Minimalism and Mysticism

“Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings.” ~ Pope Francis

“Over against this whole array of materialistic infidelity, now, we owe it to ourselves to make sure at least of our own personal hold on the realness of things unseen and eternal; so that the spiritual world shall not be for us a shadowy utopia simply, but a positive substantiality, coming close home to our daily interest and thought. Such habit of mind cannot be in us with the facility of mere natural growth. It requires heavenly planting, and much inward attention and culture. It would carry us too far to go here into the details of this culture. Meditation, prayer, the right use of God’s disciplinary providence, intimate converse with the Word of God, where the powers of the spiritual world are always at hand as indwelling ‘spirit and life’.” ~ John Williamson Nevin, The Spiritual World, 1876

When it comes to a blog with a primary focus on deeper spiritual living, the topic of minimalism may catch some by surprise. Minimalism is normally thought of in terms of material possessions and responsibilities. Minimalism is not about being lazy and only putting in the minimal effort needed to get by. The purpose of minimalism is to seek to reduce the amount of things that ultimately do not matter in order to be able to better focus one’s time and resources upon what matters most. Therefore minimalism is to some extent an essential part of mysticism. Sure I realize that many people turn to minimalism as a way to get rid of the mountain of unneeded stuff that is weighing them down. The truth of the matter is that simply getting rid of stuff for the sake of being free is not a long-term solution. Likewise, a hoarder¬†that simply gets more stuff for the sake of feeling secure is also not a long-term solution. Minimalism is a tool, and like any tool, it is important to understand not only what it can do but also what it can not do. As let’s face it regardless of how high quality of a hammer that one has, a hammer is useless when it comes to fixing a clogged toilet. As a tool minimalism can be useful to help one regain and maintain control over runaway amounts of material possessions. Although minimalism alone cannot change anything deeper than the surface. The materialist can focus on how much stuff that they have just like the minimalist can focus on how little stuff they have. The frugal minimalist can focus on how little money they spend on stuff. And the only the best minimalism can focus upon the quality of the few things that they own. Although in the end all of the above are still slaves to their stuff. Given that obsession over their stuff demonstrates that their material possessions possess them. The real problem is not with minimalism. The real problem is that the deeper problems are ultimately spiritual in nature. Many of us have even been duped into thinking that we can treat the spiritual with material things and activities. Meaningful living requires having a spiritual purpose and meaningful life goals. Thus a radical minimalist living out of a single bag can be equally spiritually malnourished as a hoarder that has most of the rooms in their house filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with stuff. Given that a healthy level of detachment from physical objects, it can be impossible to make progress on one’s spiritual journey. You do not have to go to the extreme of getting rid of everything and forsake personal ownership of any material object through a vow of poverty. Just realize that spiritual and even life development can be hindered until one is able to put physical objects in their proper place. Material possessions are tools that help you accomplish things and not a source of meaning and purpose in your life.

Our Present Reality

“The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” ~ Karl Rahner SJ

“My own religion was constitutionally of a mystical tendency and turn. It is not necessary to say what exactly it amounted to in myself more than this, that there was in me a sense and feeling of much in Christianity which was not to be reached in the way of common thought; but needed for its discernment and apprehension a deeper and more vital mode of knowledge.” ~ John Williamson Nevin

In recent years, many have declared that religion will soon be dead in America. And by religion, they mean Christianity. These claims of certain doom to Christianity are almost always rooted in some culture shift in society. If religion has its foundation in culture, they are right in saying that religion will soon be dead. People do not attend church on Sundays, just because it that is what we do as part of our duty as Americans. So if religion needs culture pressure to survive, then it will not survive a major culture shift. The debate over if the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation does not matter. Even if the United States of America was at one time a Christian nation, it is not a Christian nation now. So to try to insist upon a past that most historians consider a myth is not helping anybody. It is only betraying a position of fear and panic in the midst of weakness. In fact this type of reaction is what gave birth to prediction of the coming demise of Christianity.

Karl Rahner predicted the current crisis of the Western church. In his famous statement, he declared that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” To Rahner, a mystic is a person who has a genuine experience of God emerging from the heart of their existence. In other words, the time is coming when there will no longer be any middle ground in the church. The future of the American church will be like Jesus’ parable of the sower who spreads the seed. In the end it is only the seed that falls upon the good soil with deep roots and away from choking weeds that will remain. The challenge that remains is the church adapting to the new reality that surrounds us. In today’s world it is not unusual for people to spend more time with computers than other people. The rise of computers and the Internet at the birth of the information age has been another game changer. So how does one seek to develop deep and meaningful Christianity spirituality today? I believe that Mercersburg Theology is a good starting point. In a nutshell, Mercersburg Theology primarily focuses upon the Incarnation. (The Incarnation was the act of God becoming fully human in the person of Jesus Christ.) Mercersburg Theology has two obvious advantages when it comes to Raner’s vision. First, the focus upon Christ in the world makes it more adaptable to changes in the world. The second is that Mercersburg Theology tends to be more mystical in nature. In fact Mercersburg Theology has a history of leading people into mysticism. Starting with John Williamson Nevin, a founding theologian of the Mercersburg Theology movement. I will get into more detail about Mercersburg Theology in future posts. It is my goal to write practical posts that are able to benefit anybody that has a computer. I realize that people rarely mix topics such computers and deeper spirituality. Which is why I feel that it is all the more important to explore the neglected areas.