Soelle: Mysticism Represents a New Kind of Transcendence

Dorothee Soelle, like Bede Griffiths and Howard Thurman and many other mystic-prophets before her, recognizes the “external” factors of religion as being one thing, but the interior being the heart of spirituality. She writes:

“More than Enough.” Collage inspired by Julian of Norwich, crafted by Nancy Torsen on Flickr.

The language of religion, by which I do not mean the stolen language in which a male God ordains and imperial power radiates forth, is the language of mysticism: I am completely and utterly in God, I cannot fall out of God, I am imperishable. “Who shall separate us from the love of God?” we can then ask with Paul the mystic: “neither death nor life, height nor depth, neither present nor future” (Romans 8:35 and 38).  

Soelle criticizes the language of religion — some of it is “stolen” and can be recognized because it is uber-male and echoes “imperial power.”

The true language of religion, she insists, is “mysticism,” which she defines as the realization that “I am completely and utterly in God, I cannot fall out of God, I am imperishable.”

It follows that mysticism offers a new understanding of “transcendence.” Transcendence is not necessarily “up” but in. It is circular and all around us.  Panentheism, not theism, is the pattern in play.  Says Soelle:

In feminist theology therefore, the issue is not about exchanging pronouns but about another way of thinking of transcendence. Transcendence is no longer to be understood as being independent of everything and ruling over everything else, but rather as being bound up in the web of life. . . . That means that we move from God-above-us to God-within-us and overcome false transcendence hierarchically conceived.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 280, 278.
To read the transcript of Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: “Web.” Photo by Yuri Levchenko on Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

What is your understanding of Transcendence?  Has it evolved over the years?  Do you feel “bound up in the web of life?” This seems to echo what science tells us, that all things and all systems are interdependent. 

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13 thoughts on “Soelle: Mysticism Represents a New Kind of Transcendence”

  1. Avatar

    When one opens one’s heart, mind and soul to the mystical way of seeing this world, one does truly experience transcendence as being a movement of Oneing With the all and the everything of creation.

    The Mystic through this transcendent experience begins to awaken to and understand not only a new way of seeing, but also a new way of listening and hearing. The Mystic learns a new kind of language, spoken in metaphors and analogies, an ancient native tongue which is weaved into the whole web of life. This movement of connection, communion and communication is circular, relational and reflective.

    In today’s DM, its opening image of the spider web, brought back to my remembrance one such mystical and transcendent experience I had this summer. I went for an early morning walk in Manitoulin Island where I was on retreat. The sun was just beginning to rise, and the wildflower field I was walking on, lit up with hundreds of spider webs. All these webs, glistened with rainbow colors from the morning dew being caressed by the light dawning. As I looked more closely upon one spider web that particularly caught my attention, in the center I saw this amazingly large, very peculiar looking spider. She was dark black and vibrant green.

    Things started to arise from within this encounter of being secretly present to one another. The spider in her web, was reflecting something much more than just her literal form. She was speaking to me of the union of the Black Maddonna and the Green Man and the importance of these archetypal energies awakening within the consciousness of humanity, in order to help us do our part in repairing the damage that we have caused to the great web of life.

    I recently was delightfully surprised connecting this mystical, transcendent experience that I had this past summer when I was reading yesterday Mathew Fox’s book, “The Lotus and the Rose”, in which he expands on what I had heard from within.

    This is just one of many experiences of mystical transcendence that I have had, which most often are somehow validated later by another source. This validation has happened so often. Due to these suprising validations I have learnt and continue to learn how to surrender and really trust in my direct relationship with this Great Mystery, that great web of life, that circular movement that unites and binds us together and that sacred connection, communion and communication that unfolds within our relationship of being present to the Great Spirit that is within the all and the everything of creation, which we are all uniquely apart of. Hildegard speaks of these mystical transcedent experiences as Greening and Julian speaks of it as Oneing.

    1. Avatar

      Jeanette, your vision of “The sun…just beginning to rise, and the wildflower field…lit up with hundreds of spider webs. All these webs glistened with rainbow colors from the morning dew being caressed by the light dawning” including the green/black spider at the centre. I can imagine an artist making an iconic work of art of what you describe. It would have been wonderful if your real time vision could have been photographed. Your relating the spider to the Black Madonna and the Green Man reminds me somewhat of the scarab beetle that appeared at the window of Carl Jung’s office when he was treating a very troubled patient who had been describing her dream of a scarab beetle. This stunning serendipity was the beginning of her cure. As Matthew has been showing, our dystopian destructive culture needs healing from the radical split between the feminine and masculine in our souls and in our world.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, This morning you begin by saying, “When one opens one’s heart, mind and soul to the mystical way of seeing this world, one does truly experience transcendence as being a movement of Oneing With the all and the everything of creation,” and this is a very nice way of putting it. Then you go on to tell of the spider webs and the spider you saw while on retreat. Your description of your experience with the spider reminded me of Meister Eckhart’s experience with a caterpillar. Listen to his words: “Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature–even a caterpillar–I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.” Thanks for your comment!

  2. Avatar

    I found this poem in my Facebook feed last month:
    The worst thing we ever did
    was put God in the sky
    out of reach
    pulling the divinity
    from the leaf, sifting out the holy from our bones,
    insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement
    through everything we’ve made
    a hard commitment to see as ordinary,
    stripping the sacred from everywhere
    to put in a cloud man elsewhere,
    prying closeness from your heart.
    The worst thing we ever did
    was take the dance and the song
    out of prayer
    made it sit up straight
    and cross its legs
    removed it of rejoicing
    wiped clean its hip sway,
    its questions,
    its ecstatic yowl,
    its tears.
    The worst thing we ever did is pretend
    God isn’t the easiest thing
    in this Universe
    available to every soul
    in every breath.
    —Chelan Harkin in the poetry book “Susceptible to Light”

  3. Avatar

    Our Western culture trains us to have an intellectualized, dualistic framework of thought (this vs. that). Our brains use this model to interpret every perception.
    Every experience, before you “have” it, is first “vetted” by the brain’s programmer, the “self” consciousness. It interprets, edits and often even substitutes “stock photos,” (memorized sights, sounds, and tastes) for the actual experience, an energy-saving substitution. When information is perceived that doesn’t “fit”, for example when intuitions leak into awareness, it often buries them in the subconscious or tries to cut them out entirely, “gaslighting” us into believing they didn’t really happen.
    But intuitive people have a lot of perceptions that don’t “fit” any of the dualistic models. And their brain’s programmer, their “self,” occasionally either “slips up” or learns to step aside, and they directly experience the wild edges of intuitive consciousness, the electric tension of living, flowing, changing, conscious energy. Sometimes, they even experience deep, powerful immersions into the wisdom, love and healing of the One.
    Sometimes, we fly free for a while. That is transcendence.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, Our Western dualistic framework of thought can be traced back to the “Father” of Modern Philosophy and dualistic thinking–Rene Descartes and his dualism was soon taken over by Benedict Spinoza’s monism–and even Albert Einstein said that his God, was Spinoza’s. You are right that people in general proceed along a dualistic model of subject and object, up and down, male and female, and so on. And you are also right the few who are intuitive enough to take in or experience the whole or the One. I would also like to put forth here that I believe that we all have the potential of being more intuitive. And I would also add that most people have experiences of Oneness–even if they don’t realize it–at concerts, movies, looking at art, making love and even being at a sports event. I believe the Great One is into Oneing us…

  4. Avatar

    In reply to Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Yes, most people have some degree of intuitive consciousness, and can slip into the “zone.” It’s a welcome reprieve from our habitual thinking.
    I think dualistic consciousness goes back much farther than Descartes. Neoplatonism is the mystical Path, and that goes back before Plato, probably through the mystery religions and most likely goes back further to ancient Egypt. It is a realignment away from dualistic consciousness. Also, the Indo-European languages are dualistic, and derive from a single ancient proto-Indo-European language. These include English, Latin, German and the romance languages. Every word you speak, every thought, shapes how you perceive the world around you. Subject-object dualism is learned and deeply integrated into our brain’s processing when we learn these languages. The mystical Path is a necessary healing of a fractured, confused, trapped dualistic consciouness, a reminder of its original, blessed wholeness.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Melinda, The dualism I spoke of with Descartes was the most vivid modern expression of the idea of dualism. And your right, that dualism goes back much further to to Plato and the Neoplatonists, but most graphically it goes back to groups like the Gnostics, who were so dualistic that matter itself was so apart from spirit, that they believed that the world could not have been created by God, so they imagined a “lesser god” who created matter and who some Gnostic groups called the “Demiurge.” Dualism is really a part of the human experience, for we live in a three dimensional world where everything is dualistic from up and down, in and out, male and female, good and evil, and on and on. Mystical Oneing is rare because of the fact of dualisms is so much a part of people’s lives. And yet there are some who leave the conventional dualistic thinking and open to something more…

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