Asking what mysticism is is like asking what love is. A person may know some thoughtful explanations and perhaps even some moving songs about love, and yet still not fully know what love is until they encounter it for themselves in their own depths. Mystics know something that everyone who has experienced love knows. It is insight about what knowing love involves of us. Rationality alone is not enough for knowing what love is. Words alone are not enough either. It is impossible to fully know what love is by simply thinking hard enough or speaking well enough about it. Knowing love requires more than this and more of us. This knowledge requires openly involving our whole selves, mind, heart, body, and soul. Knowing love requires encountering another in naked vulnerability—figuratively and/or literally—where two come together as one in intimate communion without fear and without pretension. It involves sharing, hospitality, giving, receiving. Knowing love requires participation and risk. It requires a constant willingness to let go of our preconceived judgements so that we can come to know another as they really are. And this does not mean that loving someone is necessarily irrational or that we should never bother to talk about love either. It simply means that loving involves more than what thinking alone can strictly explain, and more than what the most eloquent words of the finest poets alone can describe. Real love exceeds theory and language. Real love challenges our most cherished reductions. Real love therefore knows, honours, and enters its own mystery.
The same goes for knowing God. Especially if God is indeed Love—active, close, unconditional, and free. Knowing God in this way can be scary. This is why many prefer the safety of knowing about God in dogmas instead of knowing God directly. Dogmas alone can be comprehended and controlled whereas God cannot. Dogmas alone don’t surprise whereas God does. This kind of theological reductionism is called idolatry in ancient biblical language. Idolatry occurs whenever we treat something that is not God as if it were God. It occurs whenever we confuse images for Reality. Both inadequate physical icons or abstract ideas, wrongly related to, can become idols that replace God. Mystics are those individuals who don’t settle for only knowing about God indirectly through dogmas or icons or anything else. They perceive the inadequacy of such knowledge alone. They want the real thing, direct and unmediated, beyond all categories and images of thought, and beyond any and every possible idol. Mystics long to know God in purity of heart and stillness of mind, accepting no substitutes for personal knowledge of the Divine. This kind of fully relational knowing requires openness and trust, which is to say faith. It involves open-mindedness and open-heartedness to change for one cannot truly experience Love and remain the same. For Love is pregnant with possibilities. Love is wild and unpredictable. Love liberates and inspires. Love gives birth to new life. So it is with truly knowing God.