What Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner Can Teach Us About Being Missional Mystics

 

Karl Rahner once said in the future we will be mystics or we will be nothing at all. The mystic is one who has experienced God for real, one who knows God—not just information about God.

Authentic mysticism isn’t about bliss. Contemplation is not about self-centered detachment. Contemplative spirituality is deeply challenging because it always has something to do with the death, the ego dying: “For you have died and your life is how hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).

For you have died to your false self and your real life, your true self is alive, hidden with Christ in God. An interior process is undergone as we transform into the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

Encountering the new means first dying to the old. It is the mystic whose ego has been transformed through dying. His self-importance and need for power and control has been surrendered. She has taken the risky plunge of release into divine love.

Thomas Merton, one of our nation’s great mystics, far from being a hermetically sealed off from the real world of toil and suffering, was engaged in the realm of politics, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Merton so fully engaged in activism work that he was criticized sharply for his outspoken form of spirituality that put flesh to his words and footsteps to his prayers.

“What is the relation of [contemplation] to action?” Merton asked.

“Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action.”

The mystic is one who continually faces and accepts the small self and falsity and shadow on the journey toward prophetic action against injustice. In tending to brokenness in the world, the mystic tends to the brokenness in himself.

Deep spirituality compels us to action and action compels us to deep spirituality through a continuous circle.

It is through that continuous circle that both our action and contemplation are deepened, a process through which we are formed into missional mystics.

With a nod to Rahner: In the future, missionaries will be mystics or nothing at all.

2 thoughts on “What Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner Can Teach Us About Being Missional Mystics

  1. Well written, Ryan. Appreciate Merton’s words, “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. . . “

    1. Thanks Susan. Love hearing your feedback and glad you found resonance with Merton’s words 🙂

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