07 February 2011

Karl Rahner and Everyday Mysticism


[[Sister Laurel, your last post is reminiscent of the mysticism of Karl Rahner, true?]]

Yes, it is indeed. I am probably at least partly indebted to Rahner (and to Jesuits more generally) for my understanding of the world and spirituality --- and strongly so to Paul Tillich as well. Rahner is famous for having made the comment that unless all Christians became mystics, there would be no Christianity. However, Rahner made those comments within the context of what has been called an "everyday mysticism" --- a mysticism which recognized the mystery of God at the heart of everyday reality. What he wanted, and what he saw as imperative, was a mysticism in which Christians discovered the hidden presence of God, the deep and holy ground and depth in and of all created existence.  (Of course I must note that finding the presence of God in ordinary life is also a profoundly Benedictine trait and I am clearly Camaldolese Benedictine in this way as well.)

This form of mysticism issues in a "sober" spirituality "found in courageous perseverance in silent faith, trust, love, and unselfish service, despite life's seeming emptiness." (Egan, Karl Rahner) It also issues in experiences of joy at the presence of God in the most mundane circumstances of life as well as in the more extraordinary or "learned" mysticism of the saint. All of these are specifications of the orientation to God (the ground of being and mystery) which is partly constitutive of every human being. With and in Jesus Christ, we come to celebrate life and its inherent goodness and sanctity. More, we understand creation as sacramental and recognize the myriad ways it reveals and mediates God's presence and Word to us every day. This essential tearing or sundering of the barrier (veil) between the sacred and profane, the mystical and the temporal, this recognition and fostering of the sacramental character of all creation, even the most apparently mundane, is part of the vocation of every Christian and the core of any authentic mysticism. We come to share in this vocation by accepting our place in Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension --- that is, by participating in the Christ Event in which the barrier was sundered and reconciliation achieved between God and his creation. Appreciation of all of this was the reason Rahner spoke somewhat hyperbolically of the imperative that every Christian become a mystic lest there be no Christianity.

Though Rahner affirms these as well, his theology does not completely trust versions of mysticism which stress extraordinary phenomenon, ecstasies, and the like. He does not like the idea of infused contemplation which seems interventionist and possibly elitist. Instead he prefers the idea that some persons, when the experiences are not merely auto-suggestive or psychologically aberrant, learn to allow the Holy Spirit's communications with greater intensity and ease than others do; hence the phrase above, "learned" mysticism or contemplation. But this mysticism is not different in kind from the everyday mysticism he espouses. It is merely different in intensity and clarity and remains rooted in the same ground of mystery which is at the core of all mysticism. (I should note that to the extent these are genuine, they will foster the same reverence and love for others and all of God's creation any experience of or inspiration by God empowers.)

There are several books available for those wanting to understand Rahner's everyday mysticism better. These include, Everyday Faith (Rahner), Karl Rahner, Mystic of Everyday Life by Egan, The Mystical Way in Everyday Life (Rahner). More technical articles are available in Sacramentum Mundi and Theological Investigations. A World of Grace by O'Donovan is also helpful. I suspect you have read several of these already but others may find them of assistance. I would recommend Egan's book though as a place to begin and supplement that with The Mystical Way in everyday life because the latter supplies prayers, etc which will illustrate what Egan writes about at greater length.

Additionally, people may be interested in Jesuit spirituality more generally, for everyday mysticism is a pillar of this spirituality and Rahner was a key proponent. James Martin's recent book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, would be a great place to start!