Mormonism traces back its history in modern times to its founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., and his "First Vision." Joseph was a young farmer boy who lived in western New York, born in the early nineteenth century. This was the time of what's known as the Second Great Awakening, and where Joseph lived is known as the "burned-over district." It was a time of much Protestant religious excitement, revivals, reforms, and the formation of new religious movements and denominations (which eventually included Mormonism). A Restoration Movement grew in popularity in the area, which involved ideas of "restoring" a pure, primitive, uncorrupted, and original form of Christian faith.
One of the last things we did at the seminar with Bernard McGinn this past weekend was read through and discuss Saint Francis of Assisi's poem and religious song Canticle of the Sun. McGinn considers this to be a very mystical text from Francis, as Francis seems to see God powerfully in and throughout the whole of creation, including in the sun, moon, stars, Earth, etc. McGinn noted that it is a kind of nature mysticism. Francis wrote most of it in the year 1224, and the last few lines in 1226 just before his death.
This weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Fairfax, Virginia, to attend a seminar hosted by the Shalem Institute, an organization that fosters contemplative living and leadership. Their invited guest to present for their annual Gerald May Seminar was Bernard McGinn, who is Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. McGinn is an American Roman Catholic Theologian and is considered one of the world's foremost expert scholars on the history of Christian mysticism. He has written seven volumes outlining the history of Christian mysticism, and may write two more, bringing the history up to the present time. This series is known as The Presence of God.
I am not fond of much of the New Age movement. Sometimes my thoughts about mysticism may seem like the New Age, but I think that is because the New Age has adopted a lot of mystical language and concepts, not that classical mysticism inherently belongs to the New Age. They are two different fields, which have some overlap. The New Age developed just in the 1970s. Mysticism has been around for millennia, indeed, for all of human history, in every part of the world.
The previous blog post marks 200 entries on ThyMindOMan.com that I have written over the past year and a half. I thought I'd take this occasion to reflect a bit about what I have done here, and introduce a new feature of the website.
The word mystical is derived from the Greek mystikos meaning "secret," and muo meaning "concealed." Why all the mystery? Why is it concealed? Why do people keep it a secret? This seems like shady business. But is it?
Many ancient texts, including the Bible, note that seeing God brings death to the person. But then we also read of some who claim they saw God and lived to tell about it. What's going on? Which is it?
Many mystical paths in the world's spiritual traditions claim to lead one to a conscious merging, union, and a direct identification with Deity, the Sacred, Reality, the Universe, the Transcendent, with a first-hand experience of being God.
"Some types of mystical religion come close to atheism in their understanding of God as unimaginable."
Joseph Smith's activity in bringing forth the Book of Mormon can be viewed as a project of alchemy, which was influenced by his affiliation with treasure digging, the folk magic worldview, the Hermetic tradition,1 as well as his many mystical spiritual experiences. I suggest he initially sought to bring the “gold plates” of his visions into material reality, and in the process discovered the true “gold” was within himself, the elusive Philosopher’s Stone.