When I was a kid I would go to the neighbor’s house, knock on the door, and ask a friend, “Can you come out and play?” If the answer was “yes,” then we would launch off into a new adventure of wonder and delight.
We lived at the top of a horseshoe drive and our home was surrounded by natural woods and a small ditch lined with red clay. There were box turtles to discover with yellow and black designs on their shells and their bodies half buried in the ground. We looked for possums or raccoons in the trees, and were fascinated by the rapid movements of crawfish in the ditch. Digging in the red clay was like mining for gold to us.
That world seemed like our own private Disneyland, and our black and white friends would all play out our imaginations in rural Mississippi in the 1960’s. We didn’t know skin color was supposed to mean something, thanks to the kind of parents we had.
What a blessing to grow up in a world where my inner mystic was free to awaken every day. And what a gift it was to experience that daily awakening with our favorite chums.
But we are adults now, and we are supposed to let go of childish things to be “responsible adults,” right?
Yesterday, my friend Susan, a retired Episcopal priest, joined Dick and me in a contemplative sharing time. We were describing the childlike delight we experience in gathering each week for contemplative practice and the sharing of our lives with a small group. It was like we were kids knocking at Susan’s door and asking her to come out and play.
She didn’t hesitate. “I’ve been a mystic every since childhood. I was always walking around with an immediate sense of the presence of God. Is this group open to others?” It was like she was asking if she could come play with us.
We didn’t hesitate. “Yes, we would love to have you.” And we proceeded to let her know the day and time of the group’s meeting. We shared how we are finishing the reviewing of my current manuscript, which will likely be called, The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere. And I told Susan how the title is drawn from Thomas Merton’s phrase: “I have no program for this seeing, but the gate of heaven is everywhere.”
I shared with excitement about the theme of the manuscript as it is unfolding, a collection of stories about awakening to the presence of God all around us. I let her in on the open secret, that I was writing about how our part is simply to hold space for the sacred, and God does the rest.
This was not new information to Susan. She has long known the ways of finding God here, there, and everywhere. It was more like I was letting her know how much she would fit in with our group because she already knows the paths we are exploring. Even that telling about the theme of the manuscript was a way of inviting her to come play with us.
As I remembered that moment of heartfelt connection from yesterday, two truths became clear once again. Inviting others into contemplative community is my life purpose. I was born for this. And I have been richly blessed by discovering and living this purpose. I get to spend my life asking people who might be interested to come practice the presence of God with us.
The other truth which became clear again this morning is this: my mission is both living this life myself and hoping to awaken your inner mystic. I have learned that I do not want to be a mystic alone. I didn’t want that as a boy and I don’t want to be a solitary mystic now. I need you all to “come out and play” on this mystical journey with me.
My mission is not just practicing the presence of God by myself. I was born to create contemplative communities who practice the presence of God together. So when you practice awakening your inner mystic, as Susan and Dick did in our sharing yesterday, I get excited. Something in me opens up, the lights come on, and I just know another adventure awaits us.
The purpose of my unfolding manuscript is captured in the same phrase. Why am I writing this book? The stories are in hopes of awakening your inner mystic. Perhaps when the writing is done we will have a worthy gift to share, another way of asking new contemplatives, “Can you come out and play?” Maybe we will call the invitation, The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere: Awakening Your Inner Mystic.