It is viable to suggest that every person has the goal in life that is related to the search. Some may seek pleasure or love, others may look for happiness and financial stability, and another group of people may be focused on finding inner stability. Ursula King’s book is about those who explore the world in an attempt to find “knowledge and love of God,” the mystics (King 1). The leitmotiv idea repeated throughout the book is that it is possible for anyone to meet individuals whose hearts have been touched by God in a special way. Although the author offers only a brief overview of each of the mystics’ lives, the book serves as an excellent source of learning about some of the most exciting Christians who are frequently underappreciated.
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While reading the book, I was especially interested in several ideas. First of all, I became highly fascinated by finding my personal understanding of the word ‘mystic.’ The author gives her definition at the very beginning of the introduction, but still, I tried to make the notion more comprehensible for myself. The concept of someone who “experiences to an extraordinary degree the profoundly personal encounter with the energy of divine life” is rather peculiar (King 1).
Hence, I realized that the goal of this definition was to make the reader discern between “ordinary” and “exceptional” believers. I decided to hold that mystics are close to saints due to their unique abilities and self-sacrifice.
Another issue in the book that intrigued me was that mystics existed not only in ancient times but also in the previous century. Probably if the author decides to publish a new edition of her book, she will even add some personalities from the twenty-first century. King mentions that Christian mystical experience is “by no means a thing of the past” (109). To prove her point, the author gives numerous examples of mystics who lived quite recently. I enjoyed learning about the way mystics perceived Christianity and how they wanted “to know and to see” God and looked for perfection by living righteous lives King 5). Yet another interesting idea was the inclusion of different directions of religion in the narration. Such an approach helped to emphasize the unanimity of Christianity, be it Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, or Roman Catholic.
Probably the most impressive mystic to read about was Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri le Saux). What interested me in this personality was that he was the first French monk to adopt “the dress of sannyasins” (King 118). Le Saux’s faith allowed him to absorb the highest motives of both teachings, which made him the first person to engage in “Hindu-Christian dialogue” (King 118). The experience of this mystic demonstrated that one is not obliged to keep one religion throughout the whole life to be considered a mystic. Instead, the level of one’s righteousness and closeness to the divine is measured by other things, such as the desire to be a better person and devote one’s whole life to serving God.
There are many insights in the book that I could use in my own personal spiritual life. First of all, on the basis of reading, I realized that I have not been living my life righteously enough. Even though I always try to help others and give away some of my possessions to relieve other people’s suffering, it is not enough. Not that I am trying to become a mystic, but I have to acknowledge that there are many ways of making this world a better place. It seems that one cannot consider oneself a mystic – it is the prerogative and decision of people observing one’s deeds and behaviors. Still, both for myself and for the spiritual guidance of others, I learned that more resilience and patience are needed from the people.
Probably the only unanswered question for me remained how to distinguish between “ordinary” individuals and mystics. It seems that only after one’s death do people start to appreciate the level of solemnity and faith one had during the lifetime. This question remains open, and I will have to analyze it with the help of more books and other readings on this topic. Particularly, I would like to find out how other authors understand mysticism and whether there are mystics among my contemporaries.
The book by King offers much food for thought in several significant dimensions. Firstly, the author explains her vision of mystics, their most crucial features, and the outcomes of their spiritual teachings and activities. Secondly, the book inspires the reader to consider the difference between the right and wrong and the righteousness and irreverence. At some point in life, every person asks oneself these questions. With the help of King’s book, it is easier to give answers to some extent. However, the final, and probably most important, message is that one should not lose hope even if the surrounding people do not express understanding or support towards what one is doing. King’s Christian Mystics is not only highly informative but also a rather useful book.
King, Ursula. Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages. Routledge, 2004.