Book Review — Becoming an Ordinary Mystic

The word “mystic” is about as useful as “monk” or “monastic” in many of our lives as believers. We may have an idea of what that word entails, but to become a “mystic” (or “monk” or “monastic”)? No thanks.

There are those who have gone before considered to be mystics who wrote of their experiences, or their experiences were given as accounts by someone else. In the Christian sense, when reading their writings, such as St. John of the Cross, we read those deep words and think, “Good for him. Not a calling for me!”

Albert Haase knew from early childhood he had a hunger to be a mystic. When he asked his mother the definition of a mystic, she replied, “A special friend of God.” She also told him it was a calling.

But Haase makes a bold assertion in this book: We’re all called to be a mystic. As he learned from a spiritual director, “Mystics are ordinary Christians who do what we are called to do, respond to grace.”

What needs to be developed in our lives in a sensitivity to the divine presence along with the willingness to respond to his invitation to us. The key to a mystic is the ability to celebrate all that Jesus offers us in the present… right now.

Mystics battle distraction, past history, past hurts, current sin, hurt feelings… sound familiar? The truth can be this: we can all be ordinary mystics. The journey is to take those distractions and feelings and surrender them so we can understand Christ in this moment.

Haase leads the reader chapter by chapter to deal with gaining a life of mindfulness. He doesn’t deny distractions, hurts, and sin, along with painful pasts. He invites the reader to recognize those things as gifts and understand Christ IN these situations. Each chapter ends with helpful exercises to lead the reader in “practice,” then “reflection”, and then leaving the subject with something to “ponder.”

The beauty I found in this book is twofold: 1. I can learn to live in the present and be present with God and with others, and 2. I must keep embracing this as a lifelong journey and I have never “arrived.” I can, however, grow in maturity and ability to embrace the present.

I found one method early on that can be practiced and I believe would help believers truly gain freedom from a lot of anxiety.

In the first chapter (“Right Here, Right Now”) he presents what looks to be a “simple” four-step method that is incredibly intricate, time consuming, grueling… and then freeing.

The simple words are this: Stop. Look. Listen. Go. He dives into some detail on each word, of course, but the exercise has an amazing ability to help free an anxious spirit.

This is simple… and not simple… all at the same time. This is a life of practice.

I found another practice that I will be trying more because as I read it I honestly thought, “This can’t be possible at all.” In the chapter, “An Invitation to Transparency” he discusses the “Welcoming Prayer.” It is a way of dealing with negative emotions.

The first step I understood: Become mindful of the emotion…

But the next step threw me (and I’m still wrestling with it): Offer the emotion “hospitality.”

Then, after acknowledging the emotion and letting that experience sit there… bid it farewell.

This is a process I have to explore. I am unsure of how this works out practically.

The challenges each of us with our past, our emotions, our egos, etc., bind us up. Haase lays out the invitation to deal with these things our lives by becoming mystics. As ordinary mystics we will have the opportunity to see these problems fade and we will become far more mindful of Christ in the present.

Haase tells story after story to illustrate his concepts and they are marvelous journeys.

This book provides the possibility of utilizing these lessons in a small group as well as walking through these chapters slowly on an individual basis.

I received a review copy of this book from Intervarsity Press and am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

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