I think the answer lies in what we sorely miss from fast-paced and often-superficial relationships in contemporary life – and perhaps even from the practice of some organized religions: that is, a personal, intimate, and unquestionably clear experience of Divine Presence.
Make no mistake, mystics were ordinary people, just like us. They had to deal with all the stresses and crises of their own
lives – and all the trivia – just as we do. But what they experienced of the divine dimension went way beyond what we would call “normal,” or even possible. They saw and heard what we have not . . .they understood truth in ways that scientists and scholars and ordinary folk do not . . . and they were changed forever by their mystical experiences.
In turn, mystics changed the world. Perhaps, that's what makes them so fascinating.
What exactly IS mystical experience?
In a general sense, mystical experience is a profound interaction with a transcendent Reality that far surpasses ordinary ways of knowing or perceiving.
It is spontaneous, unbidden, and completely passive – without human effort or intervention.
It is immediately experienced as coming from a divine source. Thus, whatever is revealed bears the conviction of proceeding from divine authority.
Mystical revelation provides illumination about the nature of God, or truth, or love, or life, or death, or eternity, or some aspect of religious belief that the recipient could not have conceived of by him/herself.
It may also answer burning questions, heal spiritual wounds, even inspire a total conversion to a new way of life.
Sometimes the mystical experience is so transcendent and overwhelming, the mystic is unable to describe it in words.
Yet the mystic is often led to try to convey the import of the revelation in prose or poetry.
Whatever the experience is, it is indelible and therefore,
unforgettable to the recipient.
It produces a surpassing joy and sublime peace that totally alters the subject’s mindset. It may also evoke a sense of ecstatic, blissful unity with the divine.
How does the mystical encounter take place?
It may be “seen” or “heard” exteriorly – as a thoroughly convincing and undeniable vision and/or voice speaking directly to the recipient.
Or it may be experienced interiorly – as a vivid imaginative
apparition, "a still, small voice," or a sudden flash of purely intellectual illumination without any associated image or sound.
In any case, the vision provides clarity, not confusion; incontestable certitude, not doubt.
If words are heard, they are heard in the mystic’s own language and are completely understandable and vitally empowering. The full import of their meaning, however, may only unfold over a longer period of time with prayerful examination.
The mystical experience may be demanding in what it asks, cautionary in what it warns against, consoling in what it reveals, enlightening in what it teaches, prophetic in what it predicts. It may be conveyed by symbolism that has to be deciphered long after the experience, or specify action that takes an entire lifetime. But it is always a very precise and personal directive.
In terms of Christian mystics, it is considered essential that the mystical revelations do not contradict revealed truth or dogmas of the faith. Otherwise, such experiences might be coming from self-delusion and lead to heresy.
In every way, the Revelations of Divine Love experienced by Julian of Norwich fulfill these positive criteria of mystical experience. And, unlike some mystics who may seem to us extreme or even incomprehensible in their mystical writings, Julian’s humble and vivid way of recounting her revelations makes her one of the most accessible - and most appealing -
of all mystics.