I remember the day I discovered that I was a mystic. At least, it was the day I put a name to the uncomfortable feeling of otherness – that square-peg-round-hole identity I had lived with my entire life.
I was wandering through a bookstore, killing time, waiting for a friend who was running late. Perusing the Christianity section, I toggled emotionally between bored and annoyed until a one-word title caught my eye: Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill.
I had unknowingly crossed the boundary into the Catholic writers section.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and raised in a staunch, orange, Ulster-protestant family, I had not read many Catholic authors up to that point. Let’s make that none. Zilch. But there was something about that title that sang to me. I grabbed the book from the shelf, headed to the coffee area, and settled down to read.
Randomly, I flipped to a section that spoke of Christ as Bridegroom and the human soul as his Bride. “Who is the Bride?” Underhill writes. “It is the soul thirsting for God.” She writes of irrevocable marriage vows made between her spirit and her God – her soul utterly concentrated on the One. The One.
Words like detachment, renunciation, and abandonment made my heart race. The more I read this description of unabashed passion for God and total devotion to Christ, the more I recognized myself – every unspoken longing I had ever had, my upside-down way of seeing the world, thinking, praying, and living. I fell headlong into Underhill’s writing, and God showed up, right in the middle of Borders Books. He busted through the barriers of my religious and cultural upbringing, dismissing preconceptions, dismantling misconceptions, exposing my spiritual hunger, touching my soul raw, even as my coffee went cold.
I’ve always been a reader. During this hungry season of my life, I fed on heady books by William Law, Charles Spurgeon, AW Pink, and RC Sproul; and impassioned writings by Leonard Ravenhill, AW Tozer, Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitehall Smith, Catherine Booth, and Samuel Logan Brengle. All of these brilliant thinkers instructed me, but I had never read anything that resonated as deeply with my soul as this Catholic mystic, Evelyn Underhill.
By the time my friend finally arrived, I was a puffy-eyed, weeping, hot mess. What on earth happened to you? she asked. I’ve figured out what’s wrong with me, I whined. I know why I’m so weird. I’m a mystic!
Well, duh – was her response – (yes, ‘duh’ was a thing back in the ’80s) – and then she a had a good laugh at my expense while I dabbed my swollen eyes and blew my nose. She used to laugh at me all the time, this friend who has long been gone – which made me mad but kept me grounded. She was not only my friend, she was my mentor and knew me better than I knew myself. I was most certainly a square peg in a round hole in church circles, and she was not only ok with that – she encouraged it.
I bought the book that day – partly because I had mangled it and I was too ashamed to put it back. But mostly because I knew I had to own it, read it cover to cover, wrestle my old prejudices to the ground, and blow up all the boxes. It sits on my desk now, begging to be re-read, inviting me to shed fresh tears, experience fresh longing, and homesickness for God; to remember who and what I am.
God doesn’t live in anyone’s box. If you are looking for him, you will find him – that’s a promise. But expect him to show up in unexpected places.