The term mysticism is the teaching, experience, or realm of the mystic. A mystic is someone who claims to have gained spiritual truth that is in some way hidden from others. The mystic has experienced spiritual realms that are a “mystery” to most people.
Mysticism is close to (and often connected with) the concepts of magic and cult. Mystics can be found in any of the world religions as well as in philosophical world view systems such as new age philosophy. The ancient “mystery religions” are best represented by the Gnostics (see Gnosticism).
Christian mystics have been found throughout the entire church era, including today. The best known Christian mystics form a related set of people and groups found in monasticism. Not all people who advocate contemplation or who have been monastics have been mystics however.
Christian mystics are noted for the fact that they are doctrinally orthodox Christians (see orthodoxy) who claim to have discovered Jesus inwardly through prayer and a devoted life style. They usually have comparatively less interest in liturgy, denomination, or clerical mainstream Christianity and more interest in inward transformation by direct experience with God.
The “knowledge” obtained according to the mystics is often said to consist of the way of “unknowing”. By this they mean beyond mental knowledge. It can be roughly thought of as wisdom taught to the individual directly by God through encounters with God. When Pentecostal/Charismatic people today describe feeling the “presence” of God they are usually describing similar experiences that are beyond normal thought. Usually these encounters are characterized by peace and beauty. The old and the new Testaments do have examples of visions and visitations that are sometimes frightening however.
The mystics say that God is transcendent and cannot be understood in the same way as created entities and that mystical knowledge is not easily expressed by language, logic and proposition. They often use mystic poetry, mystic proverbs and mystic allegory to describe their experience. Their teachings are therefore difficult to understand. In essence, mystical knowledge cannot be taught to someone who is unwilling to have direct communion with God.
Now the above description should not be confused with the idea that Christian mysticism is opposed to, or inconsistent, with orthodox Christian belief. Mystics still believe in revealed knowledge. That is, the transcendent God has made himself known through the ages and that this knowledge is found in the Old and New Testaments. Thus, Hebrew revelation, the incarnation, the Gospels and the writings of the apostles are all correct and true. If a mystic had a personal experience that led him/her to believe things contrary to the scriptures then that experience should be rejected. In fact, they would claim that the directions for a monastic life style and a contemplative prayer life are contained in scripture. But they are saying that a person can “know” God in their minds and they can “know” Him in their spirit. The communion they say they are experiencing is with Jesus by His Spirit. The wisdom they receive and the beauty they gaze upon is Jesus.