Mud to Mysticism
It is shocking how easy it is to get stuck in the mud and never rise to heights of mysticism. How sad it would be to spend our whole lives in the basics and never reach our potential to master discipline and experience mature prayer. I first started thinking about this problem when I saw the movie Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange is a Marvel movie in which the hero looks to a "higher power" that resembles magic but is not defined. It is of course important to distinguish magic from religion and prayer, but there are many parallels that can be drawn that illuminate the importance of prayer.
When modern medicine fails his recovery process, Dr. Strange travels to a distant land to seek learned individuals who have harnessed a mysterious source of power. Dr. Strange is a brilliant brain surgeon, but he cannot exercise the power of these learned individuals until he embraces humility and self discipline.
The parallels to a life of prayer are amazing. Many Christians never experience the benefits of prayer simply because they never learn the humility and discipline necessary to pray sincerely and faithfully. But beyond the need for human virtue, I have also experienced that it is all too easy to get stuck in the mud of vice and never rise to the heights of mysticism.
I was reading St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life and I was struck by the statement:
"Souls which, in spite of having forsaken sin, yet retain such likings and longings, remind us of those persons who, without being actually ill, are pale and sickly, languid in all they do, eating without appetite, sleeping without refreshment, laughing without mirth, dragging themselves about rather than walking briskly."
It made me realize that although I have long ago renounced sin for love of Jesus, I still long after the pleasure of sin. Like the Egyptians longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, I find myself stuck in the same spiritual desert and not able to complete the short journey to the promise land of mature prayer.
So once again I have to humble myself and acknowledge that I long to roll around in the mud like a pig, even though I am a daughter made in the image and likeness of God. It doesn't matter how good mud feels, it is clear that it weighs me down and distracts me from experiencing superior spiritual realities like focused meditation, contemplation interior freedom.
So I learned a huge lesson from Doctor Strange. I'm over the mud, I'm ready to recommit myself to the life of mature prayer.
I learned a second mind-blowing lesson from Doctor Strange, SPOILER ALERT! At the end of the movie Dr. Strange's ability to die and willingness to suffer the pain of death repeatedly was a source of salvation to the whole world. This is a profound Christological reality that further illuminates the spiritual life. Christians have to die, i.e. embrace mortification or self denial, in order to harness our greatest strength. Once we embrace the death of self denial we become a source of strength for others. Good job, Marvel! Way to use a comic book to bring profound spiritual realities to the big screen.