George MacDonald wrote:
“A mystical mind is one which, having perceived that the highest expression of which the truth admits, lies in the symbolism of nature and the human customs that result from human necessities, prosecutes thought about truth so embodied by dealing with the symbols themselves after logical forms. This is the highest mode of conveying the deepest truth; and the Lord himself often employed it, as, for instance, in the whole passage ending with the words, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!” – George MacDonald (2012-05-17). Unspoken Sermons Series I., II., and II. (Kindle Locations 685-688).
Upon first blush, what does the word “mysticism” conjure up in your mind? Do you see some kind of aged figure dressed in robes casting spells of some kind? The truth is that you know more mystics than you realize and if you are reading this, you are probably one yourself. I’ll let a commenter named “Thomas” over at the website TempleStudy.com explain:
Mysticism is the study or practice of “mysteries.” Therefore mysticism can be defined by the means and methods and not by the resultant experience.
First, the experience isn’t mystical, it’s metaphysical. Second, mysticism derives from the same Greek root as mystery, and derives much of its meaning from that root. Mystic (of or pertaining to mysteries known by the initiated) with the suffix -ism (denoting action or practice). Experiences vary dramatically, anyway; what doesn’t vary nearly as much, however, is the means and methods.
Thus, you may be a mystic – not because you seek a transcendental experience, but because you practice mystical rites and ordinances: namely study, meditation, and prayer (among others). By this definition, all mystics practice more or less similar methods, though they may do so for very different reasons.
So what purpose is there in bringing this up, so we can all sound cool by telling our friends that we are mystics? No, but I think adding another facet to any subject empowers its potential to grow in our lives. Another layer is pulled back and perhaps a connection, or series of connections is made that opens the mind to new realities.
Author David Littlefield conveys the practical purpose of these so-called mystical rites and ordinances in his book Mormon Mysticism:
…[B]ut that is what Christ meant by the mysteries of the kingdom. He meant ordinances, which were necessary; and these he revealed to the apostles during his very confidential teachings of the forty days after the resurrection. The purpose of such ordinances is to bridge the space between the world in which we now live, the telestial world, and that to which we aspire, the celestial world.”
To one degree or another, everything we perceive gets twisted out of focus with our own prejudices. Yet how can we view or seek to understanding anything without imposing some kind of frame of reference from the onset? It is a paradoxical, but I believe that this is by design.
This situation necessitates a mental struggle, it requires meditation, it stretches us, and ultimately, it is the path that leads to the unfolding of knowledge and the comprehension of truth. David O McKay once said:
We pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is the meditation. Meditation is the language of the soul. It is defined as “a form of private devotion, or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep, continued reflection on some religious theme.” Meditation is a form of prayer. …
Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. – Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, (2011), 29–37
As we pass through those doors it would seem like all would see and understand the same, but after returning, the stories can vary. Lehi and Nephi both had a similar vision and saw the same elements but Lehi seemed more focused on his family and their juxtaposition within the vision’s framework. Nephi, on the other hand, was more interested in detailing all the components of the vision and understanding their purpose.
This raises some interesting questions about how truth is perceived, understood, and re-transmitted to others; I’ll have to think about that some more.