The negative reaction is somewhat understandable. After all, "mystical" things have a tendency to come off sounding bizarrely esoteric, incomprehensibly strange, painfully embarrassing, or downright silly. Though I believe in the supernatural, I personally harbor an aversion to "mystical" things myself.
Having said that, I will come right out and say that I firmly believe the future of Christianity, nay the future of humanity, depends on the successful unfolding of mysticism. Not an exciting but otherwise cringe-inducing sacred-crystal, chanting- shaman, energy-field, time-travel, astral-projection, fortune-telling kind of mysticism, but an equally exciting though admittedly less decorative form of mysticism rooted in thinking.
On the subject of thinking, Bruce Charlton has written an excellent post on the importance of primary thinking, which could also be termed heart thinking, divine thinking, or direct knowing.
Dr. Charlton calls this "mysticism", but immediately makes the effort to explain that this does not entail "meditating in the lotus position, using magical technologies (tarot, astrology, etc); nor does it require "spectacular spiritual or religious experiences (like overwhelming visions, near death experiences or striking paranormal events)", but rather:
In a nutshell, it is a kind of thinking that I regard as a higher state - I have called it primary thinking, heart thinking, and direct knowing - the state of Final Participation; and it simply amounts to a conscious and chosen thinking in the divine way; with and from that which is divine in me; and aligned with/in-harmony-with God's divine motivations and purposes.
It is me, my-self, joining with God in God's work. It is therefore a creative state, and not merely a contemplative state. In it I add to divine creation (I do not mean merely become aware of it, nor do I immerse in it).
For me, creativity is what we are meant to do, we are meant to be active participants in God's creation - that for me, is what the mission of Jesus was all about.
This matches my own intuitive understanding of what Christianity is meant to do and what we are meant to be doing within Christianity in this time and place - especially in this time and place.
At first glance, what Dr. Charlton presents hardly seems like mysticism at all. On top of that, thinking in the divine way does not appear to qualify as "doing." After all, thinking is thinking and doing and doing, so how could harmonizing the thoughts from my deepest, innermost self with God and creation possibly be considered a form of "doing."
What, if anything, is actually being "done"?
What Dr. Charlton explains above is likely to strike most as little more than "wishful thinking" - and therein lies the crux of the problem.
Though the resistance Christians experience when they encounter ideas like primary thinking is somewhat understandable, it does not excuse the fact that the bulk of this resistance likely does not stem from their deepest, innermost being - what Dr. Charlton calls the divine self.
Resistance to the kind of mysticism Dr. Charlton espouses also tends to originate from the misguided belief that primary thinking and other "mystical" aspects of Christianity are not really Christianity at all but thinly-veiled anti-Christian heresies. As such, the mere mention of creativity or direct knowing or primary thinking is enough to inspire "fear and trembling" in the hearts of most conventional Christians.
Furthermore, I believe a great deal of the opposition to "mystical" aspects of Christianity like direct knowing and creativity are rooted in a limited understanding of the mission of Jesus, which is commonly restricted to salvation and willfully blind to aspect of theosis.
Nikolai Berdyaev addresses this point quite lucidly in his The Meaning of the Creative Act:
Salvation from sin, from perdition, is not the final purpose of religious life: salvation is always from something and life should be for something. Many things unnecessary for salvation are needed for the very purpose for which salvation is necessary - for the creative upsurge of being. Man's chief end is not to be saved, but to mount up, creatively.
The "mystical" aspect of Christianity resides in this for, and as far as I can tell, this for aspect of Christ's mission remains a source of great doubt, uncertainty, and yes, even fear, among Christians.
And for the life of me I cannot understand why.
It seems as if Christians cannot bring themselves to accept that Christianity depends on a shift in consciousness; that is, on a shift in how we think about, understand, and relate to God, ourselves, and others.
Perhaps they believe this sort of shift is inherently sinful. Perhaps they believe it is unattainable. Perhaps they fear it will lead them astray and lead them into some tangled thicket of progressivism. Whatever the case, a great many Christians hold nothing but reservations when it comes to anything involving the kind of "mystical" thinking Dr. Charlton and other thinkers such as Steiner, Barfield, and Berdyaev have outlined.
Like the Christians in Dostoevsky's Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, modern Christians appear unwilling or incapable of accepting the "mystical" gift of spiritual freedom Christ offers. At the same time, I have encountered many modern Christians who - in light of everything that has transpired since the successful birdemic coup of 2020 - sadly lament about the apparent unresponsiveness of God.
Though I empathize with the frustration and disappointment such Christians have no doubt endured over the past year or more, I can't help but feel a bit frustrated and disappointed by their apparent lack of interest in exploring the possible reasons behind God's seeming unresponsiveness. It rarely, if ever, occurs to them that God's unresponsiveness might have nothing to do with God and everything to do with them; more specifically, with their attempts to communicate with God; that God's silence may be a sign of wisdom and patience rather than of neglect and indifference.
In a post from last year, I suggested God's apparent unresponsiveness to conventional forms of divine communication may in fact be God's way of prompting Christians to reconsider their manner of communication:
I believe God is our loving father, and that he desires what is best for his children. Like all loving fathers, God wants his children to grow up and mature.
This entails different approaches to and different levels of communication. God has taken this step forward; we in turn, have not.
Put another way, God is trying to talk to us like adults, but we continue to talk and listen to him like adolescents (and fairly apathetic adolescents at that).
God will respond to us once we understand how we should begin responding to him. Part of responding to him as adults must contain an element of understanding our role as Co-Creators.
According to Berdyaev, the next step in Christianity involves not only Man discovering himself in God, but also God discovering Himself in Man. This type of discovery necessitates a new, unprecedented form of co-respondence.
It includes viewing God from an entirely new perspective - not as some distant, autocratic ruler one must obsequiously and blindly tremble before and obey, but a relatable friend and partner one can love and work cooperatively with, in the same manner an adult son or daughter can love and work cooperatively with a loving parent.
The co-creation Berdyaev speaks of involves a recognition of our latent spiritual creativity. This creativity is not the same as or equal to God's, but serves to complement it. By the same token, God's creativity is not the same as Man's, but God's creativity alone no longer appears sufficient.
God is not responding to us because our communications with him are not creative. God will respond to us fully the moment we begin creatively communicating with Him.
Once we learn to do that, we become Co-Creators. Our creative spirituality will become enhanced through God, and God's creative spirituality will become enhanced through us.
The new co-respondence involves a fortifying and enhancement of both God and Man, a fortification and enhancement that can occur only when we understand our creative role.
In my mind, the form of "mysticism" Dr. Charlton describes is key to the kind of communication to which God will respond - a form of mysticism rooted in a change about how we think about, understand, and relate to God, ourselves, and others. Moreover, this form of "mysticism", this shift in consciousness is supported by the Fourth Gospel and by many religious thinkers including Steiner, Barfield, and Berdyaev.
Concerning this shift in consciousness, Berdyaev offers the following in Freedom and Slavery:
We are entering an epoch of new spirituality that will correspond to the new form of mysticism. It will no longer be possible to argue against a heightened spiritual and mystical life that human nature is sinful and that sin must first be overcome. A heightened spiritual and mystical life is the road to victory over sin. And the world is entering a catastrophic period of choice and division, when these will be required of all Christians, an uplifting and intensification of their inner lives.
The external, everyday, moderate Christianity is breaking up. But eternal, inward, mystical Christianity is becoming better established. And within mysticism itself a 'paraclete' type is beginning to predominate. The epoch of new spirituality in Christianity can only be an epoch of a great and hitherto unheard of manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Berdyaev's encapsulation of 'a heightened spiritual and mystical life' resides in his idea of creativity and the creative act, which mirrors the "creative state" Dr. Charlton describes at the beginning of this post.
In essence, creativity occurs when we are able to access our innermost selves - the spiritual, divine core that lays nestled in each and every one of us. During such times, our thoughts align and are in harmony with God. We realize we are not passive cogs in a meaningless machine doomed to entropy, but active creators who are able to not only influence, but actually manifest creation in this time and in time yet-to-come.
Berdyaev refers to this as the divine-human revelation - "the crowning of the mystical dialectic of the divine and the human" - and states it will not only provide a new revelation of God to man, but also a new revelation of man to God. In The Destiny of Man, Berdyaev emphasizes the role of consciousness in this revelation:
The opening of a new epoch of the Spirit, which will include higher achievements of spirituality, presupposes a radical change and a new orientation in human consciousness. This will be a revolution of consciousness which hitherto has been considered something static. The religion of man's maturity, leaving behind him his childhood and adolescence.
In a nutshell, a great deal of the "mysticism" Dr. Charlton describes via his explanations of primary thinking, direct knowing, heart thinking, and creativity amounts to discovering how to communicate with God in a manner through which we fully experience God's responses to our communications.
I believe this "mystical" aspect of Christianity is crucial here and now, particularly because a great many Christians in this time and place feel let down by their churches or feel God may have abandoned them or has become unresponsive to their prayers.
But this "mystical" aspect of Christianity cannot be forced or compelled. Each Christian is free to explore it according to his or her own individual circumstances and situation. By the same token, each Christian is also free to reject the "mysticism" of creativity, direct knowing, or heart thinking, but before doing so, each Christian should - at the very least - entertain the possibility that the "mysticism" Dr. Charlton outlines may actually be a positive way forward.
At the same time, traditionally-minded Christians who attend church and participate in conventional forms of Christianity should not consider creativity and primary thinking as being diametrically-opposed to their current practices. If anything, I humbly suggest they give the "mystical" approach described in this post "a try" and maintain it as supplementary to their current practices.
When all is said and done, the "mystical" aspect of Christianity can be roughly boiled down to intuition - to thinking from oneself rather than for oneself (H/T to Kevin McCall at No Longer Reading for this phrase). Needless to say, the from in this case refers to our deepest, innermost selves - our divine core; from that which makes us all a son or daughter of God.
I, for one, do not find anything fear-inducing, silly, cringe-worthy, or potentially heretical in that at all.
Note added: Creativity or primary thinking is not a substitute for salvation, but builds upon salvation. In this sense, salvation is primary and must come first.
Further note added: I have, presumably, not done justice to Dr. Charlton's many insights into primary thinking, final participation, and heart thinking and suggest visiting his site and keyword searching these terms at his blog.