David Russell Mosley
4 September 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Dear Friends and Family,
Sometimes I see visions. I’ve written to you about them before, but I find myself returning to the visionary and mystical aspects of Christianity again and again. Now, I want to be clear, I make no claims to have prophetic visions or to be a prophet. My visions are likely only meant for me. I seriously worry sometimes about whether or not they should be shared. Those visionaries who have come before me were often reluctant to share their experiences. I worry I’m too ready. So, today, I will not be sharing a vision with you, but rather the nature of my visions and about mysticism in general.
A passage I often turn to is 1 Corinthians 13.12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” My visions, when they come, especially of late, have had something of this passage in them. What I mean is this, while I may often dream in technicolor my visions are cast in shadows. I see outlines, recognise shapes, but have not recently been given specifics. In truth, I wonder if this doesn’t come down to my sinfulness, especially when you compare my visions to others.
To give you an example, I want to look at the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. I am taking for granted that this story is relatively true account of the thoughts, actions, and visions of St Perpetua. This is the story of two women, Perpetua and Felicitas (and a few men), who are condemned to death for being Christians circa AD 203. During her time in prison before her execution, Perpetua has several dreams or visions––there is likely a difference between dreams and visions, but my theology of mysticism is not so finely worked out as of yet. I want to share one of those dreams with you:
Then my brother said to me, ‘My dear sister, you are already in a position of great dignity, and are such that you may ask for a vision, and that it may be made known to you whether this is to result in a passion or an escape.’ And I, who knew that I was privileged to converse with the Lord, whose kindnesses I had found to be so great, boldly promised him, and said, ‘Tomorrow I will tell you.’ And I asked, and this was what was shown me. I saw a golden ladder of marvellous height, reaching up even to heaven, and very narrow, so that persons could only ascend it one by one; and on the sides of the ladder was fixed every kind of iron weapon. There were there swords, lances, hooks, daggers; so that if any one went up carelessly, or not looking upwards, he would be torn to pieces and his flesh would cleave to the iron weapons. And under the ladder itself was crouching a dragon of wonderful size, who lay in wait for those who ascended, and frightened them from the ascent. And Saturus went up first, who had subsequently delivered himself up freely on our account, not having been present at the time that we were taken prisoners. And he attained the top of the ladder, and turned towards me, and said to me, ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you; but be careful that the dragon do not bite you.’ And I said, ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.’ And from under the ladder itself, as if in fear of me, he slowly lifted up his head; and as I trod upon the first step, I trod upon his head. And I went up, and I saw an immense extent of garden, and in the midst of the garden a white-haired man sitting in the dress of a shepherd, of a large stature, milking sheep; and standing around were many thousand white-robed ones. And he raised his head, and looked upon me, and said to me, ‘You are welcome, daughter.’ And he called me, and from the cheese as he was milking he gave me as it were a little cake, and I received it with folded hands; and I ate it, and all who stood around said Amen. And at the sound of their voices I was awakened, still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe. And I immediately related this to my brother, and we understood that it was to be a passion, and we ceased henceforth to have any hope in this world (1.3).
I will not, for now, attempt to provide some possible interpretations and understandings of Perpetua’s vision. One key thing I want to point out is that Perpetua seems to have seen in color, for the ladder was golden (admittedly, it’s not impossible for her to have been able to assess that without the aid of color). More importantly, however, is the vividness. Now it’s true that even those who have visions when they go to record them or report them to others are already involved in the act of interpretation. For instance, have you ever told someone about a dream and filled in gaps or misunderstandings you had whilst dreaming but understand better now awake? Be that as it may, Perpetua’s vision is full of sensory indicators, color, taste, smell, all are there. How unlike my own visions of late. But even her visions are clouded until she understands them, they are clouded in allegory, just as mine are clouded in mist (not that I’m making a direct comparison to myself and this third century martyr of the faith).
I suppose my point, if I have one today, is this: Christianity is a mystical religion. We are the descendants of Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel, John, and Paul. Dreamers all of them, or visionaries, who saw things beyond the land of shadows in which we live and into heaven. What is more, we are the descendants of Jacob and Moses, of the apostles, of the shepherds, of Mary Magdalen, of Reuben who were all given glimpses of the depths of reality even in this shadowland. Why does it feel like we’ve lost this? I know many traditions still exist which believe these things possible. But why does it feel like we have no expectations of this kind of thing? Maybe we’ve let New Age Spiritualism take mysticism away from us. Maybe we’ve forgotten that the true mystics are those who are servants of the Triune God, those who cling to Jesus Christ. If we have, it’s time to remember. It’s time to take back mysticism.
Remember Peter’s sermon and his quotation from Joel, this is our religion:
“‘”And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”‘” (Acts 2.17-21).