Christian Mysticism for Devotional Polytheists

While there will be an element of polytheists who will eschew anything related to Christianity on principle, my sincere hope is that others will recognize the value in alternate approaches to theistic worship.

I don’t believe that it is a practical idea to discard 2000 years of religious technology simply because we don’t worship the particular deity or deities it is associated with.

In this case, many Christian monks and mystics have spent their lives meditating upon and developing methods to become closer to their God. Though we may not be Christians, there’s no reason why we cannot adapt their methods to the worship of our own beloved deity or deities.

So, what are some Christian mystical techniques that we, as devotional polytheists, can use for our own worship?

Silent worship

For the past three years, I’ve lived in a Quaker-based intentional community. Every Sunday morning, a local Quaker group worships in a large “Meeting Room” in my home. They sit silently for about an hour, opening themselves up to messages or contact to the Inner Light/God.

While this is decidedly not an ancient polytheistic technique, it can be easily adapted for devotional polytheistic mystics by sitting in silent receptive worship.

Similar to this is the Christian monastic contemplative prayer known as “centering prayer” where a ‘sacred word’ is chosen and concentrated upon, lest the mind wander.

Another popular technique among Christian monastics is the lectio divina. This usually involves a passage in Scripture that is first read, then meditated upon discursively, prayed upon, then silently contemplated.

Now, with Christians, this is done with Scripture but if you have prayers or a Book of Hours, or lore (such as the Havamal), this can be done with phrases. I’ve used this technique with success while using Hindu scriptures.

Repetitive prayer

Progressing from there, we have repetitive prayer. One prayer repeated over and over again. Orthodox Christianity has the “Jesus prayer”. This is the repetition of the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over. This repetition ties up the discursive mind and allows one to connect on a deeper level, past the Thinker.

Similarly, we have the japa technique of Hinduism where a single word or phrase is repeated (“mantra”). These repetitions can be done aloud or silently to one’s self.

This can also be adapted to music as in Hindu bhajans. Many in the West are aware of the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) popularized in the 1960s where a mantra is sung repetitively.

In more recent times, a Christian version of this has appeared in the Taize ecumenical monastery, which is characterized by singing repetitive prayers devotionally.

Prayer beads

Praying with beads is found throughout religion, from the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Some Muslim mystics pray on beads and, of course, it is a hallowed tradition among Roman Catholics (the Rosary).

This could be adapted for Norse deities that have many kennings or names or attributes. Or Greek deities with many names or aspects. One can repeat these aspects prayerfully as a way of connecting on a deeper level to that deity.

Visualization

Anthony de Mello’s landmark book “Sadhana: A Way to God” is an excellent text. de Mello was a Jesuit priest from India and sought to bring Eastern contemplative techniques to his Catholicism. Additionally, as a Jesuit, he had his own contemplative tradition to share, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In “Sadhana”, de Mello talks about a number of visualization techniques for devotional work. One of these, which he calls “The Empty Chair” involves imagining Jesus in an empty chair next to you and talking to “Jesus” as if he is there. This can be easily adapted by polytheists for their own beloved deity. de Mello says that it might be difficult to imagine the face, but it’s supposedly one of the more effective techniques to deepen one’s devotion.

One technique from the Spiritual Exercises is to take a scene from the New Testament where Jesus appears and visualize one’s self being there at the time, watching Jesus interact with others and seeing how you feel. Now, as polytheists, we are often short on holy books. We do, however, have myths. Try this out. Take a particular section of a myth that involves your patron/matron and imagine yourself being there at the time.

Visualization is challenging for many, so persevere. It may take several times before you begin to feel anything from it.

Another technique from de Mello’s book and found in Hindu Tantrik works is to visualize one’s self in a particular sacred place. It doesn’t have to be a real place. The Hindu Tantrik version can involve one being on an island made of wish-fulfilling gems and surrounded by a sea of nectar. While at this place, you can create a safe place of prayer where you can feel near to your deity.

Experiment with making this as real as possible for yourself. How does it sound? How does it smell? How does it feel? Perhaps there is a temple in your sacred space that you can visit your deity at, give offerings, etc.

The important part in all of these exercises is how well something works for you. Whether or not it is an effective way to bring you closer to your deity.

Hope these help!

 

~ by sacredblasphemies on 03/18/2016.

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