Becoming an Ordinary Mystic: Spirituality for the Rest of Us
Reviewed by William Shetter
Father Albert Hasse’s message is a refreshingly straightforward one: becoming an “ordinary” mystic—something we are all called to do—is simply awakening to the extraordinary in the everyday and the sacred in the secular. It is a journey that leads to a new experiencing of the ordinary. But as we all know, this is anything but simple, and this book is intended as a guide to some matters to watch for and be aware of. It is basically a guidebook written in an easy conversational style; since much of what he presents will be familiar ground to many readers, there seems little need to analyze each point in detail. We will merely ask whether the book is clear and accessible to those on a wide range of spiritual journeys and whether it is reasonably complete.
Haase is a Franciscan priest, author, and spiritual director who is currently chaplain at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center near Austin, Tex., with special responsibility for the training of future spiritual directors. It is hardly surprising that his discussion is at some points viewed through a Catholic window (confession, sin, fasting, etc.), but readers on other spiritual paths have no need to be distracted by a less-than-familiar world, since he interprets these broadly—examples below—and his reach in striving to address everyone is wisely deeper.
The strength of this book is Haase’s faithfulness to the characteristically Franciscan emphasis on practical and experiential spirituality. By means of numerous anecdotes drawn from his own and others’ lives, he shows how spirituality enters into all aspects of ordinary everyday life. Conversely, he succeeds in demonstrating clearly the extent to which spirituality is rooted in the challenges of the most ordinary life. Brief quotations enrich the narrative, from those such as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Merton. Each chapter concludes with guidebook-style exercises: “Practice,” “Reflect,” and “Ponder.” This last consists of one summarizing sentence to ponder while sitting in silence.
If we rearrange the progression of topics just a bit, we find that the path to being a “mystic” begins in a fundamental mindfulness, and progresses through a growing attention to awareness and approaching the goal of true self-knowledge. This is evidenced by striving for complete freedom from the demands of the ego, that “unrelenting taskmaster” as he calls it. The mystic, whether “ordinary” or not, is one who has learned to accept and value the ultimate mystery of the way, that can only be approached with trust and faith. The true goal is found in relationships, “the arena in which your spiritual life gets played out.” Haase places considerable emphasis on discernment, though as a Quaker I could wish he said more about communal discernment.
The rest of the book is in the context of mindfulness. Along the way, we encounter inadequate God images that we must steadily outgrow. This frequently leads us into the dark night, challenging us to let go of our too-readily trusted images of God. Haase presents the problem of the “seven deadly sins,” but quickly shows how every one of them can—and should—be interpreted broadly and metaphorically; “gluttony,” for instance, is the appetite for any self-gratification. Spiritual direction is for all, from the novice mystic to the most experienced, because one’s attention is directed to “the many ways the Spirit might be moving in your life.” Much of what Haase tells us along the way is sound self-knowledge that goes well beyond a direct connection with mysticism; for instance, “every emotion, no matter how unseemly we think it might be, contains a wisdom and dynamism all its own.”
The variety of spiritual techniques that fills this book is simply the endless number of routes to a single goal: awakening to the divine presence in ordinary life.