email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God50 Voices of DisbeliefA Companion to Buddhist PhilosophyA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Frightening LoveA People's History of ChristianityAdieu to GodAn Ethics for TodayAristotle's ChildrenAugustine's "Confessions"Bad FaithBehind the GospelsBig DreamsBig GodsBody Piercing Saved My LifeBrains, Buddhas, and BelievingBrief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and FaithBuddhism and ScienceBuddhist Boot CampConfucianismConfucianismConfucius and ConfucianismContemplative ScienceCorporal Punishment, Religion, and United States Public SchoolsCourage to SurrenderCross and KhoraDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin, God and the Meaning of LifeDeath and the AfterlifeDebating DesignDeeper Than DarwinDivinity of DoubtEmbracing MindEncountering the DharmaEngaging BuddhismEsalenEscape Your Own PrisonEvidence for PsiEvilEvolution and ReligionExplorations in Neuroscience, Psychology and ReligionFaithFaith and Wisdom in ScienceFingerprints of GodFor The Bible Tells Me SoForgivenessFrom Shame to SinGod & TherapyGod Is Not GreatGod Is Not OneGod: The Failed HypothesisHereticHidden DimensionsHooked!Hours with the MysticsHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow Would Buddha Act?Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInto Great SilenceIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A DialogueJewish DharmaLife After FaithLiving DeeplyLiving with a Wild GodLiving with DarwinMaking Chastity SexyMedicine and Health Care in Early ChristianityMedicine and ReligionMedicine of the PersonMysticism & SpaceNature and the Human SoulNothingOn Life After DeathPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePathways to SpiritualityPeaceful Death, Joyful RebirthPhilosophers without GodsPhilosophical Myths of the FallPorn UniversityPray the Gay AwayPsychotherapy without the SelfRadical GraceReason, Faith, and RevolutionRecruiting Young LoveReligion without GodReligious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric DiagnosisSaving GodScience and NonbeliefScience and Religion at the CrossroadsScience and SpiritualityScience vs. ReligionSecular Philosophy and the Religious TemperamentSelf Hypnosis for Cosmic ConsciousnessSelf, No Self?Sex and the Soul, Updated EditionSmile of the BuddhaSpirit, Mind, and BrainSuperstitionTen Lectures on Psychotherapy and SpiritualityThe Accidental MindThe Belief InstinctThe Bodhisattva's BrainThe Cambridge Companion to AtheismThe Cambridge Companion to Science and ReligionThe Case for GodThe Chosen OneThe Dao of NeuroscienceThe Dark Night of the SoulThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe Fundamentalist MindsetThe God DebatesThe God GeneThe Hero with a Thousand FacesThe Improbability of GodThe Joy of SecularismThe Language God TalksThe Language of GodThe Meaning of BeliefThe MiracleThe New AtheismThe New Religious IntoleranceThe Philosophy of ReligionThe Power of FaithThe Power of ForgivenessThe Power of Religion in the Public SphereThe Psychology of Religious FundamentalismThe Psychology of SpiritualityThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Secular OutlookThe Sense of SelfThe Spirit of the BuddhaThe Spirit of Tibetan BuddhismThe Tibetan Book of the DeadThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular FaithsThe Watkins Dictionary of SymbolsTheology, Psychology and the Plural SelfThoughts Without A ThinkerTop SecretUnifying HinduismWays of KnowingWhat Is Buddhist Enlightenment?What Should I Believe?When the Impossible HappensWhy I Left, Why I StayedWilliam James on Ethics and FaithWriting as a Sacred PathYoga, Karma, and RebirthZealot
"Our challenge is to show that human beings are truly involved in activities that transcend the restrictions of space, time, and matter, that we do accomplish things that are spiritual, and that therefore we are spiritual as well as material beings."
Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, Soul and the Transcendence of the Human Person.
"The concept of mysticism," the author of Mysticism and Space, Carmel Bendon Davis, warns us "is not straightforward." Consequently, Davis provides the essential meaning of the word in her seminal study: Christian mysticism is the product of pseudo-Denis whose work, Theologia Mystica, perceives mysticism as the secret knowledge of God, a definition pregnant with the possibility of Gnostic distortions. That the author is not derailed because of the Gnostic possibilities indicates that her work is neither eristic nor philodoxical, but rather an example of existential consciousness analyzing the revelatory process.
Further, Davis, in quoting the scholar David Knowles, does the great service of noting that "(M)ystical theology is thus distinguished from what is called natural theology and from dogmatic and speculative theology."
The author has touched upon a dilemma facing Christianity identified by the mystical philosopher, Eric Voegelin, in his essay, The Gospel and Culture,
"In the historical drama of revelation, the Unknown god ultimately becomes the God known through his presence in Christ. This drama, though it has been alive in the consciousness of the New Testament writers, is far from alive in the Christianity of the churches today, for the history of Christianity is characterized by what is commonly called the separation of school theology from mystical or experiential theology which formed an apparently inseparable unit still in the work of Origen."
The challenge confronting the church is not how to adapt various philosophical and theological distortions to orthodoxy but rather to render the epiphany of Jesus Christ as experientially "alive in the consciousness" of modern man. Davis's book is an effort to address this crisis by means of an erudite analysis of the noetic, pneumatic, and spatial components occurring in human time and divine timelessness.
The academic debate encompassing mystical or "meditative" and "contemplative" experience exists in the tension between the poles of the "socially constructed phenomenon," and "the authentic experiences that they represent," where the latter represents a "closed existence" and the former an "open existence" in the question of non-existent realities.
One of Davis's unique contributions is her application of the concept of space, a response to Michel Foucault, that explicates the "multiple levels" of the mystic's "physical and social environment, as well as their individual mystical experiences and the elaboration of those experiences in textual form." Here, in a rather significant example of a pneumatic irruption, Davis applies the French literary device, mise en abime, to the mystical experience as "successive, perhaps concentric, layers of space as analogous to the various strata of experience that are constitutive of mystical space." The mise en abime, reconceptualized by the author to apply to the problem of mystical space, then acts to explicate God as intrinsic to the human psyche, the noetic pull phenomenon experienced in the tension of existence, as well as "the image of God as the container of all humanity..."
The exegetical brilliance of Davis's work incorporates elements of Henri Lefebvre's theory of space including his discussion of social space as inclusive of spatial practice, representations of space, and representational spaces; Pierre Bourdieu's habitus, the unconscious "understanding of the way in which societal structures predispose societal members…toward certain social practices;" Foucault's heterotopias, which are places "outside of all place, even though it might be possible to indicate their location in reality…a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of space in which we live;" and Mikail Bkhtin's grotesque realism which formulates the concept of "the fruitful earth and womb. It is always conceiving," though the author is utilizing the reversal of this theme in reference to the mystical life. All of these concepts, then, are utilized in "decrypting" the texts of three mystics of the fourteenth century: Richard Rolle, the Cloud author, and Julian of Norwich.
The work is further differentiated by penetrating examinations of physical space and cosmology, the "ways in which the mystics valued their society," the textual insights that illustrate God as inherent within the psyche/soul and "the containment of humanity within God," and finally, the "individual mystical spaces" of the three medieval contemplatives.
Mysticism and Space is then a brilliant apologetics for a largely ignored, mystical Christianity richly imbued and bolstered with the primary experiences of the medieval contemplatives. It is a work that answers the deformations inherent in the Hegelian synthesis responsible for the second realities of the postmodern age, explores the nature and structure of the metaleptic event, and successfully recovers the symbols of the tension of existence that are translucent within the reality experienced in the drama of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the epilogue, the author tells her readers that "the texts point beyond time and history to an experience that is beyond material containment," which correlates with Voegelin's comment in his essay, Immortality, that "Man, while existing in time, experiences himself as participating in the timeless." Davis's contribution is her remarkable exegesis of the nature and effects of spatiality within the metaleptic event, where being exists in existential philia, and where "the openness of existence is raised to consciousness."
Mysticism and Space is a remarkably illuminating book that illustrates the need for the Christian church to return to an existential theology that recognizes "the mystery of divine presence in existence."
© 2008 Robert C. Cheeks
Robert Cheeks is a freelance writer living in Ohio. His recent work has appeared in Philosophy Now, The University Bookman, Crisis, Touchstone, and The South Carolina Review.