I met with one of the world’s forerunners concerning mysticism last week. Krüger is the author of Along Edges, Sounding Unsound, Metatheism, and Signposts to Silence. They’re seriously good books and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are also incredibly challenging, so consider yourself forewarned.
While speaking to Krüger, he dropped a number of gems. One of them relates to the usual tension between (1) trying to establish something (like plant a church) and (2) withdrawing to live as a hermit (like the hermits and ascetics). Yet there is another option that isn’t often explored, which is that of (3) living in the village.
It is important to recognize that Christianity is first and foremost institutional. It is concerned with planting churches, maintaining churches and growing churches. And, to roughly quote some leaders I know, “Everything begins and ends in the church and it is all about the church, so we must make planting churches what we do.” But as soon as you gain an understanding of world(view)s you can’t unsee the problem with making the ekklesia as the people synonymous with a geopolitical nation or institution. Instead you will see how the doing church paradigm preferentially reads history and how that reading is not supported by the relational presence of God. This is, however, a discussion for another time. What’s relevant is that the mystic-to-be is often caught in the power dynamics of the institutional church as a participant-protestor. And here the pressure is on to join the institution of the church to either plant churches or serve in churches to maintain and grow them. And many are caught up with the conjunction between the church and the ekklesia as well as the ekklesia and the relational presence of God. It becomes incredibly hard to find the right language and therewith the right way foreword. The other problem with this is that as the mystic and mystic-to-be wrestles with the disjunction between the ekklesia, the relational presence of God and the institution of the church that they are often cast in the role of an enemy of the church tying to break churches down. They are often accused of not planting churches and therewith their concerns about the institutional church are often invalidated. This is often coupled with those who run institutional churches fighting with them. However, the opposite is true. The mystic and mystic-to-be is often an exemplar of what “doing the stuff” is about. They have often been on the ground with the people as one walking with God. They often stand before others as people who have first stood before God. And therewith they are people who hold a nuanced and subtle critique of the institutional church as people who have come to know God not through the institution but in Person.
It is here that (3) living in the village comes in. The mystic and mystic-to-be can live in and among those who are in the church as well as those who are not. And therewith they can practice the presence of God and enter deeply into living and loving with themselves, others, the cosmos and God. In doing so they can serve and mediate between people groups without having to make the politics of the denominational or commercial expressions of the institutional church. It is here that institutional disavowal is a priority. For the kingdom of God or reign of God is only and ever personal. It is all about the Person that God is and not the business of doing religion and running businesses or nations in the name of God. It is not geopolitical as in establishing a kingdom or nation nor is it an institution like a temple or denomination or a business like churches are today. Sure God draws near and withdraws, but this is to people wherever they are. It is not to validate one institution or political group over another as is evident from the life-cycle of renewals.
Furthermore, option (3) living in the village is even more important in a postsecular society. The mystic and mystic-to-be is not looking to leave one religion and choose another. They are not trading religions and religious institutions. Instead they are transitioning from the-idea-of God, however in-/accurate that may be, and the relational presence of God. They are living in the village among atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. as people who have inherited their faith along with their ethnicity and nationality. Here institutional disavowal applies equally to each of these religions as well as their corresponding ethnicities and nationalities. Instead of leaving their religion to choose another they are instead leaving all religions and their associated nations, denominations and not-for-profit businesses.
Sure those committed to the institutional church may not understand this but they can ask questions and come to understand. And they may feel like the mystic and mystic-to-be stands against them. And they may in a secondary sense, as in not standing for the institution and nationalization of faith. But what they are primarily doing is standing for and with God, people and the cosmos. To move forward such institutional disavowal is important and therewith a rejection of the power structures and commercialization of religion, spirituality and mysticism.
The notion of (3) living in the village perhaps needs a little clarification. In our day and age the village is both local and global. It is local in the sense of our face-to-face relationships. Here are the immediate relational connections incorporating those that are shallow and perhaps limited to working together and those that are deeper and involving playing together and the sharing of the meaning of our lives. Yet our relationships also include the global and far-reaching network enabled by technology and mutual interests. Here our relationships are as real though not face-to-face and as meaningful though mediated by video and voice technologies. In each case there are people we resonate with and in the sharing of life find opportunity for deeper connections and the mutual enrichment. It is a glocal (global and local) community where people share their lives and contribute to each other. It is here that the ekklesia meets not for the purpose of establishing hierarchies and systems and services but for the singular most valuable reason – mutual relationship. Those committed to the institution church struggle with this the most. They fail to see how people “meet together” and can’t measure it in any other manner than attendance to and membership of the institutional church. Yet the ekklesia transcends religion and its institutional expression as nationalism, denominations and businesses. It is something natural, mutually supportive and enriching that does not need an agenda or purpose. It is relationship for no reason or purpose, and therewith and therein finds and expresses the greatest purpose and fulfillment. Those who don’t get will fail to appreciate the complex simplicity of embracing the love of self, others, the cosmos and God while those who “get it” cannot pursue any other course.