I would not describe myself as a mystic, nor would I say that I am particularly attracted to mysticism. On the contrary, I tend to shy away from such things. I would even go so far as to say that I have a sneaking sympathy for Ronald Knox’s quip (or was it Newman’s) that mysticism begins in mist and ends in schism.
It’s not that I don’t respect mysticism—as long as it is grounded in orthodoxy. I have a great love for the mystical meanderings of St. John of the Cross, and who but a fool does not have profound respect for the feisty spiritual levitations of St. Teresa of Avila?
It’s just that I have always been more comfortable with the union of faith and reason to be found in Augustine or Aquinas than in the surrender of the sense and the senses to transcendental flights of selfless self-discovery.
There are exceptions. I can lose myself in the presence of beauty, be it the beauty of nature or the beauty of art, as Hopkins does, or as the great Romantics do: losing myself in the beauty so that I can discover God’s presence there, and, in so doing, find myself more deeply through the very losing of the self in the transport of delight.
In any event, this rather perambulating preamble serves to illustrate, I hope, that I am uncomfortable with any feeling that could be labeled as “mystical.” And yet, a few days ago, I had a near-death experience that can only be described as deeply mystical in a really life-changing way. Indeed, I will never be the same again.
It all began in the early evening as I was weeding kudzu from the woods on our property, a worthy but wearying endeavor that can be likened to the Long Defeat of which Tolkien writes. Suddenly I was aware of dozens of needles shooting searing pain into my body. I had disturbed a wasps’ nest. Somehow the vesperish hordes had managed to get inside my clothing and were venting their venomous spleen on my defenseless skin. Needless to say I beat a hasty retreat to my home and removed the items of clothing as expeditiously as possible.
The worst was now over—or so I thought….