Mysticism molds the mainstream



Mysticism molds the mainstream Kabbalah, Rumi, labyrinths, and centering prayers. Thousands of Americans are exploring the mystical aspects of their own faith and others.' Although no studies have been done, scholars and experts cite anecdotal evidence that interest in mysticism has been steadily increasing. Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Islam have long traditions in mysticism, and it is officially accepted doctrine in the Catholic Church. Mainline Protestantism has comparatively background in mysticism, yet experts say that is where mysticism is gaining the most ground.


Aging baby boomers who dabbled in Eastern and New Age spiritualities in their youth are returning to organized religion and bringing those spiritual experiences with them, according to Steven Fanning, an associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago who writes about Christian mysticism. Robert Eisen, an associate professor of religion at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and an expert on Jewish mysticism, says the daily stresses of contemporary life, coupled with the uncertainty of the times, also create a climate in which mysticism can thrive.
Mysticism crosses faith lines, with many practitioners adopting rituals from other traditions. Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, is popular among some non-Jews as well as Reform and Conservative Jews. The poetry of the 12th-century Muslim poet Rumi draws readers well beyond Islam. Centering prayer, a form of silent contemplation aimed at opening heart and mind to God, reaches beyond is core audience of Catholics and Protestants.
These movements challenge religious groups from both the inside and outside. Within Judaism, Islam and Christianity, not all traditions accept mysticism as orthodox teaching, causing division. As Americans "borrow" parts of mystical traditions such as Kabbbalah and Sufism without adopting the Jewish or Muslim faiths, religious leaders question the integrity of these seekers' practice and try to protect their traditions from being dilluted by pop culture.
Meanwhile, interest in mysticism is reflected in book and product sales, retreats and classes. Kyriacos Markides, who teaches Eastern Orthodox mysticism at the University of Maine in Orono, says mainstream religions, particularly Protestants, may have to accommodate this growing thirst for the mystical if they wish to serve their congregants.
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