I have accumulated thousands of books over the years, but I would hazard a guess that perhaps only a handful of those would fit into the category of ‘must haves’ or ‘books that are so enriching/life-affirming/insightful that I could not do without them! Roger Housden’s For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics’ is one such of those books though. In it he offers 98 of the most compelling poems from both historic and contemporary Christian writers, commonly referred to as mystics on account of their relationship with God and how they articulate this to the wider community.
The variety of authors and the breadth and depth of their poetry is a wonderful reflection of the range of experience and style of recounting that experience that is extant. And so, through Housden, we have access to the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, the fire of St. Augustine, and on through the medieval insights of Meister Eckhart, St. Francis of Assisi and the visionary ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila and on to more contemporary writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Merton and R.S. Thomas. With each poem, Housden provides a brief, but insightful commentary that prompts the reader to revisit each poem with new eyes and to meditate on the words more deeply.
Housden’s collection tackles a plethora of different theses which reflects the concerns of believers over the years and in current times. What is evident is that faith is always beautiful, but sometimes painful; the ecstatic and joyful are an integral part of the experiential encounter with the divine.
Through the medium of poetry, the reader can fully enter in to the intensity of experience that the mystic articulates using expressive and profound words, concepts and motifs. But that is not all; the mystic poets transcendent words as they point towards a truth that cannot be truly expressed in human terms, but can only be comprehended via an individual encounter with God.
And so I shall leave you with the words of one of the Christian mystics featured in Housden’s book – Johannes Tauler, a follower of Meister Eckhart, who wrote ‘The Mysterious Place‘:
St Augustine says that there is a mysterious place
deep in the soul that is beyond time and this world, a part
higher than that which gives life and movement to
the body; true prayer so raises the heart that God can
come into this innermost place, the most disinterested,
intimate, and noble part of our being, the seat of our unity.
It is His eternal dwelling-place, and
into this grand and mysterious kingdom He pours
the sweet delight of which I have spoken. Then is man no
longer troubled by anything: he is recollected, quiet, and
really himself, and becomes daily more detached,
spiritualized, and contemplative, for God is within him,
reigning and working in the depths of his soul.