Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Judaism and the Mystical Christ, Ch. 5: Pardes, the Garden of Jewish Biblical Interpretation

Note: This is part of an ongoing series entitled "Judaism and the Mystical Christ".  I have created a blog entry containing the table of contents linking to each article which may be accessed here:

Table of Contents


Borrowed Scriptures
In one of my earlier posts in this series, I retold the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the argument he had with the other Rabbis over interpretation of Torah.  This story should illustrate for us how the interpretation of the scriptures was not something that was simple and could not be questioned, but was up for discussion.  I feel that this illustrates an important point - that there is a big difference between consolidating control and excluding the "outsiders", and diversifying authority and finding ways to include.  When we consolidate authority into the hands of the few, they almost always become "too big to fail" - we end up seeking to protect the powerful at all costs while ignoring the pain of the "little guy" (who is truly the lifeblood of the society in the first place).  In turn, this authority then morphs into "too important to be questioned".

Over and over in my blog I have talked about the importance of interpreting the law through the lens of love - if we understand that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (see Rom. 13:10 and Gal. 5:14), then we should be able to recognize that a rigid "one size fits all" interpretation of the law does not accomplish the law's purpose.  Even the the Hebrew word for commandment - mitzvah - is related to a root word that means "connection" (see this related link from torah.org).  And thus, at their heart, commandments should be about connecting us with others.

But the point of the story of Rabbi Eliezer was that the law was given at Mt. Sinai so that Man could implement it, goes the reasoning.  And thus Man takes part in the Creative act.

If any of my readers find that last line to be shocking, perhaps they should consider Jesus' words in Matthew 18:18-20:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. 
This passage shows us that not only are we allowed to make interpretations, but we ought to be democratic in the way we interpret the law - I do not feel it is coincidence that Jesus ends his teaching on "binding and loosing" by talking about being gathered in groups of at least two or three.

Jesus is bringing the permission to interpret the law out of the Synagogue and putting this into the hands of the people - but when he does this, is he saying we no longer need to consider our interpretive methods?  No!  He’s doing this because the "Orthodox" leaders of his time, the Pharisees and Saducees, have become so rigid that they are no longer accomplishing the law's purpose, and that's why Jesus says "it’s up to you now."

One of the problems in our modern era, however, is that too many people fall for overly simplistic ways of understanding the Bible, that in the end are hopelessly self-contradictory.  We don't respect Jewish tradition for the nuance it holds within.  So I'd like to take a look at the Jewish method of interpretation.

But before I do, I need to help my readers to understand that when the original Hebrew that the "Old Testament" is written in is translated, so much is lost in translation.

The Many Meanings of a Word
In "God Is a Verb", Rabbi David Cooper illustrates very well the difficulty of translating the Hebrew language of the Bible:
The five books of Moses were originally written in Hebrew, without vowels, as are all Torah scrolls written today. The Hebrew language is constructed in a way that vowel substitutions can dramatically change the meaning of a word. It is like seeing the letters PN as a word, which could be pin, pan, pane, pain, pen, peon, pine, or pun. Usually we can derive the meaning of a word in the Written Torah through the context in which it is used, but some sentences could leave us wondering. For example, imagine reading a sentence that says, "If you know how to properly work with a PN, you will qualify for a million-dollar reward."

Understanding the meaning of the sentence could become even more challenging if the letters P and N were codes symbolizing other letters. For example, the letter P resembles and sounds like the letter B. The letter N looks like the letter Z turned on its side. Thus PN could be a code for bin, ban, bun, or buzz. This is what Kabbalists do because they always look beyond the obvious. Everything is viewed as a metaphor for hidden wisdom teachings.  For a Jewish mystic, a million-dollar reward is of little value compared to the experience of decoding a message from God. 
In the quote above, Rabbi Cooper mentions the way that Kabbalists interpret the scriptures - we're going to be talking a bit about Kabbalah later on in this series - for now, it is enough to understand that Kabbalah is a mystical tradition of Judaism.

To bring it back to the multiple meanings of words, however - I think it's important to understand that even in English, we have the same difficulty.  Look up almost any word in the dictionary, and you will find more than one definition - we choose which one is best based on the context in which the word is used. 
Kevin Miller had a wonderful illustration for how this works that he wrote about on his blog.  To summarize, Kevin says that in his film class, he would have half of his students look at a stream of random letters and the other half would look at a stream of random numbers.  Then he would show all of the students the following picture:

Kevin would ask his students what this symbol represented, and the half of the class that was "primed" with letters would say it was a "B", while the other half would say it was the number "13".  Kevin would explain how "priming" changes the way the students interpret the symbol, and then he would show them this:

And this:

Kevin explains:
I explain that, like priming, context also plays a huge role in how we assign meaning to objects and experiences, usually without us being aware of it.
Kevin would then show the class this:

This picture reveals that in actuality, the symbol is both a "B" and the number "13" at the same time.

But Kevin doesn't stop there - he then turns the symbol over on its side, and then another 90 degrees, and then another - and this reveals that actually, the symbol is nothing but a line with a wavy line next to it.  We decide to give the lines meaning.  

When we understand that the original Hebrew language of the Jewish Scriptures is a subtle, playful language that hints at multiple valid interpretations, we ought to approach the Bible as a conversation starter rather than a judge's gavel.  This is a very good way of illustrating how Pardes works. 

PRDS - The Garden
An article by John J. Parsons on Jewish exegesis begins:
Shiv'im Panim l'Torah (שִׁבְעִים פָּנִים לְתוֹרָה) - "The Torah has 70 faces." This phrase is sometimes used to indicate different "levels" of interpretation of the Torah. "There are seventy faces to the Torah: Turn it around and around, for everything is in it" (Bamidbar Rabba 13:15).
This is a very good introduction to PRDS - an anagram (also the Hebrew word for "garden") often used for remembering the Jewish exegetical method.

In "God Is a Verb", Rabbi David Cooper explains PRDS like so:
The Torah is studied on four different levels, known by the acronym P-R-D-S. A pardes is an orchard or garden. In Hebrew it is spelled with the consonants peh, resh, dalet, and samekh. In the context of studying Torah, the peh represents p'shat, which means the simple or literal interpretation. Resh represents remez, which means the interpretation of what is being hinted at in the text: the metaphors, allegories, and parables. Dalet represents drosh, which is an examination of the text by bringing in additional material. Finally, samekh represents the sod of the material, the secret, hidden meanings that offer insights into the structure of the universe.
Likewise, Dr. David Stern lays out this method in "Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel" with the following explanation:
P’shat (simple)—The plain, simple sense of the text, what modern interpreters call grammatical-historical exegesis.
Remez (hint)—Peculiar features of the text are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its plain sense.
Drash or midrash (search)—Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Bible, other literature or life in order to develop an allegorical or homiletical application of the text. This involves eisegesis—reading one’s own thoughts into a text—as well as exegesis, which is extracting from a text its actual meaning.
Sod (secret)—One operates on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters; for example, two words whose letters add up to the same amount would be good candidates for revealing a secret through “bisociation of ideas.”
My first reaction to this is this: when we see the way modern "fundamentalists" interpret the Bible, not only do they stop at "P" (and insist that if you even so much as try any of the other methods, you've committed the unforgivable sin), but when we understand the principle of the multiple meanings of Hebrew words that I laid out in the last section, then we should see how they don't even do "literal interpretation" right.  For that matter, Westerners should realize with humility that none of us do.  But on the plus side, we should also recognize - and this could be the key to ending the adversity that all too often surround theological debates - that we are allowed to interpret the Bible creatively in order to make it relevant to our time.

However, we should make greater efforts towards understanding how this is done.

Towards that end, I would like to explore further the last two methods of PRDS - especially midrash, as I feel that this is a particularly important method to understand. 

Before we get into midrash, however, it might be useful to see how the New Testament writers quite often take very creative interpretive approaches to the "Old Testament" (I put this in quotes because lately I am coming to prefer the title "The Hebrew Bible" to this terminology).

(Mis)Quoting the Bible?
In Matthew chapter 2, the author has Joseph being warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem and go to Egypt to escape Herod's murderous plot.  It says that they remained in Egypt until the death of Herod, and the author notes that "This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I have called my son.'" (Mt. 2:15)   This is a quote from Hosea - but if you examine the passage, you see it has nothing to do with Jesus.  Hosea 11:1-2 says:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.
It's quite obvious that the passage has to do with the nation of Israel - not an individual.  And yet the author of Matthew creatively uses this verse, saying it is fulfilled in Jesus.

In Matthew 27:9, the author states that Judas' betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Jeremiah, and then he provides a quote.  First off, this is a mistake on the author's part - there is no such passage in Jeremiah.  The closest thing to what Matthew is quoting is from Zechariah 11:12, but if you compare the two passages you'll note that it is not a quote, nor does the context of the passage in Zechariah resemble the scene in Matthew at all.  This is some creative reworking on the part of the gospel of Matthew.

In Ephesians 4:8, Paul uses the following quote:
When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.
Here is the original, from Psalm 68:18:
You ascended the high mount, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts from people, even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
Note how Paul changes the Psalm - instead of leading captives, God makes captivity itself a captive.  Instead of receiving gifts, God gives gifts.  This is clearly a creative reworking, and does not line up well with the Fundamentalist attitude of "the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it."

In "Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did", Derek Flood masterfully presents a picture of how Paul disarmed violent scriptures by removing all references to violence, and instead focusing on mercy:

In Romans 15, for example, Paul quotes several scriptural passages to illustrate how Gentiles “may glorify God for his mercy” because of the gospel (verse 9). Highly significant is what Paul omits from these passages:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them— to the LORD, but he did not answer ... He is the God who avenges me, who puts the Gentiles under me… Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” [quoting Psalm 18: 41– 49] Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.” [Deuteronomy 32:43]

Paul has removed the references to violence against Gentiles, and re-contextualized these passages to instead declare God’s mercy in Christ for Gentiles. This constitutes a major redefinition of how salvation is conceived: Instead of salvation meaning God “delivering” the ancient Israelites from the hands of their enemies through military victory (as described in Psalm 18, which Paul is quoting from), Paul now understands salvation to mean the restoration of all people in Christ, including those same “enemy” Gentiles.
One final example before I move on to explain the Jewish interpretive method that justifies these creative reworkings.  In Galatians 3:13, Paul writes:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."
What Paul quotes here is slightly different, however - it comes from Deuteronomy 21:23, and actually reads: "anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse." [emphasis mine]

Paul removes the idea that the curse comes from God, because in his logic, Jesus makes it necessary to challenge this idea.  The idea that we can do this (removing concepts from the Hebrew Scriptures because Jesus necessitates it) does not mesh very well with the concept of inerrancy, however.  But as you may already know, I don't have a problem challenging inerrancy (see here, here, and here).

But let's look at the concept of midrash, because I think it will help to illuminate the reasoning behind the way the New Testament writers so often creatively rework the Scriptures.


Midrash (plural: midrashim) is both a collection of exegetical commentaries and a method of interpretation.  Through these commentaries, we find that midrash is method of interpretation that goes beyond the literal interpretation by searching through both the scriptures themselves and outside sources, and filling the gaps (reading between the lines) of what is only hinted at.  Quite often, midrash seeks to interpret the Scriptures in light of current events - much like a Christocentric and cruciform method of interpretation would do.

Midrash is defined in The Jewish Encyclopedia as "the attempt to penetrate into the spirit of the text, to examine the text from all sides, to derive interpretations not immediately obvious, to illumine the future by appealing to the past."

Bishop John Shelby Spong writes in "Resurrection":
[Midrash] is both a collection of the interpretations of sacred Scripture and a method for the continued expansion of the sacred Scripture. It comes in three forms: Halakah, Haggadah, and Pesiqta. Halakah is an interpretation of the law - the sacred Torah. Haggadah is the interpretation of a story or an event by relating it to another story or event in sacred history. Pesiqta is a whole sermon or an exhortation written midrashically to capture themes of the past to enable them to be perceived as operative in the present. The sermons of Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts, as well as the long speech of Stephen, are examples in the New Testament of Pesiqta.

Midrash is the Jewish way of saying that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past. It is the ability to rework an ancient theme in a new context. It is the affirmation of a timeless truth found in the faith journey of a people so that this truth can be experienced afresh in every generation. It is the recognition that the truth of God is not bound within the limits of time but that its eternal echoes can be and are heard anew in every generation. It is the means whereby the experience of the present can be affirmed and asserted as true inside the symbols of yesterday.
When we look at the way New Testament writers quote (or misquote?) the Hebrew Scriptures, I think that it is obvious that midrash was a, if not the favored method of interpretation.

One of the things we must realize about the Scriptures - and something that becomes quite obvious when you study midrash - is that the Jews were (and very much still are) storytellers.  When you realize this, it seems like it should have been obvious - Jesus constantly tells stories (parables, they are called in the New Testament) to illustrate truths.  Well, Jesus didn't invent this way of doing things - Jews did it all the time (and still do).  But we like to pretend that everything in the Bible was literal, factual, historical truth.  However, the more you study the historical context of the Bible, the more you realize that the Jewish attitude was more similar to the Native American who said: "Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true."  Jews told stories to illustrate truth - there were many parables before Jesus, and that's something that many Christians need to be aware of so that we can stop being scandalized by so many things.

One of the reasons Darren Aronofsky's 2014 movie, "Noah", was so controversial in Evangelical circles is, quite simply, ignorance.  They are completely unaware that Aronovsky actually did his homework and incorporated much of the Jewish midrashim surrounding the myth of Noah.  One Jewish blogger wrote up a response showing that the movie was completely uncontroversial - and was responded to quite favorably - in Jewish circles. 

Seeing Biblical truth as story will help us to stop cherry picking, I believe.  Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her introduction to Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", puts it well when she writes:
When stories are shortened to "bytes," all the most profound symbolic language and themes - and thereby the deeper meanings and nourishments - are left out. The too-short or superficial story colludes in supporting a mad culture that insists that human beings remaining frazzled, ever on the run - rather than inviting them, by the telling of a compelling story at some length, to slow down, to know that it is alright to sit down now, that it is good to take rest, and to listen with one's inner hearing to something that is energizing, engaging, instructive, and nourishing in one way or another.
Before I move on, I would like to also point out a particular midrashic tale that illustrates the movement away from violence that I highlighted in the last section - this comes from scholars Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas A. Knight in their book,  "The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us":
One famous midrash (an “investigation” or “study”) offers the following interpretation of Exodus 15. When the Egyptian chariots, in pursuit of the fleeing Israelite slaves, become caught in the mire of the Reed Sea, the charioteers drowned. “The prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to YHWH, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea’” (15: 20– 21). The midrash says that the angels took up the song, but God did not join the celebration. Searching, the angels found God weeping. When they inquired, God responded, “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you want to sing praises?” (Babylonian Talmud Megilla 10b).

As the series progresses, I will try to demonstrate how the Gospels employ the midrashic method.  But for now, let's move on to explore the final letter of PRDS - sod, for secret.

Hebrew Numerology
The final letter of the PRDS exegetical method represents a method of interpretation that would seem very foreign to many (most?) Christians - it involves looking for a "secret" meaning in the text by adding up the numerical values of letters in order to find another word with the same numerical value that could be a substitute in the text.  This is called gematria.

With early language, there was no distinction between letters and numerals - rather, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet doubled as a number value.  So gematria involves adding up the values of the letters of a word.

Daniel C. Matt - a scholar most famous for translating the Zohar (the foundational work of the mystical form of Judaism known as Kabbalah) into English - writes about an example of this method in "God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony between Science & Spirituality":

The Hebrew word for “one” is ehad, and the word for “love” is ahavah. In mystical numerology (gematriyya), each Hebrew letter has a numerical value. The gematriyya of ehad is the sum of its individual letters: 1 (alef) + 8 (het) + 4 (dalet) = 13. The gematriyya of ahavah is 1 (alef) + 5 (heh) + 2 (bet) + 5 (heh) = 13. Oneness and love are equivalent. Together ehad and ahavah add up to 26. This is the same numerical value assigned to the holiest divine name: YHVH, the sum of whose letters (10 + 5 + 6 + 5) also equals 26. God is oneness and love.
A slightly more well known (in Christian circles) example of using gematria to interpret Scripture would be the reference in Revelation to the "number of the Beast" - 666 (which is recorded in some manuscripts as 616).  Scholars have picked up on the fact that the numerical values of the Hebrew spelling for Nero - Neron Caesar - add up to 666, while the Roman numeral values of the Greek spelling of the same name add up to 616.

Allegorical Interpretation in Early Christianity
The interpretive method of PRDS is not very different from the way the early church fathers would use allegorical interpretive methods.  The early church father Origen of Alexandria recommended that the Bible be interpreted on three different levels - the flesh, the soul, and the spirit.  He said that many of the events recorded in the Bible are impossible in the fleshly sense, and many of the laws are impossible to keep.  So to get to the real meaning of these passages, he believed that they must be translated allegorically.  

Similarly, in the middle ages, theologians defined four levels of allegorical interpretation:
  • Literal interpretation of the stories as history
  • Anagogical interpretation, which involves spiritual interpretation, or interpreting the passage as pointing to heaven/hell/the last judgement
  • Typological interpretation, which involves making connections between the Old and New Testaments and draws allegorical connections between Jesus' life and the Old Testament
  • Tropological interpretation, which involves looking for the morals of the stories
This method especially resembles PRDS.

It is important to understand just how widespread allegorical interpretation was in the early church -  the literalistic interpretation of the Bible is a very new thing that happened as a reaction to the Enlightenment.  As an example, Augustine saw a direct contradiction between Jesus telling us to love our enemies (see Mt. 5:43-48) and Psalm 138:8-9 praising God for dashing the Babylonian babies against rocks.  Since Jesus is supposed to be the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), Augustine concluded that this passage in the Psalms was symbolic - the babies represented the vices of empire (represented by Babylon) being dashed against the rocks.  

In St. Gregory of Nyssa's "Life of Moses", he takes an allegorical approach to the story of God killing the Pharaoh's son for the Pharaoh's sin:
The Egyptian [Pharaoh] is unjust, and instead of him, his punishment falls upon his newborn child, who on account of his infant age is unable to discern what is good and what is not good … If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s evil, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries … “The son should not suffer for the sin of the father?” How can history so contradict reason?
Gregory concluded that the passage must be taken as an allegory about destroying temptations.

C.S. Lewis took a similar approach to the genocide of Joshua (see "The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3"): 
On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.
When Jerome read I Kings 1:1-14, in which a very old and decripit David is warmed by having a young and beautiful maiden brought to his bed, Jerome concluded that this story could not be historical.  After all, David had many wives - what need would he have of yet another young maiden?  And this would be immoral, after all.  So Jerome believed that the young maiden represented lady Wisdom (see Proverbs 4:5-9).  In his old age, David was “warmed” by Wisdom.

Similarly, Marcus J. Borg writes in "
Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored" of how even Martin Luther used allegorical method:
Nor was Luther a literalist. Consider his interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in Eden. In Genesis 3:8 we read that after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they heard the sound of God walking in the garden and were afraid. Luther commented that God obviously never walked in any garden. Something else is meant. Adam and Eve heard the sound of the wind and nature, which formerly had seemed benign, but now, because of their fallen state, had become something they were afraid of.”
Orthodox scholar Olivier Clément writes in "The Roots of Christian Mysticism":
The divine meaning of the Scriptures has to be gleaned from the letter of it and beyond the letter, through contemplation guided by the Spirit. In the Fathers we do not find any fundamentalism, but Scripture opened by the Spirit to its very heart, namely the mystery of the Trinity, the source of love, and Christ's victory over death and hell, the triumph of love.

If you try to reduce the divine meaning to the purely external signification of the words, the Word will have no reason to come down to you. It will return to its secret dwelling, which is contemplation that is worthy of it. For it has wings, this divine meaning, given to it by the Holy Spirit who is its guide ... But to be unwilling ever to rise above the letter, never to give up feeding on the literal sense, is the mark of a life of falsehood.
Origen Commentary on Proverbs, 2.3 (PG 17, 2.2.1-4)

Origen, whose Brilliant thought fertilized all Christian spirituality, especially, but not only, in the East, compares Scripture to an almond. He himself is an inspired interpreter of Scripture, and if his thought has had to be corrected on other points, it remains fully and directly nourishing in this field.
The bitter rind is the letter that kills and that has to be rejected.
The protecting shell is the ethical teaching, that, as a necessary part of the process of going into greater depth, requires a course of careful purification.
Then the spiritual kernel is reached, which is all that matters, which feeds the soul on the mysteries of divine wisdom.

Some Concluding Thoughts
Using PRDS to its fullest is about looking beyond appearances and going beneath the surface of the text to find deep meaning - and not stopping there, but extending this out into the world and thus becoming part of Creating.  By connecting Biblical interpretation with real life, we become more fully present, and thus we enter into the "commonwealth of God", as Brian McLaren sometimes refers to Jesus' oft used phrase: "the kingdom of God".

I believe that methods of interpretation such as PRDS are vital to coming to a mystical faith.  You have to understand that the very word - mystical - hints at the fact that it must be searched for in order to be understood.  The word, "mystical", comes from the Greek root "mu" - which means "silent" or "mute" - and the greek adjective "mystikos" referred to secrets - especially secrets which should only be revealed to the initiated.  Over time, it began to refer to things which cannot be revealed through language - as the Tao Te Ching says:

Those who know, do not speak.  Those who speak, do not know.
It is important to understand that this is not the "secret" of elitism, but the "secret" that is only made known to those who work for it - some things cannot be known lazily. 

To make an analogy, the "secret" of mysticism is similar in ways to Quantum Physics.  Niels Bohr once said about Quantum Physics:

Anyone who says that they can contemplate quantum mechanics without becoming dizzy has not understood the concept in the least.
Yet, despite the often counter-intuitive nature of Quantum Physics, it is probably the most successful branch of science, if you consider that it has been the most contested and yet has survived countless attempts to disprove its conclusions.

In "Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment", author John Horgan interviews mystic and famous professor of religions Huston Smith, who says:
One of my frustrations is that everybody recognizes that it takes about five years to get your head into thinking about relativity theory and quantum mechanics. It's just such a different world. But everybody assumes that the religious world is accessible to everyone. Now, I profoundly disagree with that.
I would personally content that, paradoxically, mysticism is accessible to everyone...if they are willing to work at it.  But to access the mystical, one must be willing to challenge their preconceived notions.  As philosopher John D. Caputo writes in "The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps":
Meister Eckhart famously said, I pray God to rid me of God. That is one of the most famous prayers ever made, one of the most radical, and also one of the greatest contributions to the poetics of “perhaps” and a theology of trouble, which in turn visited upon Meister Eckhart himself quite a great deal of trouble. The court theologians viewed this disturbing saying with Inquisitorial alarm. But this was the peculiar piety of a master of impious sayings. He was earnestly praying, asking the God who can never be mastered and domesticated, the one we can never see coming, to rid us of the God whom we think we have in our sights, under our control. I pray the God whose coming is always the coming of the stranger to rid me of the God who serves to keep guard over the circle of the same. I pray the God who exposes me to trouble to rid me of the God who keeps me safe, who functions as a guarantor of tranquility and order. I pray the groundless ground of the “perhaps” to rid me of the rock-solid ground of the certain and foreseeable (which is what “providence” literally means).
Similarly, Khalil Gibran once wrote:
Many a doctrine is like a window pane. We see truth through it but it divides us from truth.

Next Chapter: Creation

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