Mysticism is the idea that special mental states allow the communion with, or direct experience of, God. Mystics can use texts which are, or are not, canonical, like the Book of Revelation. Practices said to lead to this state are prayer, fasting and self-denial.
The mystical tradition in Christianity is 2000 years old. Important texts are:
- I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me
1 John 3:2
- Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
II Peter 1:4
- exceedingly great and precious promises [are given unto us]; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust
2 Corinthians 12:2-4
- I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Varieties of mysticism
Mystic traditions are influential in most religions. In Christianity, the Greek Hesychasts are important as well as the writings of Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Bridget of Sweden and many others. The mystic tradition in Christianity began in the Eastern Church in Greece and has always pervaded Eastern Orthodoxy. The Middle Ages saw a rise in mystic thought throughout Western Europe. In broad terms, the Christians of Eastern Europe have been more comfortable with mystical thought than their Western European counterparts. See Christian mysteries.
The mystic tradition in Islam is known as Sufism. Muslim Sufis have enjoyed a longstanding influence on mainstream Islam, although that influence has been in decline for a few centuries. There have been many varieties of Sufism (from those who have strictly adhered to Islamic law to those who have reveled in drunkenness and pleasure) all across the Muslim world, but India has been the most common home to Sufis.
Mysticism tends to have a focus on the broad human identity and the nature of God. Mystics tend to emphasize the personal religious experience rather than doctrine, which has caused distrust between orthodox and mystic traditions in almost every religion.