“Mysticism” (Frederick Buechner)

MYSTICISM IS WHERE RELIGIONS START. Moses with his flocks in Midian, Buddha under the Bo tree, Jesus up to his knees in the waters of Jordan—each of them is responding to Something of which words like Shalom, Nirvana, God even, are only pallid souvenirs. Religion as ethics, institution, dogma, ritual, Scripture, social action—all of this comes later and in the long run maybe counts for less. Religions start, as Frost said poems do, with a lump in the throat—to put it mildly—or with a bush going up in flames, a rain of flowers, a dove coming down out of the sky. “I have seen things,” Aquinas told a friend, “that make all my writings seem like straw.

“Most people have also seen such things. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of their lives, most of them have caught glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, they tend to go on as though nothing has happened.

We are all more mystics than we choose to let on, even to ourselves. Life is complicated enough as it is.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

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