Bumping into God

By Steve Atherton, Justice & Peace fieldworker

I am often struck by the goodness of people, their kindness and generosity, their willingness to forget themselves and put others first.

In terms of whether religion is a force for good that promotes this unselfish behaviour, Karl Rahner famously said: "The Christian of the 21st century will be a mystic or he won't be a Christian at all." What a challenge! How can we move the practice of our faith beyond mere observance: beyond attendance at Mass, reception of the Sacraments and the following of rules of behaviour – good though these are – so that we move towards developing the deep, personal relationship with God that is implied in the call to be a mystic?

This raises for me the question of what is a 'mystical' attitude. No one can look at another person and say with any certainty "He's a mystic!" or "She's a mystic!". It's hardly even a label that we would be comfortable putting on ourselves. So what does it imply? Is it simply that we must spend more time in prayer or does it call for a radical renewal of the way we look at the world and our place in it?

To my mind, it calls for an openness to the connections between creation and Creator, a willingness to see that God is truly part of our world. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola would say, if we look carefully, we can see God in all things. Since a world that God created must be good, it follows that, as well as an openness to prayer and reflection, any search for mysticism calls for an awareness of how to relate to the rest of creation, to other people and to the world around. 

When science brought home to us that the world is interconnected, even that the universe is interconnected, it was putting into modern language an insight that religious faith always had. We operate at a level of interconnectedness.

Mysticism is not a retreat into an inner world of fuzzy holiness, but rather an entering into the mystery of God's involvement with the world, an awakening to the world as it is. Unfortunately our world is being disfigured by poverty and starvation, by wars and warmongers, by injustice and oppression. The world desperately needs us to set free our human potential for goodness so that we become mystics who take action, able to live in service of God through service of others instead of spending time worrying about our own survival and comfort.

After the installation of the statue of Blessed Óscar Romero in the Metropolitan Cathedral in March, Sister Martha Zechmeister CJ spoke to a gathering in the Gibberd Room. She said that we bump into God in our encounters with the troubles of people. I give her the last words: "Christian mysticism is always a mysticism of the way: following Jesus; risking ourselves for the sake of those who are in danger of getting trapped between the cog-wheels; losing ourselves in the mystery of God."