Given my earlier enthusiasm, I had begun to read some of the
Medieval Mystics. Albeit, at my lowly stage of spiritual development,
a lot of this material was going right by me. Intriguingly, when I first
started this project I had mentioned it to a church friend of mine. He
said that he did not read that kind of "stuff," because it was
unhealthy. I couldn't figure why he said that, but I wasn't put off.
Moving into the Medieval Mystics, I slowly began to understand
why my friend said what he did. Reading on, I could see that there
was a lot of flagellation and fasting as well as an extreme emphasis
on sin and suffering. Then--as now--I am rather cool when it comes
to this kind of religious expression. I since have discovered that
there have been a number of psychological studies pertaining to
these mystics. Sometimes they can make for some uncomfortable
Nonetheless, dipping a little into the history of the Middle Ages
there was plenty to be sad about, to suffer over, to be concerned
with guilt. The Black Plague wiped out a large percentage of
medieval Europe's population. The scourge of death was
everywhere. People must have wondered why God was doing
this to them. Likely they carried around a deep sense of guilt
and fear. Historically, it was most definitely a dark, dark time.
And ignorance abounded as well. So there was a lot of negative
feelings and fear seeping into the collective sense of consciousness--
and it provided a platform, a feeding ground, that prompted some of
the more unhealthy leanings found in the Medieval Mystics.
Still, one cannot dump these mystics "en masse." There was also
insightful introspection that speaks to the human experience, to
our spiritual needs. I liked Saint Teresa of Avila. I liked Hildegaard
of Bingen. And I especially liked Meister Eckhart. Teresa was one
tough mystic. She not only sustained her brother mystic, Saint John
of the Cross, but occasionally she told the Pope what to do--and
managed to live through it.
In the midst of my mystical studies I was alerted to a workshop on
the Medieval Mystics. It was going to be presented by Matthew Fox--
then a Dominican priest, who specialized in the spirituality of the
mystics. Being held up in the Philadelphia area, at a religious order
college, I went and was astounded by what I found!
Upon arriving at this workshop, I expected a small group of people
similar in size and focus as the Gospel workshop was at the
Benedictine ArchAbbey. Wrong, very wrong! Rather, there seemed
a cast of thousands. Maybe not really that many, but there were tons
of people circulating around that small campus up in Philadelphia.
Probably at least half of the attendees were clergy and religious,
but the other half were laity of all stripes and spots.
I have to admit that at first I was overwhelmed by this huge crowd.
Beyond even the numbers, the workshop itself took on different
colors. It turned out that only one small section was devoted to the
Medieval Mystics. There were other sections where one could study
Yoga, Sacred Dance, Gestalt and Jungian Psychology, Native
American Rituals, Science and Spirituality, and Feminist Theology.
Too, too much! I like like a "babe in the woods" in the midst of all
The next morning I finally did find Matthew Fox's seminar. Over the
course of the week, he focused on Meister Eckhart and Hildegard of
Bingen--the two mystics who fascinated me. But let me talk a little
about the other adventures I had there. In tandem with Fox's
seminar, I found the seminar on Science and Spirituality fascinating.
I hadn't been introduced to this approach before, though it
ultimately turned prophetic for me. A really handsome young man
by the name of Brian Swimme taught this seminar. He was a
physicist by profession, and was a protege of Thomas Berry--who,
at this time, I didn't know but in time would.
And as an addendum, I also attended the Psychology seminar.
It was taught by a former Dominican, turned Jungian analyst.
As it turned out, Providence was giving me an assist--in that from
this seminar I gained certain insights and would embark down an
altogether new path.