Yesterday evening I ate what I normally eat for dinner where I normally eat for dinner on Monday nights , and as I tend to do, I paid a great deal of attention to the music. Sitting for long periods of time and reading and writing in restaurants has given me a fondness for the sort of music that restaurants I like play, and I suspect that one thing that makes me feel more comfortable in a place is the sort of music that is played. At any rate, when I hear a song I enjoy but am not familiar with, I will pick the lyrics and search them on google on my phone and see if I can find the song. At any rate, yesterday I was listening to the house music and found the song “Above The Timberline” from Five For Fighting, a singer/songwriter I happen to really like . The song tells the story about the narrator’s enjoyment of periods of solitude high above the treeline where he can commune with God/Creation, and the song has some pretty clear mystical overtones that I find enjoyable .
The song, though, and my reflection on its meaning, allows me to broach a subject that I often face in my comments when I am critical of certain aspects of religiosity in the books I read. The following comment I recently received on an adverse review can be taken as fairly typical of the flavor of comments I receive on the subject: “This comes across largely as judgement of a belief system unlike your own, rather than an educated and well thought out review of a book. While you may not believe in things like reincarnation or angels – I am assuming you are not a highly spiritual man – you are clearly religious and claim that this author is influenced by demonic forces. Really? In fact you start out admitting that the only reason you requested to review this title was in hopes that you could “debunk” a “quack doctor”. If ever there were a statement about character…You don’t have to like the book but it is not necessary to launch a character assault on an author I cannot imagine why someone would find pleasure in attempting to negate someone’s spiritual beliefs. Had this book been about your belief system I imagine you would have rated it higher. ” What I find most interesting about the comment is the assumption that I am not a spiritual man, but rather only a religious one. What does the author mean by spiritual? My charitable assumption is that the author believes me (correctly) to be a person of a certain set of religious beliefs–which I frequently write about and do my best to live honorably according to–but that the person believes (incorrectly) that I am someone who is hostile to mysticism.
Yet this assumption is commonly made that I am some sort of sterile intellectual who has no interest whatsoever in the personal relationship between people and God (and other spiritual beings) and that I am quick to label all such experiences as demonic. “Above The Treeline” is a good song in that it demonstrates the sort of mystical experience I am most comfortable with. Here we have a tired man living a busy and probably lonely life, something I can relate to, seeking refuge from the grind in an isolated place of private personal communion in Creation. This is a sort of mysticism I have been all about since childhood when I would frequently bicycle through the rural area where I grew up, or find a quiet meadow by a creek on the far boundaries of my paternal family’s farm. Being a solitary person in a beautiful but remote countryside communing with God and seeking peace and harmony with God and His Creation is precisely the sort of mystical experience I wholeheartedly support, and one I still enjoy from time to time, as when I traveled with my mum and a friend to Hell’s Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains in remote Eastern Oregon . That, again, is precisely the sort of mystical experience I greatly enjoy and appreciate without reservation as someone who values the ability to reflect on the beauty of God’s creation and ponder my place in this universe that He has made.
Nor is this the only mystical experience I appreciate. Throughout my life I have had dreams that stood beyond the ordinary and that I thought were meaningful and significant and worth remembering and recording. Likewise, I appreciate it when my friends share stories about their dramatic angel accounts, and I do not find these experiences to be invalid merely because they are mystical accounts. The subtle workings of divine providence are also an area of deep and frequent personal reflection. Life is full of deep questions, and I am firmly of the belief that we are not alone in this universe and that there are rich potentials in meditation and reflection and in appreciating elements of Creation that can be intuitively grasped but not entirely rationally understood and put into a convenient box. To the extent that my interest in obscure and esoteric questions, my fondness for solitude and meditative reflection, and my appreciation of both Creation and its Creator make me a mystically inclined person, I am willing to accept that label, albeit with some reservations.
The issues I take with mysticism are not a disbelief that there are genuine mystical experiences or a criticism of those who seek wilderness and solitude for their own mental and emotional and spiritual well-being. My issue is with the fact that many people seek to write or discuss mystical matters as a way of pointing to themselves as someone special. When Five For Fighting sang, he was sharing an intimate moment of his own spiritual life, whether or not he saw it in such a light. He was not trying to promote himself as a worthwhile spiritual guide, but rather expressing his own journey and sharing it with others who would be inclined to appreciate it, as I do. There are spiritual beings, though, who wish to impersonate God and His angels, and so mystical experiences must be taken critically. If God wishes to give us some insight in a dream, or appreciates our desire to seek Him apart from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life, we are merely following in His servants from ages past, with whom God communicated for His purposes and to further His glory. But if we encounter spiritual beings who are possessive or demanding or who seek to gratify the baser aspects of our nature, we would do well to be more critical about such areas and to avoid confusion in what sort of spirits we are dealing with. We seek communion and oneness with God above, not with fallen spirits appointed for judgment.
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