Spiritual Reflections

Being a Mystical Presence in the World

We can access this great experience of God’s love through faithfulness to simple practices, ever ancient, ever new: silence, prayer, meditation, contemplation, adoration.

Have you ever found yourself longing to see or hear something uplifting that can break through some of the heaviness that has blanketed us these past two and a half years? It can be a newly bloomed flower, a colorful bird, a walk on your favorite beach, an unexpected call from a friend or a shared meal. We are just craving uplift wherever we may find it. 

I have heard some desire a “good news TV station” which will deliver only news which generates happiness. Others blast this idea as an option doomed to fail. They argue that without conflict, there is no drama and no one will watch it. I am still mulling over that opinion, but I believe in the end, the winner is always love. 

I watched at the end of a half hour evening news, where accounts of war, shootings, floods, fire and overdoses were all covered in depth, but in the last two minutes, they featured a story about a nine-year-old Oklahoma Little League player who stepped up to bat and before his first swing, was hit in the head as the ball bounced off his helmet. 

He eventually got up and went to the dugout. The pitcher who threw the ball stood on the field with his head down, weeping. He did not move for minutes. Then the nine-year-old left the safety of the dugout and walked across the field to put his arms around the pitcher, just hugging him until the tears stopped. I feasted on that story for days, replaying the visuals of a child whose heart was larger than his own pain and suffering. I sensed a mystical heart though I might not have been able to tell you why. 

Carl McColman explores the subject of Christian mysticism, and writes that mysticism is all about love. “For some, mysticism may be ‘a head trip’ but for most it’s ‘a heart trip,’ a journey into the sacred nature of love.” Mysticism dares to proclaim that we have all been invited to immerse ourselves in the immediate, experiential life-transforming relationship with the very source of Love in its purest, most original foundational form- -Jesus Christ, made real and visible and accessible to everyone. 

We can access this great experience of God’s love through faithfulness to simple practices, ever ancient, ever new: silence, prayer, meditation, contemplation, adoration. Our journey to Divine Union with God is not a lonely one, as it must be supported by immersing ourselves in a community of others who are also trying, as best they can, to figure out what loving Christ is all about. Ahh, community – all the blessings, all the graces, all the striving, all the suffering – all working together to enable each one to come to an understanding of the fullness to which we have been called. 

And let us acknowledge there are mystics among us who can bear witness to the profound reality of God’s love and care for us. We have met them and we recognize them. These exchanges are often done quietly, but have a profound effect not just on a single person, but on the community as a whole. Think about the darkest days of the pandemic and ask yourself, “Who brought me light, what form did it take, how long did the effect last, and did those moments carry a sense of holy Presence?” Might you have experienced a mystical moment, an experience that God is fully in this experience and I am filled by God’s presence? 

In a workshop sharing thoughts on “Engaging Spirituality in Times of Upheaval,” Tara Brach draws on her Buddhist faith to identify pathways that can increase our spiritual energy: 

  1. Cultivate loving kindness by seeing the goodness instead of the negativity 
  2. Put love into action by responding to our bond of interbeing (our oneness) 
  3. Act to bridge the divide by tending and befriending the wounded other 
  4. Live from a loving, awakened heart (to which I would add: Say what you love out loud) 

I see in each of these suggestions a call to mystical action. It is asking a tender, awakened heart to respond in kind to a suffering heart. And it is asking those of us who suffer to recognize the act of outreach and receive the love being offered. In this way is Christ’s love made real for us and always possible for us to access. We can sense this love being poured out for us and see it spill over to touch many others. 

Through her intimacy with God, a contemplative finds wisdom that can be shared with others. She also finds the energy and desire to serve those in need and care for those who suffer. God gives her gifts of love that she can pour out, even as she returns to silence and rest and prayer. 

Let us reflect on the inspiration of contemplatives whose lives we have encountered in our reading or study: Caryll Houselander, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dag Hammarskjold, Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner, Anthony de Mello, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault. How did they influence your life or affect change in your spiritual growth? Does that impact still resonate today? 

Each of these mystics, in his or her own way has contributed to the spirituality of the Christian community and multiplied those gifts from the depth of personal encounter with God. Many have had a profound impact on our lives in very deep and personal ways. Each of them has succeeded not only in living a mystical life, but in witnessing to each of us that we can undertake this great call to fall in love and live in love with our divine God. 

The precise response to this call will differ for each of us, but we serve a God who sees our needs and desires to respond, who feels our suffering and desires to comfort, who witnesses the pain in our world and desires to heal it. We serve a God who is love itself and who gifts us daily with the grace to open our hearts fully and share whatever new gifts are bestowed with those most in need. 

And the heart of our labor to love more and better rests in one thing: Prayer. 

What is the one thing that unites us across most denominations of Christianity and religion? While our own quiet thoughts lead to contemplation, what can every believer do, regardless of intellect or other limitation? We can lift our heart and mind to God; we can fold our hands together, bow our head or place a hand over our hearts. We can pray. The steps of Lectio Divina can take us deeper; daily reading of scripture and meditation can feed our souls and imaginations. We do not need to be mystics in order to pray, but we do need to pray if we are to commune with God on a deeper level. One of the most comforting beliefs in my own life journey is believing that even when I cannot pray, someone somewhere is praying for me. Is it Mother Theresa, or Thomas Merton or Anthony de Mello? Or some quiet man or woman sitting in a church somewhere who is remembering me? I will never know but I believe this with my whole heart. 

Keep a set of prayer books that speak to your heart; pray with others if so moved. Incorporate the daily office with others or alone, attend prayer services when possible. Healing prayers for others can be a rich source of inspiration and the rosary never fails. Ask others for ideas and inspiration. Prayer is richest when shared. And simple can be holy too. 

To become more mystical is to be willing to be transformed by the very love of God. Fr. Richard Rohr teaches that the two greatest paths to transformation are love and suffering. Both break down our ego defenses and open us completely to mystery, moving us from a fear-based life to a love-based life. Love and suffering are part of every human life. Wouldn’t it make sense to make our greatest spiritual teachers, our main portals, opening both mind-space and heart-space to another? 

In my story of the little boy hit by the ball, we see his suffering in his tears, but we also see his heart, his love, when he embraces the sobbing pitcher, offering compassion and forgiveness. God lives in that moment and we can, by praying through our own love and suffering, also be blessed by truly mystical moments that allow us, just for the briefest space, to touch the face of God and share that pure joy with another. 

Sister Ann Barbara serves as the Director of Programs at Our Lady of Grace Spiritual Center in Manhasset, NY. 


  1. John McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (Broadleaf Books) 
  2. Richard Rohr, What the Mystic Knows (Crossroad Publishing) 
  3. Richard Rohr, The Naked Now (Crossroad Publishing) 
  4. Tara Brach, Guided Meditations, ( 

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