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Was Thomas Merton a great mystic?

Was Thomas Merton really a great mystic, as indicated above?

name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marr...

“Seems to be Mystic Marriage of Christ and the Church” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think of great Catholic mystics people like St. Faustina Kowalska come to mind. She was so busy suffering for others and having daily visions of Christ that she barely had time to write out her Diary.

Can bookish scholars/writers like Merton be mystics?


But I don’t think they can be great mystics. They might have an inkling of what the great mystics talk about.

Also, how do we know what a great mystic is? Need they be church approved and funded? Could there be other mystics who go unnoticed? Could the knowledge of these “wildflower” mystics, as I call them, surpass what the Church recognizes as a mystic or a saint?

I don’t know.

Ronald E. Powaski has written about the Trappi...

Ronald E. Powaski has written about the Trappist monk, peace activist, and writer, Thomas Merton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my gut tells me that Merton, who was keen on study, talk and world travel, was not a great mystic. He might have been a great Catholic public figure. But that’s a totally different story.

I know everyone is different and it’s not a competition when it comes to serving God. But it seems there’s a sort of childish Catholic ‘cult’ mentality out there that I sometimes question.

Do some people need to believe in semi-mythical accounts for inspiration? Do they artificially elevate certain figures who really don’t deserve it? Are some religious people borderline fanatics?

Myself, I much prefer trying to get at the truth of things rather than following an overzealous, unthinking crowd.

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Participation Mystique – An alternative to secular materialism

Okay so it’s been a bit slow this summer. Most people take some time to relax during the dog days but for me it has been busy. Internet traffic – or at least, visits – tend to drop a bit while everyone is outdoors. So things slow down here a bit.

In a way, this has been a good thing. I’ve been spending more time on individual articles at I feel a bit like a rock band, hammering out all the elements in preparation for that first hit. It seems I’m getting closer. Every time I write something I get some feedback and can use that to better my product.


Well yeah. Earthpages is a free blog, for sure. But I do have bills to pay and will need to crossover sometime into a paid-for position. Either as a writer at some other venue or as head honcho of a thriving Earthpages. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m still having fun with it.

So here’s an entry I wrote at over the summer. Looking back I’m tempted to edit. But I’ll just wait ’till next time around.

Enjoy! — MC

Participation Mystique is a psychological and spiritual idea proposed by the anthropologist Lucien Lévi-Bruhl. It concerns the alleged mystical relationship that so-called primitives had with objects in their environment.

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Apples and Oranges: The Comparison Game

Noah and Sons Making Wine via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Simcha Weinberg

“Why can’t you be like other kids who behave perfectly?” is a refrain I often hear parents complaining to their children. Yes, there were and are certainly moments when I wish my children were as “perfect” as other kids, but those moments are rare. I am more than happy for my kids to be individuals, albeit imperfect.

People do not do well when they are compared to other people. The damage increases when we begin to compare ourselves to others. “Why do other people have it so much easier than I?” “Why are they successful when I am not?” are not productive questions.

It becomes even worse when we compare ourselves to others in order to measure our spiritual success: “She said to Elijah, ‘what is there between me and you. O man of God, that you have come to me to call attention to my sins and to cause my son to die!” (Kings I 17:18) The Ralbag explains that she felt that Elijah’s presence in her home, with his impeccable standards of piety and Godliness, caused God to take note of her sins. When God compared her to her neighbors, she was considered righteous. However, compared to Elijah, she was a sinner.

The woman believed that God only judged her in comparison to the people around her, not as she was as an individual. How many of us could stand up to such comparisons?

And yet, the Sages understand that God did compare Noah to others: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.” (Genesis 6:9) Some Sages maintain that the stress on ‘HIS’ generations is intended as praise: Noah was righteous even in his corrupt environment. How much more righteous he would have been if he had the companionship of Abraham!

According to others, the verse is critical of Noah. He was considered righteous only when compared to his generation. Had he lived in Abraham’s time, Noah would not have stood out as a righteous person. (Rashi)

That sure sounds like the comparison approach to me!

I suggest that the verse is not describing how God judged Noah, but rather how Noah set his sights on achieving his status as a righteous man. Some Sages read the story and understand Noah as someone who strove to be righteous only in comparison with his generation. He did not strive to achieve objective righteousness. He was satisfied with being more righteous than those around him. It was Noah who played the comparison game, and limited himself by so doing.

Other Sages read the story and picture Noah as someone who strove for true Righteousness. He did not play the comparison game. He set his sights on achieving the highest level of Tzidkut. He did not measure himself against his generation but against the highest levels of righteousness, the levels, we know, that were achieved by Abraham.

Rashi seems to prefer the former approach and understands the verse as limiting Noah’s praises. He comments on the next phrase, “Noah walked with God,” and says, Noah needed to walk with God because he could not maintain his standards without someone holding him up. Whereas the verse says of Abraham, “Walk before Me,” Abraham was able to walk on his own.

Harry Chapin closes his song “Greyhound” with, “It’s got to be the going not the getting there that’s good.” It seems to me that Noah was focused on ‘getting there’, he wanted to walk with God. Abraham, on the other hand, was focused on the ‘going’, the journey of his life. He knew that ultimately he would walk with God. He wanted to make sure that the ‘going’, the journey was good and productive.

Abraham was focused on the journey. His goal expanded and grew as he extended his trip and developed himself. Abrahams ‘getting there’ constantly changed as he grew as a human being and servant of God. His ‘there’ was not defined until the end of his life.

Noah was only interested in the ‘getting there’. He needed to define his ‘there’ where and when he was. Such a person can only set his sights by comparing himself with others. That was the only way that Noah could define his ‘there’.

We, the children of Abraham, follow Halacha – we are walkers and see life as a journey. We do not compare ourselves to anyone or anything other than our highest aspirations, which constantly expand and rise as we continue our journey in life.

About the Author:

Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

Article Source: ArticlesBase.comApples and Oranges: The Comparison Game

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EP Today – In the dark or the light?

This morning I was reading Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ and came across these two quotes (tweeted above).

It made me think about how the spirit can influence our outlook. A church, for instance, might look like a silly, rigid place if we are not able to appreciate the presence of God within its walls. But if our hearts and minds are open, that physical space is literally transformed, as we ourselves can be.

And so it probably is with Jeremiah and Cicero’s wildly different takes on ancient Jerusalem. On the one hand, we have a great prophet in touch with God. On the other hand, an intelligent, well-meaning Roman statesman who writes about the ancient Greek and Roman gods.

Cicero via Wikipedia

Cicero goes down in history as a good man who was generally respected by the early Christians. But what about those people who appear to be obsessed with the dark side?

I try to stay open-minded about people seemingly obsessed with evil. Artistically representing evil in a healthy way may be one thing. But sometimes I wonder if something is bothering some people fixated on evil.

Mind you, some Christians give off horrendous vibes. I try to avoid them because I just can’t afford the pain – literally – of associating with some of them.

With both Christians and obsessively “dark side” people, we have to look for the human heart underneath the layers and influences and try to nurture a person’s authentic self. Hopefully over time we all learn how to tell the difference between darkness, lesser lights, and the true light.

For some it might take many years, even a lifetime. But we have to remember that Jesus didn’t always hang out with holy people. He came to help those in the dark. And in our limited capacity, so should we.


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Mysticism needs a reality check

This is one of the better articles on mysticism I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it gently rebuke those Christian fundamentalists who proclaim that mysticism is “of the devil.” But it also mentions how Evelyn Underhill, one of my favorite writers on mysticism, points out as far back in 1914 that the word mysticism means different things to different people.

To a Zen monk, mysticism might mean stopping one’s thoughts and living in the moment. To a Hindu, it might mean feeling a psychological expansion, making the ego and worldly affairs appear trivial.

Most conventional Catholics interested in or claiming to be mystics seem to frame their approach, experiences and understanding within some – but usually not all – of their Catholic teachings, legends and practices.

Over the years I’ve heard some pretty questionable claims from some self-proclaimed Catholic mystics. One element that unconfirmed mystics seem to have in common is that they believe they have no need for dialog or spiritual direction. In their minds, they are right about practically everything.

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

Evelyn Underhill via Wikipedia

But who among us is without some kind of human limitation?

Because we are all limited, I believe it is essential for budding mystics to receive some kind of direction from another person or persons. I don’t believe a Catholic must necessarily see a Catholic spiritual director. That may help in traditional situations where everyone shares the same beliefs without question. In common parlance, if it’s a good fit, why change it?

But for Catholics uncomfortable with aspects of the greater Catholic culture, guides and critics from other traditions and with different perspectives might be more appropriate in keeping them real.

This reminds me of another type of mystic I have encountered. I call these creative souls “wildflowers.” Unlike the well cared for “hothouse flowers” of traditional Catholicism, the wildflowers are just out there. I’ve found them in the most unusual places, each different but definitely tuned in.

One had pink hair and worked in a record store, another was a ‘normal’ looking man who owned a milk store. And yet another lived in my apartment building back in my student days. These wildflowers seem to be able to access subtle, interior insights without really having to go to any kind of church or temple.

Sometimes I wish I was more like the wildflowers. But it seems I am something of a hybrid between a wild and a hothouse flower. I need the Catholic Eucharist to stay on top of things. However, I do approach my religion in my own way. I don’t do this to be rebellious. On the contrary, I feel it’s important to approach one’s religion by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

~ 2 Corinthians 3:6

This is a basic Christian teaching that sadly, I think many Catholics have forgotten with the rules, regulations and hypocrisy that might be turning so many thinking people away from discovering something truly glorious.


Does mysticism bring all the great religions together?

English: Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna K...

Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna Kowalska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My view is that different faith groups are connected in the overall dynamic of becoming but they are not necessarily the same, even at the most fundamental experiential level.

That perspective is based on personal religious experience, which (obviously) I cannot share with everyone. So making a scientific claim here is problematic. However, we can, as Marko Ivan Rupnik puts it, employ a “rational-experiential” approach to religious experience.

Talking about the Catholic idea of discerning God’s will, which includes the belief that we are able to discern different spiritual influences, Rupnik says:

It is important to state that no matter how important reading about discernment can be, discernment is a reality into which one must be initiated. This initiation requires a rational-experiential approach.¹

On this point I agree. But Rupnik goes on to say that discernment never happens alone. A qualified (Catholic) spiritual director is necessary. And it’s on the second part of this claim that I raise some questions. For example,

  • How do we know that a given Catholic spiritual director is qualified to direct us correctly?
  • Does not the Catholic saint, Faustina Kowalska, write in her Divine Mercy Diary that some of her confessors were too inexperienced to understand her, and that she didn’t tell them everything because she had learned that they would get it wrong and mislead her? If this kind of misdirection could happen within the sacrament of confession, could it not happen with an assigned spiritual director?²

Anyhow, I digress. The point of this post is to stimulate debate about various kinds of religion, how they differ but could also work together.

¹ Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ. Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, Pauline Books and Media, 2006, p.4

² Later in the book she says she realized that holding back at confession was a sin, which makes for slightly confusing reading.

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Stigmata – signs of holiness or illness?