From the Publisher
When I began writing this book, Fulbert Steffensky read the first pages of the manuscript and spontaneously made some critical comments. I responded and the following spousal conversation ensued.
Fulbert: What bothers me about mysticism is that its really not something for simple folk. I cant imagine that my mother or my father could get anything from what youre trying to do here.
Dorothee: (humming) Into his love [In seine Lieb versenken] I will wholly plunge myself, [will ich mich ganz hinab,] my heart is to be his [mein Herz will ich ihm schenken] and all that I have. [und alles was ich hab.]
Fulbert: Piety, yes, but mysticism?
Dorothee: I suppose that mysticism is always piety, even when it takes on utterly degenerate forms such as Satanic Masses. If I understand the meaning at all of this Christmas carol by Friedrich von Spee (1591-1635), then I can also talk about syntheresis voluntatis. Your mother wouldnt have known what to do with that, but perhaps it could be useful to her clever grandchildren, who live without Christmas carols but not without philosophy.
Fulbert: Back again to my mother. I believe that she can appropriate every sentence of the New Testament tradition as nourishing bread on which one can live a normal and burdened life. But what is she to do with the curious religious ingenuities of a Jacob Böhme, or John of the Cross? Surely, the Gospel itself deals more with the simple and sensible desires of people: to be healthy and not having to despair of life, to be able to see and hear, to live for once without tears and to have a name. Its not about spiritual artistry but about the possibility of simply living.
Dorothee: But arent mystics concerned precisely with the bread of life? As I see it, the problem is that people, including your mother, but certainly her children and grandchildren, encounter not just the Gospel but something that has been distorted, corrupted, destroyed and long been turned into stone.
Mysticism has helped those who were gripped by it to face powerful but petrified institutions that conformed to society; it still helps them today, albeit in a manner that is often very odd. What you call spiritual artistry may figure in it, but the essence of mysticism is something very different. One evening, without knocking first, I entered your mothers room. And there she was, the old lady, sitting on her chair with her hands folded--no needlework! I dont know whether to call what she was doing praying or reflecting. But great peace was with her. That is what I want to spread abroad.
Fulbert: Perhaps my reticence towards mystics is not meant so much for them as it is for a certain craving for mysticism prevalent in the present religious climate. The high regard for categories of religious experience is in an inflationary growth rate. The religious subject wants to experience the self without mediation, instantly, totally and authentically, in the manner she or he shapes personal piety. Experience justifies substance and becomes the actual content of religiousness. And then direct experience stands against institution, against the slowness of a journey, against the crusty, dark bread of the patient dealing with oneself. In this craving for experience, everything that occurs suddenly and is direct rather than institution-mediated becomes ever so interesting; everything thats oriented to experience and promises religious sensation. I know, genuine mysticism is completely different from this. But thats how its perceived.
Dorothee: Im also concerned when immediacy becomes the chief category. I think that the great figures of the tradition of mysticism have chewed on some of your crusty, dark bread. As Huxley once said, there is no instant Zen-Buddhism. The now of the mystics is an experience of time that is no common experience. This has nothing to do with a teenage sense of life, the right this moment of wanting a certain kind of sneaker or ice-cream.
I cannot agree with your covert pleading for the institution--as if the bread it baked were edible! I think there must be a third entity, next to voguish religious sensation, and the homespun institutions that are in charge of such things. You are seeking something like that yourself, except that you call it spirituality.
Fulbert: When I speak of spirituality I always rule out the ideas of particularity and extraordinary experience. Its the name, more than anything else, that makes spirituality so alluring. What spirituality itself actually is has much to do with method, order and repetition. Its a matter of constituting the self, in the midst of banality and everydayness. And everyone who is not utterly beaten down by life can work at it. Spirituality is not a via regia, an elevated pathway, but a via laborosa, a labor-intensive regimen for determining ones own vision and life-options. And so I stick doggedly to the notion that something is important only when its important for everyone.
But its possible that in mysticism, what manifests itself in dramatically concentrated form and artistic expression, so to speak, is what constitutes the nature of piety and faith. This would mean that mysticism may in fact be neither the road of all nor of many. Rather, it may be that in poetic density the nature of a faith that is meant for all is revealed within mysticism.
Dorothee: My most important concern is to democratize mysticism. What I mean to do is to reopen the door to the mystic sensibility thats within all of us, to dig it out from under the debris of trivia--from its self-trivialization, if you like. An older woman in New York told me about meeting a guru. When she told her black minister about this, he asked only one question. Its a question I too want to ask: Didnt he tell you that were all mystics?