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MiserereNobis

Mysticism And Mormon Spirituality

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Greetings friends!

The idea of a mystical knowledge of God is one of things that first drew me to Catholicism years ago. After spending some time dabbling in eastern religions (primarily Theravadin Buddhism), I was turned on to the fact that Catholicism has a very long and deep tradition of mysticism.

Here is the definition of mysticism (from the omniscient wikipedia, which actually has a decent article on the subject):

Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, or levels of being, or aspects of reality, beyond normal human perception, sometimes including experience of and communion with a supreme being.

The aspect that I would like to focus on is that a mystical experience involves knowledge and personal experience beyond normal human perception of communion (union, unity) with God. In other words, a mystical experience endows the mystic with direct, unmediated knowledge of God in a way that is different from our other modes of knowing. It is interesting that every major religion has its mystics and that these mystics often relate similar experiences, albeit clothed in their cultural and religious symbols.

This experience is universally described as being beyond language and conceptual thought (which is our main mode of knowing). This means that the experience can never be adequately described by the mystic. Most mystics therefore use paradox to describe it, such as "the gateless gate" or "the bright abyss." There is a classic medieval text on Catholic mysticism called "The Cloud of Unknowing" because the mystic, when he or she reaches mystical states, he or she passes beyond the way of knowing and thus is now shrouded in the unknown. St. John of the Cross, the Mystical Doctor of the Catholic Church, described this as the "dark night of the soul."

The most common knowledge gained in such a state is that the mystic is truly one, in a metaphysical sense, with God. That at the center of one's soul, in the deepest parts of one's being, one will find God there.

So, after this long preamble, I am curious about mysticism in Mormon spirituality, culture, theology, etc. I of course recognize that the blatant place for mysticism would be the gaining of a testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith, as this is a subjective religious experience that results in knowledge. However, that doesn't quite fit the definition that I am focusing on -- mysticism as a direct unmediated experience of God.

I'm wondering if such a mysticism is even possible in Mormonism, since God is a physical being. Can one find God at the center of one's soul and realize a perfect metaphysical union with Him if He has a body somewhere?

Also, what might some Mormon mystical practices be? Most religions have similar practices surrounding mysticism, such as meditation, prayer, song/dance, penitential practices (fasting, asceticism), etc. Usually mystical experience occurs in some sort of life removed from the world, such as a monastery. In Catholicism, we call it "contemplation" which is just another word for meditation. There are various forms, but all seem to have in common the idea of stilling or shutting down the linguistic mind, setting the ego aside, and then waiting for God's grace to touch us with knowledge of Him. I personally find that the life and schedule of a Benedictine monastery is most conducive for me to have mystical experiences.

Thank you for your thoughts and insights!

Edited by MiserereNobis

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A conversation from another thread:

I think what Elder Holland means is that that way of experiencing God [the mystical way] is not comparable with the following:

"When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (JS—Hi 1:17)

It is like the difference between a telestial way of knowing or experiencing God, and a celestial way. I don't think he meant to disparage or ridicule the telestial way, just telling us that the celestial way is better!

I guess in my hierarchical ranking of which experience is better, the mystical (what you call telestial) seems much higher than some sort of physical appearance (what you call celestial). It's the difference between (1) someone walking into my room and saying, "hello, my name is <whatever>" and (2) living with that person for the rest of your life. Mystical knowledge is higher than linguistic knowledge because in the mystical experience there is no medium -- it is direct. It is like, to use the cliche, the difference between someone telling what salt tastes like and then actually tasting salt. Or someone telling you what they are like and then actually living with them for the rest of your life.

The dogmatic declarations about the Trinity are trying to tell us what salt tastes like. They are true, but they can never give us the experience of God (tasting the salt). That is why they are limited and that is why to rationality and language, God is ultimately incomprehensible. The whole point is to get to know and love God.

I think you are making an arbitrary distinction between what you call "mystical" and "physical" experience of God. Would you not trade your "mystical" experience of God with the "physical" experience of the early disciples of Jesus who walked and talked with him, observed his miracles, and learned wisdom mysteries from him? I know I would.

Good question, harfad. Here is my ranking of experience, starting with the most desirable:

1) physical experience AND mystical experience

2) mystical experience

3) physical experience

The reason I put them in this order is that many many many people had the physical experience of Jesus but didn't learn anything. He was just "another prophet" in their eyes at best, or a subversive liar at the worst. Just being in His physical presence, back in Judea, isn't sufficient. Even those who observed His miracles would leave Him (I'm thinking of the fishes and the loaves).

Now, what about the disciples who believed Him? Notice how often they misunderstood Him. It wasn't until they began to have mystical experiences that they really started to figure things out. The descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles (and, in our tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary) at Pentecost marked the beginning of their knowledge that was direct and transformative.

A mystical experience is much more powerful than a physical experience. As Obi-Wan Kenobi says, "your eyes can deceive you -- don't trust them" ;) Seeing God is not knowing God. When I truly know God in a way that is beyond the physical, beyond language, beyond anything that I can describe to another... well, then golly gee I really know Him, I really know the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Edited by MiserereNobis

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Nah there's only "experiences" that we weigh heavier than others. You see God- that is going to be a tad heavier than a burning in the bosom!

There you go being Catholic again and building castles in the sky out of words ;)

You missed experience classification A sub chapter 1-Q.

How can you classify this stuff??!! How come you have to rank everything?? How do you know the ranks are correct??

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We believe in being in the world but not of the world. So we don't cloister ourselves off in monastaries or convents. But we are to mediate deeply on the things of God as part of our daily lives. To give selfless service to our fellow man. To daily read our Scriptures. To always keep a prayer in our hearts, to sing and dance as called upon by the Holy Ghost to our God. To fast, at least once a month, within our physical restraints, and give generously that what would have been spent to the poor. To go to the Temple of the Lord as often as possible, to partake of the joy of service to others with no thought of personal recompense. To gain further light and knowledge through our personnal administrations from the Holy Ghost.

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Nah there's only "experiences" that we weigh heavier than others. You see God- that is going to be a tad heavier than a burning in the bosom!

Just to be clear, the mystical experiences I am discussing are not a "burning in the bosom." In fact, usually there is little emotional aspect to them at all. St. John of the Cross warns that religious affectations can actually be a stumbling block on the mystical path, because we become so easily attached to them and then start to seek a religious feeling rather than a direct experience of God.

How can you classify this stuff??!! How come you have to rank everything?? How do you know the ranks are correct??

Yes, us Catholics are theological taxonomists :) Actually, we're not quite as intense about it as the Buddhist. They classify and number and rank EVERYTHING. The four noble truths, the five aggregates, the seven factors of enlightenment, and on and on :)

Now, we all rank things (even you, darling mfb), so the issue isn't why do we, but how can we do it correctly. And the answer is: we seek for truth in all the ways we can, from rationality to empiricism to, in this case, mystical experience.

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Just to be clear, the mystical experiences I am discussing are not a "burning in the bosom." In fact, usually there is little emotional aspect to them at all. St. John of the Cross warns that religious affectations can actually be a stumbling block on the mystical path, because we become so easily attached to them and then start to seek a religious feeling rather than a direct experience of God.

Yes, us Catholics are theological taxonomists :) Actually, we're not quite as intense about it as the Buddhist. They classify and number and rank EVERYTHING. The four noble truths, the five aggregates, the seven factors of enlightenment, and on and on :)

Now, we all rank things (even you, darling mfb), so the issue isn't why do we, but how can we do it correctly. And the answer is: we seek for truth in all the ways we can, from rationality to empiricism to, in this case, mystical experience.

ETA: The Buddhists even have an entire section of their Canon that is grouped by number: The Book of the Ones, The Book of the Twos, etc. Each book contains suttas (discourses of the Buddha) that deal with things that have been classified into ones, twos, threes, etc. Check it out here: Anguttara Nikaya.

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There is a classic medieval text on Catholic mysticism called "The Cloud of Unknowing" because the mystic, when he or she reaches mystical states, he or she passes beyond the way of knowing and thus is now shrouded in the unknown. St. John of the Cross, the Mystical Doctor of the Catholic Church, described this as the "dark night of the soul."

Classics of Western Spirituality is a great resource for anyone who wants to read these and other texts from Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions. They publish a lot of classic works of mysticism.

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My favorite essay on the topic of Mormonism and Mysticism is this one, by Mark Edward Kolko:

https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/070-13-19.pdf

Hugh Nibley's rather different take from the 1950s has been quite influential:

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=54&chapid=497

All in all, it's very important in discussing mysticism to define what you mean by "mysticism" up front. Margaret Barker's recent book Temple Mysticism, for instance, defines temple mysticism as "seeing God" which strikes me as very different than the definition that Nibley discusses, and leads her in a very different direction. My own take, moving from Nibley's essay towards a view influenced by influenced by Kolkto, Ninian Smart, and Ian Barbour, is here:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/22100469/model_of_experience.pdf

FWIW

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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All in all, it's very important in discussing mysticism to define what you mean by "mysticism" up front.

Apart from at a very general level, there is no uniform experience of mysticism.

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The most common knowledge gained in such a state is that the mystic is truly one, in a metaphysical sense, with God. That at the center of one's soul, in the deepest parts of one's being, one will find God there.

Metaphysically speaking, even "the center of one's soul" is a medium.

I'm wondering if such a mysticism is even possible in Mormonism, since God is a physical being. Can one find God at the center of one's soul and realize a perfect metaphysical union with Him if He has a body somewhere?

Yes-- the Light of Christ which is already in everyone (and all things), the power of the Holy Ghost (which as a medium is also God) and the Gift of the Holy Ghost (which must be given by proper priesthood authroity) can each be experienced.

Also, what might some Mormon mystical practices be?

Faith, repentance, prayer, listening to the still small voice, obeying the commandments, service, enduring io te end, developing real intent, pondering, testifying, teaching, etc.

The "state of consciousness, or level of being, or aspect of reality, beyond normal human perception (the "natural man")" is selflessness and charity.

Edited by CV75

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The theme for the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities conference (to be held at BYU March 15-16) is "The Mystical." Here is a link to the call for papers: http://www.mormonsch...ts/untitledpost

Thanks for the heads up.

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I fail to see how the Buddhist model for mysticism should apply to others, or how their tradition is "correct" while others are not.

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Just to be clear, the mystical experiences I am discussing are not a "burning in the bosom." In fact, usually there is little emotional aspect to them at all. St. John of the Cross warns that religious affectations can actually be a stumbling block on the mystical path, because we become so easily attached to them and then start to seek a religious feeling rather than a direct experience of God.

Yes, us Catholics are theological taxonomists :) Actually, we're not quite as intense about it as the Buddhist. They classify and number and rank EVERYTHING. The four noble truths, the five aggregates, the seven factors of enlightenment, and on and on :)

Now, we all rank things (even you, darling mfb), so the issue isn't why do we, but how can we do it correctly. And the answer is: we seek for truth in all the ways we can, from rationality to empiricism to, in this case, mystical experience.

The Hesychastic tradition differs significantly, in that it encourages that kind of mystical experience, of the heart burning within.

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The Hesychastic tradition differs significantly, in that it encourages that kind of mystical experience, of the heart burning within.

Miserere said this:

This experience is universally described as being beyond language and conceptual thought (which is our main mode of knowing). This means that the experience can never be adequately described by the mystic. Most mystics therefore use paradox to describe it, such as "the gateless gate" or "the bright abyss."

My objection to those who slice and dice such experiences seem to be saying this:

"These experiences are beyond language and are ineffable and unspeakable. Now let's divide them up into 5 easily recognizable categories"

And of course they are using language to do so, thereby contradicting the idea that such experiences are "beyond language". :blink:

If they are beyond language there is not much that can be said about them as far as categorizing them, using language.

Edited by mfbukowski

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Most religions have similar practices surrounding mysticism, such as meditation, prayer, song/dance, penitential practices (fasting, asceticism), etc. Usually mystical experience occurs in some sort of life removed from the world, such as a monastery. In Catholicism, we call it "contemplation" which is just another word for meditation. There are various forms, but all seem to have in common the idea of stilling or shutting down the linguistic mind, setting the ego aside, and then waiting for God's grace to touch us with knowledge of Him.

This is precisely what happens in every celestial room of every temple around the world.

If you ever see a picture of one and wonder what all the chairs are for- now you have an answer.

Edit: In fact, better yet, check out this video: (You don't have to watch the whole thing if you don't want to- watch the first 2 minutes and then fast forward to minute 6:00 to about 7:20- those are the most relevant parts)

Edited by mfbukowski

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Misere;

As outlined already here, Mormon "mysticism" is nothing more than seeking to know God through, prayer, scripture study, serving God and others, serving God *by* serving others, attending the temple (the house of God) frequently and the like. I remember praying fervently when I was young to konw if God existed. One night I felt as if hot water was poored inside of me frm my head to my toes. It felt 100% at peace and for that moment I had absolutely no desire to do any wrong, only what was right. I know that was the power of the Holy Ghost speaking directly to my soul that God lived. But even here I don't think this qualifies under your expectation of "mysticism". Depsite having direct spiritual confirmation of Joseph Smith being a true prophet of God, the Book of Mormon being true, (I found out spiritually that the Church was true by simply striving to live its standards) I still do not think any of this qualifies as part of you mystic framework but I do think this is a common phenomena amongs Mormons.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(John 17:3)

I don't think one will come to know God as the "only true God" and Jesus Christ whom God sent by "mystical" experiences. My experience that it is our works based upon where we put our faith which leads man to know God as the only true God and to Jesus Christ which God sent.

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I once saw a pretty good argument, though I don't recall exactly who made it, that the vision of the redemption of the dead fit the classic pattern of mystic visions.

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"All these sufis, thinkers, poets, or saints have given expression to the great mystical experience: to die to the world in order to live in God, in compelling formulas analogous to those of the Christian Fathers, doctors, and mystics, and often also of the Hindu Vedantists...They repeat incessantly with the Scholastics that creatures have no being except that which they receive from God, and with St. Paul that it is in Him that we have our life, our movement, and our being."
---Emile Dermingham, Al Khamria, 1931, quoted by Fr. Reginald Garrigou LaGrange, Our Saviour and His Love For Us, (1933), reprint by TAN Publishers, 1997, p.355, Ch. 31, the Grace of Christ and the Mystics Outside the Church, bolded mine

The first thing to note is that LDS dogma seems incompatible with what Dermingham says is characteristic of the Mystic Tradition which includes those with no formal affiliation with the Catholic Church. While they do not believe in the ideas behind words like being, substance, nature, or essence, it seems like LDS would be closer to believing that creatures "have being" outside God. Matter is eternal. Intelligences are eternal. I could be wrong, but I doubt that deification in the LDS tradition is going to be analogous to these other mystical traditions which seem to evoke the teaching of creation ex nihilo.

Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange continues:

For all of them (and this is the most remarkable fact) the summit and perfection of the mystical life exist when the soul totally transformed into its Beloved has become God by participation." (Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 22)
---p. 361

Father Garrigou-LaGrange is a noted Thomist of the last century and like the angelic doctor, a Dominican. In a different work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, he correlates Scripture with the prosaic teaching of St. Thomas and the poetic tones of the Carmelites. I think the book is a tour de force proving that everyone is called to be a mystic. "To go to heaven when you die" means not much more than being a continual mystic as described above. To hear Sts. Theresa or John of the Cross speak of their glimpses of the Vision of God makes one see why the perspective of heavenly activity which embraces this mystic tradition, will be oriented toward a never ending contemplation of the God who made us out of nothing.

Edited by 3DOP

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So, after this long preamble, I am curious about mysticism in Mormon spirituality, culture, theology, etc. I of course recognize that the blatant place for mysticism would be the gaining of a testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith, as this is a subjective religious experience that results in knowledge. However, that doesn't quite fit the definition that I am focusing on--mysticism as a direct unmediated experience of God.

I'm wondering if such a mysticism is even possible in Mormonism, since God is a physical being. Can one find God at the center of one's soul and realize a perfect metaphysical union with Him if He has a body somewhere?

Also, what might some Mormon mystical practices be? Most religions have similar practices surrounding mysticism, such as meditation, prayer, song/dance, penitential practices (fasting, asceticism), etc. Usually mystical experience occurs in some sort of life removed from the world, such as a monastery. In Catholicism, we call it "contemplation" which is just another word for meditation. There are various forms, but all seem to have in common the idea of stilling or shutting down the linguistic mind, setting the ego aside, and then waiting for God's grace to touch us with knowledge of Him. I personally find that the life and schedule of a Benedictine monastery is most conducive for me to have mystical experiences.

Thank you for your thoughts and insights!

I think you are overlooking (more likely not understanding) some important points. Those very mystics whom you admire so much would have been the first to regard the early disciples and apostles of Jesus (with direct physical awareness of God) as the champion of their cause, and the greatest mystics of all time. Joseph Smith falls into the same category.

Have you ever wondered why mysticism has always developed as an offshoot of very old, established religions? There was no such thing as mysticism (as a separate branch from the mainstream religion) in the earliest centuries of Christianity for example (and in every other religion too). There is a reason for that, see if you can figure it out.

If your theory is correct, then early Christianity was deficient somehow, because it didn't have a separate "mystical" branch as distinct from the mainstream religion. It required that to be more complete--which cannot a valid position to hold. Jesus and His apostles and disciples weren't enough to provide the early Church with the spirituality it needed until (many centuries later) mysticism came along. It does not require a lot of genius to figure out that there is something wrong with that argument. I will let you think about it to see if you can find the answer.

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I think you are overlooking (more likely not understanding) some important points. Those very mystics whom you admire so much would have been the first to regard the early disciples and apostles of Jesus (with direct physical awareness of God) as the champion of their cause, and the greatest mystics of all time. Joseph Smith falls into the same category.

Have you ever wondered why mysticism has always developed as an offshoot of very old, established religions? There was no such thing as mysticism (as a separate branch from the mainstream religion) in the earliest centuries of Christianity for example (and in every other religion too). There is a reason for that, see if you can figure it out.

If your theory is correct, then early Christianity was deficient somehow, because it didn't have a separate "mystical" branch as distinct from the mainstream religion. It required that to be more complete--which cannot a valid position to hold. Jesus and His apostles and disciples weren't enough to provide the early Church with the spirituality it needed until (many centuries later) mysticism came along. It does not require a lot of genius to figure out that there is something wrong with that argument. I will let you think about it to see if you can find the answer.

Hi Harfad,

Miserere Nobis may believe as you seem to think but he hasn't said so yet. I doubt that he propounds a "separate 'mystical' branch as distinct from the mainstream religion". There are Catholics who have perhaps erroneously believed that mysticism is only for the convent or monastery, but they have never been made doctors of the church. Such a view of the interior life is roundly condemned by all the most revered teachers of the Church. The Church has always adhered to the idea that in all states of life everywhere, and always, we are called to this unity with God. I suspect that it was the universality of the call within Catholicism that initially attracted him. This would explain why Miserere Nobis gave his understanding of how Christian mysticism started, on the very birthday of the Church at Pentecost:

Now, what about the disciples who believed Him? Notice how often they misunderstood Him. It wasn't until they began to have mystical experiences that they really started to figure things out. The descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles (and, in our tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary) at Pentecost marked the beginning of their knowledge that was direct and transformative.
---Post #2 Edited by 3DOP

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Miserere Nobis may believe as you seem to think but he hasn't said so yet. I doubt that he propounds a "separate 'mystical' branch as distinct from the mainstream religion". There are Catholics who have perhaps erroneously believed that mysticism is only for the convent or monastery, but they have never been made doctors of the church. Such a view of the interior life is roundly condemned by all the most revered teachers of the Church. The Church has always adhered to the idea that in all states of life everywhere, and always, we are called to this unity with God. I suspect that it was the universality of the call within Catholicism that initially attracted him. This would explain why Miserere Nobis gave his understanding of how Christian mysticism started, on the very birthday of the Church at Pentecost:

I am not quite sure what it is that you are arguing for. If you are arguing that mysticism is not a distinct branch of mainstream Christisnity or religion, but is an integral part of it, then his question with regard to Mormonism is redundant, because it can be equally argued that mysticism is equally an integral part of Mormonism, which need not be manifested separately or independently. On the other hand, it is a matter of historical record, observation, and independent scholarly investigation that there is such a thing as mysticism, or a mystical branch if you like, arising from within mainstream Christianity which has been the subject of independent scholarly and historical investigation. You can't just wish it away. That is something that Mormonism doesn't have, and neither did early Christianity. So I am a bit puzzled by your post, not sure what to make of it.

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I would be surprised if God is seen literally as a man on a throne looking down upon everyone from the sky above. That is not my understanding of Mormonism, or any form of Christianity for that matter.

Certainly Joseph Smith was an important American Spiritualist and Mystic. In fact, it appears that he was raised to be such by his family. Before he was considered to be a prophet of Christianity, he was considered to be a talented dowser and had mystical beliefs and experiences throughout his life.

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---Emile Dermingham, Al Khamria, 1931, quoted by Fr. Reginald Garrigou LaGrange, Our Saviour and His Love For Us, (1933), reprint by TAN Publishers, 1997, p.355, Ch. 31, the Grace of Christ and the Mystics Outside the Church, bolded mine

The first thing to note is that LDS dogma seems incompatible with what Dermingham says is characteristic of the Mystic Tradition which includes those with no formal affiliation with the Catholic Church. While they do not believe in the ideas behind words like being, substance, nature, or essence, it seems like LDS would be closer to believing that creatures "have being" outside God. Matter is eternal. Intelligences are eternal. I could be wrong, but I doubt that deification in the LDS tradition is going to be analogous to these other mystical traditions which seem to evoke the teaching of creation ex nihilo.

Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange continues:

---p. 361

Father Garrigou-LaGrange is a noted Thomist of the last century and like the angelic doctor, a Dominican. In a different work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, he correlates Scripture with the prosaic teaching of St. Thomas and the poetic tones of the Carmelites. I think the book is a tour de force proving that everyone is called to be a mystic. "To go to heaven when you die" means not much more than being a continual mystic as described above. To hear Sts. Theresa or John of the Cross speak of their glimpses of the Vision of God makes one see why the perspective of heavenly activity which embraces this mystic tradition, will be oriented toward a never ending contemplation of the God who made us out of nothing.

I would agree that the saints do not envision a life after death as one of total contemplation. We view the life to come, heaven, as being active and full of purpose. To be one with God, to dwell in his presence, is more than just experience, but is participate with him in all that he does. It will be a perfecting of the reality of being his tools, his instruments in whatever he chooses for us to do. This may easily be an existance of growth in that we have eternity to become more and more like him. I tend to think that Exaltation is the complete removal of all barriers to learning; we dwell in pure light and God's light is refected purely from us.

This position differs from a perspective that deification is nothing more than contemplation. I am not sure that I have understood you properly; to contemplate seems as if one is not in the presence of God, but apart from him, separated to the point that there is need to think deeply on him to gain a knowledge of him. To dwell in his presence and to learn without restraint removes the need for contemplation for the saints.

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