We have noted the experience of awakening that often is the first step along the path. This can be followed by purification or purgation in which we acknowledge our sins and attempt, with God’s grace, to overcome the dark traits of our personalities. Next can come illumination in which we experience the presence of God such that we begin to understand more and more about who God is and what God desires for us. The final stop along the mystic path is called union.
On sweet occasions
Goal of Christian devotion
Union with our God
As might be expected, this stage can only be described by metaphor and symbol. Some mystics compare it to a transformation, e.g. wood becoming flame in fire, or a drop of water becoming wine when immersed in a great sea of wine. And, St. Paul wrote about being conformed to the image of Christ–becoming like Christ. Deification is a word the Eastern Orthodox Church has used for centuries. We do not become equal with God, but they affirm that we acquire the divine nature. In 2nd Peter, we discover that we can “become participants of the divine nature” (1:4).
Another favorite image among the mystics is spiritual marriage. It is a union characterized by love. The Song of Solomon is a favorite book for these mystics. Human love becomes a metaphor for the loving union of a person and God.
However it was characterized, the mystics all have had a burning desire to experience the fullness of God. They desire this more than life itself. So, they seek after God, and by God’s grace, they can have moments of true union. Only in the life to come, can the union become more permanent.
Union with God in this life and the life to come is characterized by 5 qualities.
1) It is marked by a union of minds. The mystic begins to share God’s values, ideas, and wisdom. Because of this union, they often understand intuitively what God would have them do different situations.
2) It is marked by a union of hearts. The mystic begins to love what God loves. The true mystic, united with God, has compassion for all that God has made.
3) The third mark should go without saying, but it is often not clearly understood. If we share God’s values and love what God loves, we will desire union with one another. To be united with God, one must in one way or another, be immersed in the life of the people of God.
4) The fourth mark is joy. One of my favorite mystics, Richard Rolle compared the person united with God to a music pipe always playing joyful songs of love to Christ.
5) The fifth mark is peace. One of my favorite hymns expresses this well. It is “Like a River Glorious” by Frances Havergal:
Life a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day;
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Hidden in the hollow of God’s blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand.
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Nor a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;
Finding as God promised, perfect peace and rest.
This is not the last thing I want to say about this beautiful mystic path, but perhaps that is enough for today. As always, if you find what I have written helpful, feel free to share it with others.
2 thoughts on “The Mystic Path: Union with God”
With reference to your introductory paragraph before your fuller explication of “union”, Lamon:
“We have noted the experience of awakening that often is the first step along the path. This can be followed by purification or purgation in which we acknowledge our sins and attempt, with God’s grace, to overcome the dark traits of our personalities. Next can come illumination in which we experience the presence of God such that we begin to understand more and more about who God is and what God desires for us. The final stop along the mystic path is called union.”
I would be interested in your personal impressions as well as from those mystics you have studied (and studied under) as to the continuity and/or concurrence of the steps you’ve outlined. Re: Step 2, purgation/purification: Many secular (or quasi-religious, like Jung) and religious writers have intuited after empirical observations and/or personal insights that the “dark” or “shadow” (to use Jung’s word) self is something to be accepted rather than to “overcome”. Otherwise it becomes the focus of our attention and sometimes an obsession. This comes to mind w/Step 1, Illumination, as well. In a physical description of these ineffable processes, if we are illuminated on our way at a given place and time “toward The Light” then we, by necessity, cast a shadow. In the process of illumination, we become more conscious of that “shadow” as a basic part of our human condition. Many of the older mystics, in fact, have related how much more unworthy they are conscious of being as they become more “illuminated”, even as others actually witness and remark about their increasing humility, gentleness, etc. (aka, “saintliness/Godlikeness”) and the “saint” expresses surprise and is even rather dismissive when others mention it (an attribute of true humility, I would suggest).
That suggestion made, I’m interested in your insights as to whether these are distinct progressive linear steps (as most steps per se are considered as directionally “upward” or “downward”), or whether these are more repetitive cyclical (sometimes concurrent or interpenetrative) phases beginning with awakening (the 1st stage you mentioned) and then with recurring progressive illumination. Two images that may illustrate this come to my mind: (1) walking toward the light on The Way casts a shadow behind us (undeniable but not the focus of our attention unless we turn away from The Light) which when we “arrive” (as the Apostle Paul might say, “when we see Jesus ‘face-to-face’ “) the light illuminates us from above and then casts no shadow. As John of the 3 Epistles in the NT might imply “if we walk in the light as He is in the light”, might we have an allusion to simultaneous ultimate “illumination” with “union”? (2) that illumination emanates from within (as the OT might call it “Shekinah”) and thereby illuminates without casting a shadow. Both images conceivably could be “in force” (and simultaneously “comfort” us, literally from the Latin, “with power”), do you think?
So, can our shadow be “overcome” in any other way than as a shift of “frame of reference” of where we are now, to where we need to be vis a vis, “The Light,” and from where “The Light” is shining?
I have always had a great appreciation for Jung. I still have a copy of his “Answer to Job” and “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, but I would not want to conflate his discussion of our ‘shadow’ side with that which Christian mystics assume needs purging from ourselves in order to be pure. I will give one answer to at least one of your questions. You have anticipated part of what will appear in my next blog, i.e. the steps of purification, illumination, and union are normally cyclical; there is a need for deeper purifications, more intense illumination, and more complete union. I will raise the prospect of ‘dark night of the soul’ to talk about how these things can appear in slightly different forms or degrees as we continue to climb the ladder. (If you have not read the two books mentioned above, I would recommend them–especially the latter. Recommended with one caveat; I read them both MANY years ago.)