This wasn’t a first for me. I have become a little accustom to this kind of response. I often ask myself, “Am I just too abrasive? Or, what was that all about?” I have begun to realize that the problem is one of terminology. Let’s talk about hippies, mystics and the whole problem of categorizing Christianity.
When Did “Mystic” Become Synonymous with “Hippie”?
I love the people that are often called hippies. If you knew much about my town, Bellingham, you would understand why. Bellingham is full of people who simply want to love life, experience spirituality, make soap, farm their own food, and “just get along.” Outsiders call them hippies, but to us, they are “Bellinghampsters.” (Seriously, that is what you are called if you live in Bellingham.) I have learned a great deal from my downtown Bellinghampster friends. So, if you think of yourself as a hippie, don’t take the rest of this post as an insult. (I love you, I promise.)
Mysticism and Hippie-ism are not synonymous. Hippie-ism is generally about all religions being equal and really the same—all of them being a way to express our inner-selves. Mysticism was established as a certain kind of spirituality. Its brand was Jewish and eventually Christian. Jewish and Christian mysticism are sold separately, but not in stores, synagogues or your average church. You have to take a long journey, or have a miraculous experience, to acquire mysticism. Why? Because you can’t buy faith. And it’s not transferable.
Mysticism: Not Emergent, Not Holy Roller—Just Christian
Around 250 BC, Jewish mysticism emerged. It’s ancient. To be frank, I think Jewish mysticism is a bit wacky but I love what it was the precursor to—the Church. (Yes, I hear some of you yelling and screaming, give me a sec hear; you may enjoy what is coming.)
In Acts 2, there is an explosion of the Holy Spirit. People begin to speak in languages they did not know, spiritual gifts get outpoured upon multitudes, and 3,000 people accept Christ. A pretty good evangelism campaign, eh? None of us complain about Pentecost and most of us think it is pretty cool. But what if it happened today? We would likely say, “What the heck?” Some people of the time said, “Oh, they’re just drunk. Don’t listen to that drunkard Peter” (Acts 2:13). But they weren’t drunk. They were serious. The very Spirit of God was poured upon these people. So what happened here? Why did those 3,000 people believe? Was Peter’s preachin’ really that good?
Just Preachin’ Isn’t Enough. People Have to Relate to It
We have Peter’s sermon, so we know his preaching was that good. But when it is read in church, I don’t see the same effects. What then went down in the first century that convinced 3,000 people to believe in Christ in one setting? It seems that they experienced something. And it rang true of something else—what they knew in their Scriptures about the coming Messiah and the experiences they witnessed of prophets in the past (e.g., Isaiah 6; 1 Kings 18; 19:10–18). These experiences are what Jewish mysticism was based upon. (And remember, the people hearing the message of Jesus for the first time were Jews.) So when Christianity emerges, it comes out of an experience that is beyond what is tangible. An experience with the Infinite God. And if that isn’t “magical” (one of the definitions of mysticism), then I don’t know what is. The event also introduced “a feeling of awe and wonder” by the people there (again, another definition of mysticism.) So, when the Christian movement begins, it begins with a mystical experience.
How did your spiritual experience begin? Maybe it was subtle and that’s why you don’t relate to mysticism.
In my next post I will define mysticism further. For now, tell me what you think. How would our belief system and experiences change if we were on the hunt for an experience with the Infinite God? Would it set us up for success in finding Him? If you are a Christian, ask yourself, "If the early Christians really were mystics, why am I resistant to calling myself one?"
Because maybe mystics aren't emergent and maybe they're not holy rollers. And maybe, just maybe, they aren't soap-making, farm-loving, I-only-eat-what-falls-off-the-tree, and only-worship-in-yoga-class, hippies. Maybe they're just first-century Christians and a few of us today.