In a previous post I discussed the "unavoidable mystical dimension of christianity" (click here). Here I would like to speak about the mystical dimension, but as an instinct. I am not alluding to the natural instinct or desire that every human being has to seek God, the divine, but the supernatural desire, i.e. the desire that is the result of a Call from Jesus and a Grace given by God to a specific person, at a specific time in his or her life, and done in a specific way. This, as will be seen, is not an innate instinct but a new grafted instinct that will pervade the very depths of our being and permeate our very lives.
St Paul endorses this when he invites us to be led by the Holy Spirit (Ga 5:25; Romans 8:14). He goes on to mention that in the new spiritual life thus engendered and given by Jesus, there are at the core of our being (our heart) impulses or movements generated by the Holy Spirit. These are akin to a new supernatural instinct grafted onto us. In addition to this, I would like to explore the "instinctual" aspect of it. Do we become like robots? Does being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turn us into spiritual “puppets”. How is our freedom affected? In which sense would we call it “instinct”?
Important Note: This post's subject is very rich and covers a great variety of connected subjects. Therefore, herein, whenever it is needed, I will allude to previous posts in order to offer the reader every possibility to deepen the subject of his choice.
What is the meaning of "mystical"?
“Mystical” means hidden. By extension it has been applied to all the manifestations of a developed spiritual life, which in turn implies direct connection with God, visions and supernatural phenomena. Very often it is viewed essentially as being closely linked to the discovery and exploration of God's world, its graces and growth of intimacy with God.
With this in mind we should distinguish clearly between what is the core of mysticism, open to everyone, and what is not the core (levitation, stigmata, physical visions,...), given only to some. In order, then, to understand the difference between peripheral phenomena (mystical phenomena) and the core reality, and in order to learn discernment for this please read here.
St Therese of the Child Jesus who is the perfect embodiment of a supremely mystical life (a spiritual life) that gives no evidence of any extraordinary and peripheral graces.
Is it a natural instinct or a spiritual gift?
St John of the Cross states that the human being desires God in two ways: naturally and supernaturally, i.e. under the influence of a grace given by God. What interests us is the latter because it is this grace that is invited to grow and to help us reach Union with Christ - the Sacred Threshold of the Kingdom.
What is the "mystical instinct"?
How can the "mystical instinct" be defined? Going back to the Fathers of the Church we find that they developed a spiritual doctrine stating that once the spiritual journey is embarked upon, under the action of the Holy Spirit, inner spiritual senses do develop in us; new capacities/senses that are spiritual are gifted to us - pure effects of the grace of God - developing in us a new range of senses that will allow us to find our bearings in God's world. We can then see God, hear Him, etc... If for the sake of an entirely theoretical explanation, we unite these new senses, blending them together, we can say that this amalgam resembles a new theological "instinct" that guides us toward God, helps us to sense Him, follow Him and serve Him - and thereby allows the new man in us to grow. It goes without saying that these senses, and this instinct, are directly fed by the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. These three alone connect us directly to God.
This instinct, it must be remembered, has been given to us in a seminal form during baptism, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit which, together with our collaboration, causes it to grow. This goes to show that the mystical instinct is far from being a purely animalistic instinct, but proves rather that the new organism, embodying this new sense, is now developing. From this we can now imply that it undergoes different phases of growth.
Furthermore, this mystical quality - through the action of the theological acts - connects us with God who has been leading us in the first place. It can be compared to the inter-connection of the eyes, hands, feet, heart and will. With the ensuing growth, the more the new man has the upper hand, the more the Holy Spirit's impulses are sensed (see Romans 8).
Is being guided by our "mystical instinct" going against reason?
Going against reason is never the case. St John of the Cross in fact emphatically states: come to terms with reason, common sense should guide us as well in deep spiritual life. But, it must be avowed that the mystical instinct is sometimes beyond reason: it comes from God and goes back to Him.
However, the solid base to which we must paradoxically often return is reason. The grace of God will often help us fulfil our daily duties. Is that against reason? No, on the contrary. We are all subject to the universal time-frame of seven days per week and twenty-four hours per day, with no additions possible... our day is universally ordered into times for sleeping, eating, resting, entertainment, prayer, work,... Providentially, rather, this new instinct, with its attendant graces, will help us, exteriorly, to do the same things, but in a vastly improved manner, with greater attention to quality and detail. What is noteworthy here, is that the difference lies in the fact that this instinct will guide us from within to do everything in a completely different way, a way that is connected to God.
What, then, can totally attract us with such magnetism to God? Only the Mystical Instinct. Will it force us to act against reason? No, on the contrary, it will move us from within to connect directly with God while we are apparently undertaking our normal routines. The difference lies in the deeper inner world.
Can any human being have it?
Yes, providing he or she has been through a conversion, and spiritual growth has commenced.
Is there a call for a mystical life?
Yes there definitely is. We are all called to follow Jesus. And this journey is by definition “mystical”. Please see the following posts:
Can it be triggered?
Jesus' words “I called you, not you called me” (John 15:16) clearly indicate that the initial move is made by God. However, much depends on us (see here).
A more detailed theological explanation of the difference between"general help" and "particular help" with St Thomas Aquinas.
Can spiritual growth be further developed ?
It most emphatically can: this new instinct is constantly refined, by the addition of a developing and in-depth discernment. It is to be remembered that God is Spirit and cannot be deceived. We can only learn to discover Him... He is our sole teacher. (See below):
Can it be hindered?
Of course it can. Ignorance, is one of the main reasons for hindering growth. Spiritual laziness only exacerbates this.
Can one develop it more than others?
Most definitely, as holiness has grades and levels; in fact we could say, with St Therese, to Jesus: “I want it all, I don't want half measures.”
Are some temperaments more prone to it?
We all are invited to have a share in it. (see 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 15:15)
Can it be faked?
Unfortunately deviations are possibles. The Devil can easily interfere and the Lord allows this in order to test our obedience to Him. Charlatans exist as well, in the name of religion.
Can it be dangerous?
Anything in the spiritual life not led by discernment (through spiritual direction) can lead to real disaster.
Is the mystical instinct the same as the contemplative instinct?
Some people would consider themselves more contemplatives, and others more active. These distinctions tend to be misleading. Although we cannot deny that some human dispositions are more contemplative, introvert, and others are more active, extrovert, we cannot completely dismiss the contemplative (mystical instinct) dimension in extroverts and the active dimension of spiritual life in introverts. Balance, and communication between the two dimensions is valid for all - the rest encompasses only grades of intensity.
How can I know if I am called to it?
Being personally and directly called to it does differ from the general theoretical statement: all are called to it (please see the Post "Acall is a call").
How can we understand the "instinctual" aspect of it?
“Instinct” means an almost uncontrollable way of thinking or acting - a more spontaneous way of acting. Providing this spiritual instinct grows in us, and grows properly, in the correct direction... we can say that this is the result of God's new life in us: the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Do we become like robots?
Is being led, moved by the Holy Spirit, turning us into a species of spiritual puppet? What happens to our freedom?
Of course not. The example of dancing (think of a waltz) sheds an interesting light on the relationship between our free will and God's impulses. When learning to dance it can sometimes take years of exercise for a learner to master this art. Does dancing require only one of the partners? No, it requires both. Does dancing mean that the lady leads? No, this is not the case. Paradoxically, when you see both dancing you have the impression that the lady is as light as a feather, and that she is following all the hand and body movements of the gentleman, like a puppet. But is she a puppet? Quite the contrary, for over the years of learning she has been deeply transformed. The same applies to us: do we become the robots of the Grace of God? What happens to our free will? The answer lies here: hours and hours of exercise, becoming connected, docile, in harmony with the Divine Partner.
In which sense would we call it "instinct"?
In the sense that this long friendship has seen the development of these virtues to the point that they now seem instinctual rather than painful and implying effort.
How does it relate to fervour?
The more we grow spiritually, the more this instinct grows. But there are phases of growth which follow the normal curve of holiness. See thecomplete journey of growth here.
How does it relate to spiritual emulation?
Spiritual emulation as well as “mystical instinct`” is the result of a fervent spiritual life.
Will the "mystical instinct" differentiate us from the rest of the crowd?
The Mystic within us sees his “mystical instinct” grow, become surer, more discerning. But in the final analysis, as above-mentioned, it does not go against reason, for it comprises an inner instinct to seek out and connect with God all the time, to keep the Fire of His Love alive in us. Therefore, paradoxically, the "mystical instinct" make us more respectful of the authorities, and allows us at the same time to seemingly blend in with the crowd.
If we follow this instinct we will do great things, as Jesus said. Without Jesus we are powerless (see John 15). This instinct, by drawing us closer to Him, will keep us connected with Jesus. And if by any chance we go astray, it will bring us back, with even greater humility.