Becoming an Ordinary Mystic, Albert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019.
Summary: Explores what it means to be a friend of God, to walk in an awareness of God’s grace, in the ordinary of life.
From the time the author’s mother defined a mystic as “a friend of God,” Albert Haase wanted to be one of those friends. Years later he found himself frustrated, feeling he was walking in circles, wondering:
- I should be further along on the spiritual journey.
- Why don’t I see any progress?
- What am I doing wrong?
His spiritual director observed that many of the great mystics felt like this, and that the fact that he felt like this signaled that he was a mystic as well, an ordinary mystic. Instead of striving, he began to learn what it means to be open to God’s grace. In this book, he shares some of the practices by which he learned that awareness of God and God’s grace through his days.
It begins with a mindfulness of the present of stopping to recollect, looking to attend, listening to reflect, and then going in response. In the first of the exercises that conclude each chapter, he urges this practice several times a day. He then moves on to the examination of conscience, a ruthless review of our sins and the ego obsessions that underlie them, opening us even more to the grace of God. He explores how meditation on the Sermon on the Mount can re-wire our thinking and ego obsessions. He invites us into the cardiac spirituality of love that is at the heart of the law. He teaches us to be transparent through the Welcoming Prayer, a prayer in which we welcome the unseemly emotions.
He moves into our experiences of the absence of God, the times of doubt and darkness, where all we can do is to surrender to we know not what. There is the struggle of forgiveness–of God, of ourselves, and others. He commends the practice of CPR: Confession, Pressing the “stop” button on our memories when they arise, and Relaxation that acknowledges what frail creatures we are and trusts God’s transformative work on his timetable. He draws us into exploring our inadequate images of God and the images of God we see in the life of Jesus.
He tackles the challenges we have with prayer and suggests we begin with the “Come as you are” prayer. He helps us to recognize prayer both as words and the silences between them, much like the notes and rests in music. He proposes that our life experiences are God’s megaphone and the question is not whether God’s speaking, or even whether can we hear him, but what is he saying so loudly in our experiences?
Perhaps some of the best counsel in the book are the principles he outlines regarding various spiritual practices:
- They are our response to God’s ardent longing for us, inviting us to go deeper with him.
- Whatever the discipline, it should foster a heightened awareness of God’s grace.
- This, in turn ought lead to our surrender to the will of God.
- One size does not fit all. Traditional practices are not helpful for every person.
- Any practice that makes us mindful of God’s ardent longing is acceptable.
He concludes with describing the practice of spiritual direction and how such a person can be a help in becoming aware of God and gives practical recommendations for finding direction.
I found much to commend in this encouraging little book. I found myself identifying again and again with Haase–the glimpses of grace, the profound awareness of sin’s depths in my life, the moments of perplexity, the times where God seems distant, and dealing with and welcoming into God’s presence my unseemly emotions. This is a book that may be taken on retreat, or read and used as a group. And it just may be that we will discuss that God ardently desires us, that we may also be “friends of God,” ordinary mystics.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.