“God.... has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done, but because of His own purpose and grace....”
2 TIM 1:8,9
Nymph completed her L.T.C.L. in music and drama, and obtained a B.A. Psychology and Philosophy a few years later. She trained as formal singer under various renowned vocal advisers and performed in numerous concerts, recitals, and oratorios. After a car accident that lead to a few neuro surgeries, she began investigating the benefits of deep relaxation and wrote a few books and numerous articles on the subject.
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