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Practical Mysticism as Authentic Religiousness: A Bonhoeffer Case Study

Author(s): Terence J. Lovat

Journal: Australian Ejournal of Theology
ISSN 1448-6326

Issue: 6;
Date: 2006;
Original page

Keywords: Mysticism | Religiousness | Practical Theology | Practical Mysticism | Bonhoeffer

Mysticism is about faith and about knowing. Practical mysticism is about these conjoined in doing. It is a mystical knowing, including an intense knowing of self and God, that implies and impels action, practical action for good. It lies at the heart of the mysticism testified to in the sacred stories of history’s most prominent religious figures, including those of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and so should be seen as the most authentic of those mysticisms judged to be genuinely religious in the Semitic traditions. It can also be demonstrated to be the form of mysticism with the firmest of philosophical and theological justification within the epistemologies employed by eminent exponents of these traditions. Recent scholarship has been concentrating on the common rather than separate lines of mystical thought that run through these traditions, providing yet another point of unity for those who wish to work for unity rather than division. Curiously, practical mysticism seems often to be the object of some suspicion by religious authorities in their attitudes to those who truly emulate their founders. Within the institutionalized forms of religion that purport to be built in their image, it is the perennial irony that those whose actions would seem most palpably to be in the spirit of their founders often experience difficulty in having their religiousness recognized. At the same time as they have their faith called into question by the institutions that go by their founders’ names, invariably others who seem more cast in the mould of their founder’s own persecutors are hailed quickly as true believers and even saints. The instance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, World War II martyr and saint, is a case in point. Perhaps some of the above occurs because we have failed clearly to define and understand the nature of the mysticism promoted within the Semitic traditions by the most eminent of their theological interpreters. The quest to rectify this omission has importance beyond the issue of mysticism itself, for this is merely a lens into a deeper issue about the true nature and purpose of religion and religiousness. In an era which sees religion and religiousness so largely turned over to bureaucrats, ideologues and fanatics, it is vital that an image of religion as common-sense, moderate and supremely practical be promoted as not just an alternative form of religiousness but as being at the heart of it, including of its mystical tradition.
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