The Balance Between Mysticism And Activism

When someone is trying to recover through something traumatic, whether it be an event in their life or an addiction, the first thing that must happen is that they be in an environment that will offer them the stability to endure it. When the environment isn’t in place, they will constantly resort to their bad behaviors or deny the reality of what they are experiencing to continue coping. The power of a new location allows them to experience what their life is trying to bring to the forefront. The location is the shelter for their life to crumble. The location is the shelter for their new beginning in their existential death.

When I look at what treatment centers do, or people who welcome troubled people into their lives, I don’t see a very spiritual act. They are simply providing a physical center for a physical person. There is nothing experiential or transformational about it. But, when we give someone one of their foundational needs as a human being, it serves as the grace, a gift of life. The very physical act creates a spiritual reaction in both the giver and the receiver. The giver is no longer attached to the object they are giving away (you cannot serve God and mammon), and by receiving the person in need they open their eyes to a bigger worldview— a worldview that doesn’t allow us to deny the suffering in the world, and can move us towards compassion. When the person in need receives the gift from the giver, if they are able to, they are able to receive the compassion, the love that was not consciously present to them before. They are also able to receive a place where they can begin receiving themselves, and move towards a more holistic consciousness of who they are, and the world they live in.

When I look at many activists around the world, I see many beautiful, yet, angry people. I see people who became frustrated with the systems and the people who were blind to what seemed so clear to them, and their hearts became hard towards others. Eventually, they become just as much a part of the problem as they are the solution. Their beautiful intentions become masked in their own hatred.

When I look at mystics. I see beautiful people who have learned who learned how to absorb their own souls. They have learned how to do the work of the soul. They have learned how to love, forgive, and accept themselves. Yet, many people I know who are mystics have not learned how to live with others. Many people who have such a deep and strong internal life have not yet learned hot to translate this into a physical life.

The power of grace is a living dynamic. Every living thing must be welcomed as a guest, and not as a possession. This is why those who learn how to lose their life will find it. When the activist is able to become a mystic, and when the mystic is able to become an activist, they are moving towards becoming a whole person. When we are unable to receive the grace of life and give it to others, then we were never able to receive the grace itself, and we have become a product of self-preservation. But, when we are able to give the love we have received, when we are able to serve as we have been served, when we are able to love as we have been loved, then we will find the wholeness that we all desire in our public/private faith. We will no longer need to teach the Gospel to anyone, we will have become the Gospel. Our words, our actions, will reflect the good news that we ourselves have received.

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15 thoughts on “The Balance Between Mysticism And Activism

  1. Eric says:

    You have a way with words, man. Great post.

    Often times I think of mysticism as a more deeply-rooted activism. It’s living your life for a purpose and then living your life pouring out that purpose. Sometimes (and this is mainly thinking of the Occupy movement) activism can be rather knee-jerk. But I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a knee-jerk mystic.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Eric, I think you are right. When we let listen to our lives (something wonderful teachers like Parker Palmer speak of), then our mouths will speak the words we have heard. Or, as I have come to understand it and tell others, “the life we have, is the life we give.” Somehow, beyond maybe even a balance between the two, there is an inter-connectedness.

  2. Interestingly timed and well said, Mike.

    Working in a very broken system (state government) around the issue of homelessness, I frequently come into contact with people who somehow think it’s possible to express their love and compassion toward the downtrodden by raging against the system designed (however poorly) to help them. I’ve never seen it work very well. But those who are able to come to terms with the system and it’s rules and figure out how to love people, either through the system or in spite of it, have made and continue to make a real difference.

    It can be a heartbreaking line to walk, but well worth the intentionality it requires.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Jacqui,
      How have you seen the system work? What has that looked like?

      • The system doesn’t work, because it can’t. Not in the arena of poverty and social services. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, says frequently that it’s because programs can’t help people. People help people.

        The system can’t be the answer, but it can be a tool. But it’s only really an effective tool when it’s used in the context of a loving relationship. It’s really difficult to systemize and operationalize the power of a personal relationship and connecting with another person as equals.

  3. Tana says:

    They are also able to receive a place where they can begin receiving themselves, and move towards a more holistic consciousness of who they are, and the world they live in.

    This. So much this. Beautiful.

  4. Thanks Mike…I really love this.

  5. If one reads the ancient mystics, Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena, one finds that their deeply rooted mysticism became arid (Teresa’s words) and that hey were propelled to become activists until the died. Great post as always, Mike.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I think you, and Teresa of Avila are correct (she is definitely one of my favorite mystics!). When we are able to die to our lives, and realize it doesn’t revolver around us, we can begin to give away the gifts that God and others have given to us. Thank you for sharing this wisdom!

  6. “When I look at many activists around the world, I see many beautiful, yet, angry people. I see people who became frustrated with the systems and the people who were blind to what seemed so clear to them, and their hearts became hard towards others. Eventually, they become just as much a part of the problem as they are the solution. Their beautiful intentions become masked in their own hatred.”

    Thank you so much for this important post, Mike! This is what I sense is the main potential pitfall of the OWS movement, and on a microcosmic level, what we each need to be mindful of as we continue to experience deeper and deeper levels of clarity and understanding.

    You remind me of a quote I heard that was something like, “The last hurdle before enlightenment is the ego’s desire to call God’s wisdom its own.” Rather than understanding that we must take our egos to the side and allow them to serve Spirit, a subtle trap is our tendency to allow the ego to think it is emanating God’s light itself.

    Thank you again for this reminder.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Thank you Amanda,
      I too am afraid of Occupy at times. I am worried about the protestors and their safety for the times when the Gov’t says enough, is enough. But, I also worry about them in the way in which you ascribe. Micah 6:8 says it so well for me:

      “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
      And what does the LORD require of you?
      To act justly and to love mercy
      and to walk humbly with your God. ”

      What would/does activism look like with humility and mercy? (you can answer this) Those are the questions I am asking myself these days (as I tend to have a more contemplative mysticism in my personality and nature).

  7. Alex Zorach says:

    This really resonates with me. When I was at Oberlin college, I was surrounded by a lot of people who were strongly motivated to activism, but many of them embraced anger.

    I think I could tell that this wasn’t constructive, and was not reaching or getting through to the people that most needed to be reached to achieve the necessary changes that the activists really wanted to see. But I often found that when I tried to tell this to people, they’d just react with more anger, often with me as the target.

    I think it wasn’t years later till I started to develop a deeper understanding of how people work, one that was actually more empowering. A lot of it was founded in self-knowledge and self-discovery, especially the awareness of my own thought processes and how they flowed into emotions and actions.

    What you said about mystics who isolate themselves from others is also interesting, and I think is directly related to what you say about the environment one needs to be in in order to heal. I think that there is a delicate balance…we each have our limitations, as part of being human. We can go into “bad environments” with a sound, clear mind and sense of inner calm, but none of us are truly possible to be totally anchored just with ourselves alone…eventually, these environments will get to us and suck us in. We all need some sort of community and support system if we are going to interact with others who are in a less clear or wholesome place than we are.

  8. revdanyel says:

    Appreciate your clarity on theses issues/topics. Thanks.

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