Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
What is your image of a mystic? A bearded man in a flowing, purple robe casting spells? A young woman in a habit swooning in prayer? Or perhaps, your reflection in the mirror?
Do you see mysticism as a way of life for an eccentric few? Or can mystical experience shape the consciousness of ordinary folk? This Beatitude offers a litmus test: If the promise of seeing God invites you to do what you must for a pure heart, you are a mystic.
Mystics yearn for the beatific vision. They hunger for a direct encounter with Truth, not just the impersonal truths of geometric theorems or proven facts, but the Truth that comes in living relationship with the One in whom Truth inheres. In other words, they long to see God’s face.
Knowledge in the Hebrew scriptures means more than assent to a valid proposition: It also includes intimate love between persons. Mystics get that. Medieval Christian mystics often couched their teachings in allegorical interpretations of the erotic Song of Songs. My favorite mystic predates them: Paul the Apostle, wished mystical knowledge upon the church in Philippi when he wrote the blessing, “May your love overflow with knowledge and full insight” (Philippians 1:9). Mystics seek knowledge through love.
Yet in another sense, mystics resemble scientists. Any scientist worth her salt approaches truth with humble reverence. After the successful experiment that supports her hypothesis, she raises doubts nevertheless and goes on with the next experiment to check them out. Her work finally leads to questions, not answers. She accepts unknowing, and her work constantly reminds her that what she doesn’t know far exceeds what she knows.
Similarly, the mystic suspends certainty to make room for Truth. John of the Cross promoted laying aside anything that one thinks one knows or wants with the mantra, “not this, not that,” and patiently waiting in the remaining darkness for the one true God. So here’s another litmus test: A true mystic waits. Whatever glimpse of Truth comes, whether in sublime ascent to union with God as Paul described in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 or in an encounter on the ground with “the least of these” as Jesus described in his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), mystics experience the vision as a gift, never taking credit for figuring it out or digging it up.
“Purity of heart is to will one thing,” taught Kierkegaard, and for the mystic, that one thing is to see the face of God. The desire itself will lead you through cleaning out your heart’s attic, “not this, not that,” until in the empty, arid space you wait and find peace, knowing somehow that God fills it…knowing, somehow…God. If that invites and warms you, you are a mystic.